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From Brixton to Tottenham, inequality lies at the heart of the riots

On Thursday evening, Mark Duggan was shot dead by police officers in Tottenham.  The IPCC immediately announced they would investigate; unusual for an organisation known for its inefficiency. The media were told that a non-police issue firearm had been recovered from the scene, and that one of the police officers had been injured.  Later reports revealed a bullet found lodged in a police radio.

In the aftermath of Tottenham's riots

Photo by Christophe Maximin under a CC license.

But it turned out that it was in fact a police bullet lodged in that radio.  Presumably, ‘friendly fire’.  The recovered firearm was in a sock.   Mark Duggan didn’t fire a single shot.  Another man executed at the hands of the police, and more misinformation from the IPCC.

On Saturday night, I was eating dinner at a friend’s house when news of clashes with police in Tottenham filtered through.  Twitter was our main news source, and phone calls confirmed that riot police were being deployed in the area.  Earlier that evening, the family of Mr. Duggan and local residents had protested outside Tottenham police station.  Two days had passed, and they had received no explanation for his death.  In similar fashion, their demonstration and demands for answers were ignored.

More people gathered, and frustration grew.  Days earlier, Haringey council had announced the closing of eight out of the 13 youth clubs in the borough.  Now, a man had been shot dead in the street, and no-one seemed to care.

This is the context we are told to ignore.  These riots have nothing to do with the death of Mark Duggan.  These riots have nothing to do with rising unemployment.  These riots have nothing to do with the cuts to education and youth centres.  Simply mindless violence, we are told.

When I arrived in Tottenham, I could see a huge fire at the other end of the main road.  Police officers had cordoned off a large area, and were being occasionally pelted with bricks and bottles in side streets. Fires were drifting dangerously close to nearby homes.  It was we who directed fire engines when they arrived. When challenged on this, a police officer told us he was “here to protect the police”, not local residents. After all, this was Tottenham, not Westminster. 

As the night progressed, another police car was set alight.  The attention of the crowd turned to looting, and as I drove away, I saw scores of people walking in and out of JD Sports, piles of clothes in their hand.  Did I sympathise with the people who saw their homes or corner shops damaged, yes.  Did I sympathise with JD Sports, no.

If it is a question of where my solidarity lies, and the options are M&S and Footlocker versus young people in the streets, then for me there is only one answer.  The following evening, Brixton erupted in similar disturbances.  Footlocker, which is located roughly 150 metres away from Brixton police station, was the first to be raided.  For the first 25 minutes of looting, the police did nothing.

When they finally moved into action on Sunday night, people were not kettled, as in the student demonstrations, but forced further down the High Street. Looting continued with  M&S, Vodafone, H&M and McDonalds all getting their windows smashed. 

I received a torrent of abuse online for expressing support for the riots.  I expect Martin Luther King got the same abuse when he said “A riot is the language of the unheard” as did Bob Marley for singing “That’s why we gonna be burning and looting tonight...” .

I’m sorry, but my solidarity does not lie with corporations making millions and their fully-insured smashed windows, it lies with human beings who lose their lives and their families.

Further down Effra Road, crowds began to pour into Currys.  Riot police with weapons attempted to push people away from the Tulse Hill end of Effra Road, but were forced to retreat towards Brixton under a hail of paving stones.  Three polices vans sped away.  For over an hour, a constant stream of plasma screens and other electronic goods were carried out of Currys.  There was nothing the police could do.

However, if they want the rioting to stop, there is something extremely simple the police can do:  stop killing people.

Of course random looting is not going to end police injustice. That would take far more organisation. But until justice is done, the language of the unheard will continue to be spoken.

Many are blaming the violence on criminal thugs. But it’s inequality and decades of oppression in under-privileged communities that lies at the heart of this. The causes of the riots are being swept under the rugs looted from Carpetright.

As long as police persist in seeing themselves as above the law, young people will carry on taking the law into their own hands. 

A longer version of this comment piece can be read at Jody McIntyre's blog Life on Wheels.

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