The London Riots: Language of the Unheard

By Ali A

It is easy to think in a black and white manner in regards to societal issues and hold a superficial opinion rather than trying to delve deeper to understand the source of a problem. A recent example is the London riotsthis past weekend which have consisted of rampant looting of stores, burning of buildings and vehicles, and violence primarily in the Brixton, Croydon, and Enfield Town areas of London and other cities within the UK. Many of us have made an impulsive judgement believing the people involved in this are criminals and thugs and deserve nothing but a lengthy jail sentence. We have forgotten that the source of this negative reaction runs much further beyond the streets of Brixton or Hackney.

People are not born to be rioters or criminals, they have made the choice to act in that way. What leads them to that decision are the factors within their own lives and the effect of society on them. Poverty, lack of education, lack of social support and unemployment are some of the factors that have contributed towards this mindset. When casting a closer look at the situation in London at the start of the riots, it is clear that this was an act of rebellion against the establishment rather than rioting just for the sake of it. For example, the spark in this situation was the murder of Mark Duggan at the hands of the police[1]. A protest outside the local police station escalated into violence, and when coupled with the sentiment of the population and history of the region, it provided the fuel for this unrest. After all, this is was not the first person to die because of the police’s wrongful actions. Ian Tomlinson[2] and Charles De Menezes[3] have faced similar fates. Those instances have stayed in the memory of citizens in the area and contributed to their feelings towards the governmental authorities.

On the national level, great cuts in the public sector resulted in loss of funds for welfare and public job opportunities while the banks received millions in bonuses. The recent phone hacking scandal and the crashing economy have also added to the resentment against the establishment. Therefore, when the opportunity presented itself to rebel against the city, it was difficult for some to turn away. That is exactly what we are seeing these days on the streets in a few British cities. It is important to that note that by no means is the violence, vandalism and looting considered acceptable. Nonetheless, to remedy this problem, we must put ourselves in the shoes of those affected and consider their mindset which is a product of decades of failed politics, unprecedented consumerism and enlightened self interest that has continued till today.

On a local level, the financial cuts have caused a strain on the support network for the youth living in these neighborhoods. For example, in Haringey, UK, the origin for the disturbances over the weekend, eight of its thirteen youth clubs have closed down between December 2010 and June 2011[4]. The lack of youth services represents a lack of teachers to identify the dangers of gangs and prevent their propagation. Because this is compounded by a deprivation of resources, it leads to different forms of recreational violence.The young people are therefore frustrated and angry and are venting at whoever and whatever is closest. They are not responding to a single problem, rather they are reacting to every problem or reason to be angry that they have faced in the past. Even though dire circumstances do not turn every person into a criminal, the absence of skills in dealing with them productively can lead to aimless and destructive behaviors. Also, due to the nonexistence of youth services, there is a void within the community which makes it easy for gangs to move in to fill it and prey on young minds due to their vulnerability. The idea of simply giving young people somewhere to go as a preventative measure against rioting might seem ridiculous. However, the fact that these riots are happening now, as opposed to five years ago, indicates how important it has been. Youth clubs are places for young people to be where they are not just viewed as a threat to social order. The supervisors provide an alternate adult influence in these young people’s lives. Because they are not teachers, police, or parents, they are often times the only adults in their neighborhoods who youth can confide in and learn from on a regular social basis.

Also, let us not forget that while society plays an influence in the growth of a child, the most important influence comes from the home. The role of parents is perhaps the most paramount in the upbringing process. This is why in the aftermath of the riots, fingers being pointed at the parents for their incompetence to control and discipline their children. It is unacceptable parenting to be unaware of the location of your child or their activities. An environment which does not emphasize education as the best form of social transformation leads to a situation where the streets are ruled by knife-carrying lawless types for whom serious levels of violence are a way of life. In order to facilitate reform, a support mechanism is needed which enables changing such mentality in coordination with youth services to provide a long term strategy to counter the influence of drugs, violence and gangs.

David Cameron, the prime minister of UK, highlighted the idea of the ‘Big Society’ within the UK in his pre-election campaign. Big Society is defined as the flagship policy to create a climate that empowers local people and communities in order to build a big society that will ‘take power away from politicians and give it to people.’[5] Yet, the policies that have followed have displayed contradiction to this idea and instead have increased the differences between the classes. The United Kingdom is now a country in which the richest 10% are 100 times better off than the poorest[6]]. What is required now more than ever is that the emphasis of enlightened self interest is discarded and the foundations of a moral society are laid out. People need to be given support in order to counter these social problems and to have educational and professional aspirations within their communities for a better future. As Martin Luther King said, “The riot is the language of the unheard.”[7] If those who are unheard are not attended to and supported, then the ‘Big Society’ would merely remain an idea.

