Reflections on Riots

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The riots that have taken place in London and across other cities in recent days have their roots in racism, poverty and police brutality. The trigger for these events was the shooting dead by the police of yet another young black man, Mark Duggan. As with previous deaths at the hands of the police – Jean Charles De Menezes, Ian Tomlinson, to name just a couple – false stories were circulated by the police about the victim. In Mark Duggan’s case, it was the suggestion that he had shot first at police officers. The peaceful protest at Tottenham police station on Saturday only turned violent after the police treated Mark’s family with total disrespect, keeping them waiting for over four hours, and then refusing to provide them with any explanation or apology. This was compounded by the beating of a 16-year old girl on the protest.

But the anger visible on our streets is a product of many years of brutal and oppressive policing. The scandal of the heavy-handed police tactics at recent student and anti-cuts protests were only the most visible examples of the kind of treatment that has been meted out to many poor, especially BME communities over many years. Policing strategies such as ‘Operation Trident’ and the widespread use of ‘stop and search’ have understandably bred resentment and anger. But on this there has been almost complete silence from the mainstream media and politicians. ‎ As Martin Luther King Jr. put it, “A riot is the language of the unheard”.

We offer solidarity to all those communities affected by the riots, in many cases some of the most disadvantaged in the country. The current demands for more police powers, water cannon etc. are not the answer. Instead, urgent and long term assistance needs to be given to rebuild these communities, and this requires appropriate acknowledgement and response to people’s concerns.

Talk of ‘mindless’ and ‘criminal’ violence misses the larger context of economic deprivation and the systematic police harassment of particular communities. Such talk belittles the real pain being felt by the poorest in our society who are being made to pay the highest price, in terms of cuts to services and lost jobs, for the economic crisis. The media have been quick to blame those on the streets but Defend the Right to Protest believes that it is the police and the government who bear most of the responsibility for the disturbing scenes being played out on the streets of our cities this summer.

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