U.K. – Tottenham Riot and Disenfranchised Youth
By Hwaa Irfan
We will not talk of the wave of carnage and destruction that erupted in the streets of Tottenham, North London, or the police cars, and public bus set ablaze, or officers on horseback setting themselves above the multiracial crowd of rioters armed with petrol bombs. Or the police radio that was shot on the night that Mark Duggan was killed was shot with a police issued bullet – a dum dum type hollowed out bullets designed not to pass through an object.
We will not speak of the riot happening the same time as the Brixton ‘Splash’ festival, or the Haringey planed ‘One’ festival or the fact that the situation was not contained in Tottenham. We will not speak of the budgetary cut for the Metropolitan police, and being asked to reduce the numbers they patrol the streets of London in as 8 eight officers were hospitalized from the latest Tottenham riot. We will instead refer to a disenchanted youth population, a disenfranchised black youth population, and the initial cause.
Tottenham, 26 years after the Broadwater Farm riots might have been a more amenable place to live in for all. As always in any community, there are those who can rise above a situation, and there are those who get pulled down further into a quagmire. The racial stereotypes still prevail, especially amongst the police who continue to view as one South Bank University student told reporter Peter Jackson:
“The police never talk to us, they ignore us, and they don’t think we’re human in this area,”
“We get pulled over all the time like criminals. If you’re wearing a black hood, [if] you’re a black man, they pull you over for no reason.”
‘Mindless thugs’ said 28 year old Jake Manu.
This perception was underpinned by youth worker Michelle Jackson:
“The way the police treat black people is like we’re nothing, they handle us really like we’re nothing. They speak to the young people like they’re nothing.”
She said the police needed to engage more with youngsters.
“They pull us out of cars like we’re drug dealers. The only reason why people did what they did is because this is the only way we’re going to get heard,” she said.
Retired accountant, Alfred Griffith who has lived in Tottenham for 30 years also criticized the police:
“I have seen the behaviour of some of the police in this area and I haven’t been happy about it.
“I think some behave in an arrogant manner that puts people’s backs up.”
They may not have been pulled out of cars, but this is the same experience that led to the dissatisfaction of Egyptian youth led 25th January Revolt 2011, a dissatisfaction that has made it almost impossible for any trust to exist between the Egyptian people and the police force a dissatisfaction that was met with relief when the police was unofficially “off-duty” during the early days of the revolt.
Yet both black and white citizens were not happy with what happened, well who would be with having carnage on one’s doorstep. Between understanding the general environment, and shock at the backlash tolerance has clearly gone past its sell by date.
The police do not accept the blame for the riot, which was sparked by the killing of Mark Duggan the previous week. The gun crime unit, Trident was carrying out an operation and were expecting to make some arrests on Thursday 04th July 2011. Duggan was in a taxi and in contact with his fiancée so he was on his way home as he asked her to cook dinner. Fifteen minutes before Duggan was killed, he texted his fiancée informing her that he was being followed by the “Feds”.
It was not until the day of the riot that it was made known that Duggan was shot in an exchange of fire by the police Trident Unit. The following day, Sunday 8August preliminary ballistic reports indicate the “exchange” flying bullets were police issues according to. An independent watchdog said the police officer was shot before police returned fire.
“I knew the person that was shot, he’s a really nice guy, and they’re making him out to be some kind of gangster,” said Michelle Jackson.
What transpired in that week was police PR with the media, telling the media that father of four, Duggan had pulled a gun on armed police. Duggan was shot so badly that not even his mother could recognize him.
What followed was a peaceful vigil, and small protest taht set out from Broadwater Farm seeking answers, seeking justice, saying that we exist, but the situation erupted when police vans arrived, with most of the on-looking crowd jeering chanting: “ we want answers.” “Whose streets?” and “ Our streets.” By Saturday night 6th August 120 protesters attempted to storm Tottenham police station seeking answers, an incident that is not common in London. Were the protestors, which was a family affair one and the same as the rioters, so far it seems unlikely. The Territorial Support Group charged at the rioters, blocking side streets, with police on horseback and with dogs, as well as a police helicopter flying above the scene. Four fire rockets were shot as more residents came on the scene to see what was going on. However instead of frightening the people, the police became frightened as the rage grew. Metropolitan commander Stephen Watson told infamous Sky News that the Gold command was a routine response to public disorder, but how many incidents of this kind have taken place?
To cover their backs, The Independent Police Complaints Commission rushed out a statement claiming to be in close contact with the Duggan family, and that they would have further meetings with them on Sunday.
Duggan’s older brother Shaun Hall told Sky News:
“We are devastated at the loss of our brother, our son, our cousin, our friend. He’s got a vast amount of friends. We are all devastated to hear about the mishap.
“We don’t actually know what has actually happened. I suppose that’s what is the most gruelling thing for us at the moment, nobody has actually come forward and told us this is what has taken place . Whether we believe what they are saying or whether we don’t, they should be somebody here putting my parents’ mind at rest about what is actually going on.