Thus, the personal responsibility of those committing criminal acts in these riots should not be downplayed nor should such acts be considered as acceptable. Although, by merely labeling the rioters as “mindless thugs,” we are dehumanizing them further. This not the way to reform a society because it will only alienate those who are unheard even more. To improve and remodel society and to alter a negative mindset, the root cause of the problem has to be identified and rectified.


[4] Want to prevent further riots? More youth clubs not police, please: http://nottspolitics.org/2011/08/09/want-to-prevent-further-riots-more-youth-clubs-not-police-please/

[5] Government launches Big Society programme: http://www.number10.gov.uk/news/big-society/

[6] Unequal Britain: richest 10% are now 100 times better off than the poorest: http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2010/jan/27/unequal-britain-report

[7] From Brixton to Tottenham, the inequality at the heart of the riots: http://jodymcintyre.wordpress.com/

2 thoughts on “The London Riots: Language of the Unheard

  • We wanted a regime change in unfriendly Arab countries, encouraged rebellion. Now let’s have a regime change in UK. What you sow you reap.

  • RIOTS IN ENGLAND/UPRISING OF THE UNHEARD

    SEE ALSO

    http://la.indymedia.org/news/2011/09/247663.php

    RIOTS ARE THE VOICE OF THE UNHEARD
    Martin Luther King

    http://quotationsbook.com/quote/34458/

    ”Whilst many seek to pin the blame on the inevitable result of decades of oppression in under-privileged communities, the causes of the riots are swept under the rugs looted from Carpet Right. Inequality is at the heart of this. As long as the police see themselves as above the law, young people will take it into their own hands.”

    JODY MCINTYRE/FROM BRIXTON TO TOTTENHAM

    http://jodymcintyre.wordpress.com/2011/08/08/from-brixton-to-tottenham-the-inequality-at-the-heart-of-the-riots/

    WE ARE NO LONGER WILLING TO PUT UP WITH POLICE BRUTALITY OR RACISM

    ALONDRA NELSON ON TWITTER

    Dear Editor and readers,

    SUMMARY:

    In contrary with the British politicians and mainstream media, the riots in England are no ”mindless violence” and ”criminal acts”, but the direct consequence of government cuts, which are especially damaging to poor neighbourhoods. decennialong social deprivation and often unpunished police violence.
    The methods [burning and looting] are wrong, the deadly victims unacceptable, but the fury about the yearlong police violence and the social injustice is legitimate
    This is the resistance of the unheard and humiliated, as Martin Luther King has stated [1]

    TIMELINE

    The riots were short, but vehement and took place from 6 untill 10th of august 2011 [2]
    What started in the multicultural underprivileged neighbourhood Tottenham [London North] as a peaceful protest against the police shooting of Mark Duggan [3], became a real uprising and spread in and outside London, especially in ciies in the Midlands and North West of England [4]

    Those riots, which started in Tottenham, are often compared with the Tottenham riots, which took place in 1985
    Direct cause was also a death by police violence
    Also in this case the viictim was black

    Tottenham/October 1985
    The Broadwater Farm riots

    After the arrest of a young black man, Floyd Jarrett, his house was been searched by the police, which led to a confrontation between the police and Jarrets family members.
    In the commotion, his 49-year-old mother, Cynthia Jarrett, fell over and died almost instantly
    Later the police was criticized about the way the home searching took place [5]
    After the death of Cynthia Jarrett the socalled Broadwater Farm riots spread, which costed the life of a policeman, Keith Blakelock [6]

    A week before the death of Cynthia Jarrett another black woman, Dorothy Cherry Groce, was shot in her home by the police and was paralysed below the waist for the rest of her life
    The direct cause was the police searching of her son Michael Groce, who was suspected of fitearms offence
    Her shooting was followed by the Brixton riots in 1985 [7]

    Tottenham 2011

    Direct cause was the police shooting of Mark Duggan, a father of four at 4th august in an attempt to arrest him.
    The police sho shot him were part of the Specialist Firearms Command [CO19], accompanying officers from ”Operation Trident”, a London Metropolitan police Unit which deals with ”guncrime in the black community”
    Immediately after the fatal shooting the police spread the runour [which was promoted by the media], that Duggan had fired at the police.
    However, ballistic investigation showed, that Duggan didn’t fire at the police at all [8]

    What really infuriated the people was the lack of respect the police showed to a peaceful protest of family and friends of Mark Duggan to Tottenham Police Station
    No information whatsoever had been given about the cause of his death
    The parents of Mark Duggan found out how he died from the press
    Two days later [9]

    REACTION OF THE BRITISH GOVERNMENT AND POLITICIANS ON THE RIOTS
    MORAL DECLINE?
    WHOSE?

