So it all kicked off, in Tottenham, Hackney, Lewisham, Peckham, Croydon, Brixton, Clapham Junction, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Salford, Gloucester and many other places. I’ve always been fascinated with the Brixton riots of 1981, Broadwater Farm in 1985 and the Poll Tax riots of 1990. I’ve read and listened to those who have personal accounts with fascination. Make no mistake, we have now all lived through another piece of history that you’ll almost certainly recount to someone.
My personal observations and experience of these riots have been that unless a person voices only the opinion that the rioters are feral, ignorant, scummy bastards then you are somehow excusing or accepting what has happened. Nowhere have I seen anyone excusing or accepting what has happened and I certainly do not do that myself. I see people searching for explanations that go beyond labelling the participants and blaming parents.
Right now, we’re in the immediate aftermath. Cameron, Clegg and Johnson are struggling for credibility in their responses, the majority have screamed their condemnation and droves of young people are being herded in and out of courts that are working overtime. Prison sentences are being cried out for, as well as withdrawal of benefits, use of water canons, plastic bullets, bringing in the army, powers to suspend social networks, a reverse on cuts to the police force and hilariously, police powers to force people to remove their hoods.
I don’t disagree with all of these measures to contain a riot, however they all amount to just that, containment, rather than solving of the problem. I’ve outlined in my previous post what I feel that the problems are so I don’t intend to revisit them here. The measures put forward will improve the ability of the authorities to contain violence and criminality however they will also lead to further oppression of the already oppressed. Factor into the equation that inequality is increasing, we know that an oppressed people will accept their situation only for so long until they respond violently.
What will come of all this? Something that I have found interesting is in relation to the Brixton riots in 1981. You probably know that these riots were caused by racist Police tactics in Brixton at the time which were extremely antagonistic to black people in that area. A single incident lit the fuse and the place exploded. What you may not know, as I did not until I read this piece by Mark Steel and discussed it with colleagues who remember that time well, is that in the aftermath of that weekend, the media was packed with screaming condemnation of the rioters. I wonder how the riots of the last few days will be viewed in one, five or thirty years time? Will the nation at large still hold the view that these were the actions of “opportunistic scum” or will a deeper understanding have emerged?
One thing that is beyond dispute, the country is talking about the socially marginalised and young people, at present a large proportion is in the form of howling derision but no-one can deny that the events of the last few days have shone a light on criminal elements in our communities. I have to view this as a positive. I have worked with socially excluded people for 8 years, I’m a relative newbie. The people that I, my wife, my friends and colleagues work with so diligently have come crashing to the fore of everyone’s mind. I hope, that once the anger has subsided and the majority of people have forgotten about the events of 6 – 9 August 2011, all that will be left will be the people who desire to understand why this happened and work towards addressing the highlighted issues.
The Brixton Riots led to the Scarman Report, which brought about improvements in Police relations with Black communities. I hope for something similar in the wake of these riots. I hope that young people will increase their understanding of the issues that effect them and engage in legitimate political actions to improve their position. Moreover, I hope that young people and the socially excluded are listened to.