Social media has exploded into debate about the Tottenham riots which took place over the weekend. I have been genuinely shocked by the response of the general public, which has blindly echoed the official government and police narrative. Steve Reed of Lambeth Council has described the looting as a ‘Supermarket Sweep’, following up with the words ‘it wasn’t about social issues, it was an opportunity to go on the rob’. Similarly, facebook anecdotes have included:
‘Just because you want answers, you can’t just rob and steal’
‘It’s moronic and undefendable, the person who got shot by the cops wasn’t a saint’
‘Poverty or no poverty has nothing to do with it…no-one gave me anything in life, I had to work in all kinds of shitty jobs and didn’t sign on or expect the government to sort me out’
‘If a young man is resentful about being excluded from society, why would he DROP OUT of school? Surely he would STAY IN school. Why would he deal drugs and rob small shops? How is that going to get him included?…There is education and work for all that want it in London’
Wow, just wow. Let’s put this into context and try to understand a little deeper the issues here. Is a child born a ‘thug’, or do its surroundings and socio-economic conditions create a ‘thug’? While Boris Johnson, Mayor of London and privileged Eton graduate, suns himself in an undisclosed holiday destination, one of two children in Tottenham live below the poverty line. Education in inner city schools is undisputably poor and even for those who do get good grades, unemployment is the highest in London and the eighth worst in the UK. The situation is dire.
To add to this, cuts under the Conservative government have squeezed our working and middle classes and damaged our poorest communities. Cuts haven’t touched bank bosses such as Stephen Hester of RBS who just took home £4.5 million in bonuses, nor have they damaged the rich corporations whose tax evasion costs £95 billion every year. No, the cuts have hurt underprivileged youths whose youth clubs have been shut down, their schools whose funding is in jeopardy and their parents who often rely on child benefit support to make ends meet. The word ‘hopelessness’ is defined as being ‘beyond optimism’ and, in light of poor education, lack of jobs, no money and few prospects, youth in our poor communities are just that; hopeless. More than that, they are frustrated, mad at the situation they find themselves in and the lack of a way out, while they percieve the disparity between themselves and ‘rich Britain’.
Of course there is always the argument ‘I had it bad and I never looted and stole’. While there are many instances of individuals who have made it against all odds, this argument does not negate the systemic social inequality in the UK. Where there have been success stories, there is often a defining factor which has shaped that individuals life; a supportive parent, a strict teacher who kept them out of trouble, an involvement in sport which kept them off the street. Each life is a cocktail of experiences and influences, which for many people does not see them offered the opportunities or the right mindset or skills to grasp opportunity when it presents itself.
With little to do during this long summer break, other than lurk around on London’s street, the shooting of Mark Duggan has provided an excuse to go on the rampage. If you are shocked by the Tottenham riots then you don’t know your history and can read up on previous escalated violences in clashes with the police in underprivileged areas in Nichole Black’s well written piece. The most prominent example is the riots of 1985 at the Broadwater Farm, sparked by the death of Cynthia Jarrett. Several additional cases were reported in the following years. In the case of Jarrett, it took four years for an ICPP inquiry to present any results and in the other cases, not a single police officer was ever taken to justice. While the police were quick to announce an inquiry into Mark Duggan’s death, they have provided little detail into the Trident operation which led up to it and did not speak to his family for hours into Thursday afternoon. Police brutality against the black community is well documented and reports yesterday that the bullet supposedly fired by Duggan himself was actually police issue could serve to corroborate this fact.
Arguments are rife that Duggan was a ‘gangster’ and was armed, and was thus suspect to police intervention. However, possession of a firearm does not warrant murder. The linked issue is of police legitimacy and trust in such cases…the police said Mark Duggan used a gun, Smiley had a knife, Jean Charles de Mendes had a bomb, Ian Thomlinson died of natural causes during protests and Sean Hoare’s death was not suspicious despite being a whistleblower and crucial witness in a controversial case involving police and politicians (I’m paraphrasing @MelissaMono here).
Was this opportunistic looting at it worst? Yes, and it cannot be condoned. Are small, family run businesses being destroyed. Tragically, yes. However, is there a reasoning behind the mindset of a ‘thug’? Is their protest legitimate? Yes. Are their means of demonstration legitimate? Absolutely not. Hundreds of people have taken to the streets with the simple aim of civil disobedience. However, the condemnation by officials and on social networks is too simple, the narrative ‘angry black youths riot for no apparent reason’ makes people more comfortable (@Christiana1987) and serves an ongoing government portrayal of underprivileged youth as ignorant, violent, benefit thieving hoodies. In doing so, the real issues of social inequality are skimmed over, including executive bonuses and tax evasion. Meanwhile the media, the government and big corporations are in bed together having a little menage-a-trois and laughing at our stupidity for thinking that disadvantaged kids reeking pointless revenge on a society which has failed them are the real bad guys.
After graduating in 2006 with a BA in Politics from the University of Leicester, Natalie worked for four years in marketing, two years in traditional below-the-line marketing and two years in online marketing, heading up a research division at a search agency, mapping emerging trends in consumer search behaviour.
In 2010 she left the marketing industry to go back to politics, and is currently studying a masters degree in Comparative Politics with Research at London School of Economics and Political Science.
At the same time, Natalie has undertaken NGO work with the Westminster Foundation For Democracy, implementing evaluation methods for projects in Uganda, Mozambique, Morocco, Ukraine, Georgia and Lebanon, and work for think tank the Centre for Democracy and Independence, researching global regionalism and its effect upon employment.
Editor: David Steinacker
A recent MSc graduate from LSE, David has worked as a research assistance for the Medical Research Council UK in Uganda, a World Bank project on malaria in Nigeria and as a consultant for Oxfam UK. He is the founding trustee and board member of the German development organisation Go Ahead! and an associate with the office of MP Lars Klingbeil.
David has four years experience in working for the American Field Service in Germany and gained development country exposure during placements in South Africa, Kenya and Uganda. His areas of interest are private sector development, trade, HIV/Aids, malaria and finacial markets.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, August 9th, 2011 at 12:19 am. It is filed under United Kingdom and tagged with cuts, police brutality, poverty, racism, social inequality, social media, Tottenham riots. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
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