    Members of Parliament:

    Striking is, that all British political parties, from conservative to ”progressive” left were unanimous in condemning the riots as ”criminal” or ”mindless” [10]
    Often without any reference to underlying causes or the fact, that this was no isolated outburst of fury, but based on years of protests from mainly black underprivileged neighbourhoods
    Those who did refer to social backgrounds [like financial cuts], nevertheless called for extreme measures to end the riots [11]
    A courageous reaction came fron Labour MP John Mc Donnel, who stated:
    ”“MPs and their expenses, bankers and their bonuses, tax evading corporations” had created a “society of looters”. [12]

    State/Government:

    It was no suprise, that State reaction was extremely repressive
    Prime minister Cameron laid all ugly cards on the table

    He called the rioters ”criminals” and the riots ”moral decline”
    He spoke about ”culture of fear in the streets”, neglecting the fact, that the years of violent police action had caused a culture of fear among the inhabitants of underprivileged black neighbourhoods

    His measures were tough enough
    16000 policemen were sent to London
    He threatened to use the watercannon, which was never used in England [although it was a common measure of repression in Northern Ireland]
    The use of the rubber bullet also belonged to the possibilities
    His most extreme statement was, that the police was free to use ”all means necessary” [13]

    Yet apart from his repressive means he uses the riots as an excuse to promote extreme police measures [14]

    REACTION OF THE BRITISH PRESS

    The British press followed the politicians like slaves
    Agan, from ”progressive” to conservative press, an unanimous condemnation of the riots, often without any reference to the underlying causes [15]
    Besides silly comments from the conservative press [criminality, moral decline], the socalled ”progressive” paper The Guardian used law and order language in her ”statement” to the public to back the police [16]

    The Independent was less worse, but not good enough
    Although they uttered police and society criticism, any relation between police violence/social problems and the riots was denied.
    They called the riots ”mindless violence”, a stupid comment, since there was no reference to underlying causes [17]

    One could compare the reaction of the press with those media, which commented the 11 september attacks without any reference to the deeper lying causes [18]

    True exceptions:
    The Socialist Worker, the Morning Star and anarchist comments

    Between all those negative press reaction, there were two good exceptions, the Socialist Worker and the Morning Star, which DID comment on the years of social deprivation, government cuts, racism and police violence, which had created the riots
    They placed it in historical perspective by pointing out, that the 2011 riots didn’t come out of the sky, but had a background, from the eighties of the former century [19]
    But those are no mainstream media, but stemmed from the resistance, which is not bound by parliamentary ties
    From anarchist view there also was fundamental criticism [20]

    CAUSES OF THE RIOTS
    ”MINDLESS VIOLENCE” OR LEGITIMATE RESISTANCE?

    ””WE ARE NO LONGER WILLING TO PUT UP WITH POLICE BRUTALITY OR RACISM”
    Alondra Nelson [Twitter]

    Politicians and press were in a competition to scream about the ”criminal character” of the riots, ”mobs out of control”, ”gangsters”, mindless violence, etc, etc
    Causes didn’t play any part, the death of Mark Duggan had nothing to do with it
    And more of that nonsense

    But reality shows another cup of soup:

    Of course it is not by chance, that riots have their origin in poor, underprivileged areas as Tottenham, which are plagued by great poverty, unemployment and lack of perspective, especially for young people.
    Recently in Tottenham eight of the twelve youth facilities were closed.