“The whole family is devastated. We don’t want Mark portrayed as some kind of gangster. He’s a family man.
Of the allegation that a police officer was shot at, when Duggan was killed on Thursday, Hall said:
“I think its rubbish. Mark’s not that sort of person. He’s not stupid to shoot after police, that’s ridiculous.”
An anonymous person reported to the Guardian as follows:
I was on the high road between 8.30pm-11.30pm.
I arrived after the police cars were on fire.
With that said things were reasonably calm – stand off
It became violent and escalated after a police officer hit a women with a baton.
She was v. distress and was running back into the crowd after being near the police line.
This angered the crowd and they proceeded to throw rocks bottle etc…
Regarding the bus – it was just the driven on the bus – he drove right it into the crowd – therefore had to stop – people got on the bus – the driver walked off with no trouble and took the keys with him. people asked for the keys but driver said no – no one challenged him
What manifested from the riot, was a looting of goods from nearby shops by a variety of people. Eye witness Norma Jones told the BBC
“Looking out of my window last night, there were all nations running down the road with things in their hands,”
Opportunists had taken to the scene seeking justice in material goods in an area with high unemployment, while 55 people were arrested, and 26 police officers were injured, but will this be the last of many, now that the people now know what they can do?
Thanks to the Guardian’s Datablog, online survey, live streaming of info through reporters tweeting, and the gathering of eye-witness accounts, a truer picture has evolved of what took place where. This demonstrates how the media can play a constructive role in information gathering instead of leaving us prey to the information control of corporate media.
Fear permeates the streets as citizens attempt to go about their normal lives, as the U.K. try to control the situation as it unrolls into a fifth night, by referring to the spread of riots to as far as Manchester as “copy cat” riots. More public property have been destroyed, police stations attacked, homes lost, amidst fear of an encroaching job loss as the global economic crisis sinks in.
The government has under estimated the effect of the anti-austerity measures in its “talk” of creating employment for the youth, when the wide ranging problems that the youth face cannot be put down to unemployment alone when there are thousands of jobs still clearly available. The social statement of the youth began last year by organizing large illegal raves that have mushroomed in spontaneous combustion as a form of escapism from the status quo. When speaking to those youth one is aware how self determined they are as they view themselves as a part of the Internet generation whose minds cannot be controlled anymore.
Equipped with smartphones, and Facebook is the means by which the whole situation developed. The spread of the riots is but a further demonstration of their disenchantment which has become increasingly apparent since the eruption of looting, home-made bombs, and destruction of property. Three Asian men were rammed down by a car of looters in the Midlands in an attempt to protect their property reflects various “agendas” at play. All dying in hospital, other Asians in the U.K. have also been attacked, and mugged.
Are these youths consciously aware or reacting to a situation that they don’t fully understand? It is probably a combination of both, especially as the black and ethnic minority communities have become indirectly politicized as a result of the way in which they have been treated albeit they be second and third generation born Brits, and especially as institutionalized racism has become a part of British life.
When one observed the eruption of youth protest, it was quite apparent then that if it was to take place in a country like the U.K. there would be chaos, as the unifying culture of inter-faith ethics and sense of responsibility does not exist. One is dearth to refer to the situation in the U.K. as the result of the Arab Spring, when in fact it just very well might be, it is just that they are a dangerous breed, rebels without a cause, with no direction, and may very well end up worse off than when it all started five nights ago. The strange irony is, that it could have all been averted if the police had responded properly to the shooting and killing of Mark Duggan, for all else that happened since has been an opportune moment in time!
The 5 days of rioting ended, not because of the 60,000 police force who eventually came out on the streets, but because a moral compass within the community said enough. After the second day, looting had dropped, and the might of the poor of all ethnicities, and even out of the mouths of babes (10 year olds) were clear in the 50+ communities throughout the U.K. that was hit by the riots. The stop and search tactics of the police over the years applied to adults and children alike – from and to home and school has been having a psychological impact on those affected. Feelings of being criminalized, and unworthy of belonging had festered over the years. The police stations and anything representing the establishment was attacked, devoid of the required ears to listen to the needs of the people while the establishment still effuses to take responsibility, and is blind to the Hobson’s Choice of a people. More and more have been forced off of social welfare, university fees had tripled, parental role had been undermined, and the cost of living shouted loud and clear everyday that one might as well not exist or to seek illegal means by which to do so. It was a shock to the establishment for one reason only, and that is they thought they had succeeded in placing the people into an insufferable silence, without rights, while declaring to be a democracy!
Bolesworth, S. “Tottenham In Flames As Riot Follows Protest.” http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/blog/2011/aug/07/tottenham-riots-police-duggan-live?intcmp=239
Jackson, P. “London Riots: Tensions Behind Unrest Revealed.” http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-14436529
Moore-Bridger, B. Parsons, R. And Davenport, J Father Dies And Policeman Hurt in ‘Terrifying’ Shoot-Out.” http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23975846-man-shot-dead-by-police-in-tottenham.do
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