    Add to that racism and systematic police violence with often a racist nature and you have your ingredients for riots [21]

    RIOTS/HISTORICAL OVERVIEW

    Since the early eigthies [of the former century] anti racist and socio economical riots took place, often clashes between black youth and the police, but also white youth take part, since they are victims of the same social deprivation
    In most cases, direct cause is police violence or an inedequate police investigation after racist violence against black people
    Underlying causes are the socio economical problems.
    It is not by chance, that looting is directed against the big stores like Sony and banks [22]

    FRENCH RIOTS/LOS ANGELES RIOTS
    SAME CAUSE, SAME STRUGGLE

    A tight comparision is made with the French riots in 2005 and 2007 and even the Los Angeles riots in 1992
    As well the French as LA riots stemmed from the same origin
    Poverty, a lack of perspective, high youth unemployment
    Direct causes were also police violence
    In the french case, Amnesty International sharply criticized police violence and impunity [23]

    CULTURE OF FEAR IN THE STREETS
    POLICE VIOLENCE

    Police violence is one of the greatest sources for riots and is often directed against blacks, although not only
    Causes lie often in racism AND in the fact, that most ”coloured” people live in underprevileged neigbourhoods, where tensions and frustrations are bog because of structural poverty
    Investigation shows, that black people have 25 times the chance to be controlled by the police
    The cases of violent police confrontation are alarming
    Mark Duggan, Cynthia Jarrett, Cynthia Jarrett and Dorothy Groce are the top of the iceberg [24]
    The last ten years, at least 650 people died in police custody [25]

    NOT RIOTS, BUT THIS POLICE VIOLENCE CREATE A ”CULTURE OF FEAR”

    DEVASTATING FOR THE POLICE
    UNMASKING POLICE VIOLENCE
    REPORTS SCARMAN/GIFFORD/MACPHERSON

    Two reports about police violence were revealing, the Scarman report [1981] following the Brixton riots in 1981 and the Gifford report [1986] following Broadwater Farm riots in 1985
    Although the riots were condemned, both reports revealed serious police racism and prejudice
    The Gifford report even did a proposal for reforms of the police
    So did the MacPherson report [1999], which was created following the death of Stephen Lawrence [26]

    IMPUNITY OF POLICE VIOLENCE

    What makes people furious is the impunity of the police violence
    Investigations take place and reports are written.

    HOWEVER, THE LAST 40 YEARS NO POLICE OFFICER HAS FOUND GUILTY OF ANY DEATH IN CUSTODY, DESPITE THE GREAT NUMBER
    THE SAME IS THE CASE REGARDING POLICE SHOOTING INCIDENTS
    In case of the death of Cyntrhia Jarrett, no police officer has been charged, in the Cherry Groce case the police officer involved has been acquitted.
    The same old story with regard to other shooting incidents [27]

    DEATH OF A POLICEMAN/NO MOUNTAIN TO HIGH……

    However, when a police officer is killed, all hell breaks loose.
    During the Broadwater Farm riots in 1985, police officer Blakelock had been killed [28]
    Police maintained a substantial presence on the estate for several months, arresting and interrogating 400 people.
    Eventually 6 men were charged, three minors and three adults.
    The juveniles all had their cases dismissed after the judge ruled the conditions in which they had been held were so inappropriate that their interrogation was inadmissible – conditions included being questioned naked except for a blanket, which was cruel and inhumane, and being questioned without a guardian [29]
    Eventually three adults [Winston Silcott, Engin Raghip en Mark Braithwaite ] were convicted to lifelong imprisonment despite no witnesses and limited forensic evidence.
    The Tottenham Three are Innocent Campaign and the Broadwater Farm Defence Campaign pressed for a retrial. On 25 November 1991, all three defendants were cleared by the Court of Appeal when an ESDA test [30] demonstrated police notes of interrogations (the only evidence) had been tampered with. [31]

    DOUBLE STANDARDS

    Double standards, regarding human lives
    For any loss of human life deserves the same justice, regardless the victim
    Any human being has the right to life and dignity

    EPILOGUE:

    The riots are over after State hugh repression
    16000 policemen were sent to London, the use of the watercannon and baton rounds has been considered, there were mass arrests of 1500 people, mass home searches and harsh sentences by the Courts [32]

    However, nothing has been solved, when the State only reacts with repression and lack of respect for the fundamental rights of any human being, regardless descent

    The right to life
    The right to be free from poverty
    The right to live in dignity

    When the State doesn’t respect those rights and only reacts with repression, when the police is not reformed, the next riots are on their way, when time is ripe

    Moral decline there is for sure
    But then from the side of the State and police

    Kind greetings

    Astrid Essed
    Amsterdam
    The Netherlands

    SEE FOR NOTES

    http://la.indymedia.org/news/2011/09/247663.php

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

six + thirteen =