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 and regular failures to get to the truth. 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. The obvious conclusions were drawn.
Now, we know that it was a police bullet lodged in the 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 lies and disinformation 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 recieved 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.
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.
As 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. For the most part, the police seemed happy to let fires burn, even when they drifted dangerously close to nearby homes. After all, this was Tottenham, not Westminster. We directed fire engines when they arrived. When questioned, a police officer told us he was “here to protect the police”, not local residents.
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 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 chose not to respond.
When they finally did, people were not kettled, as in the student demonstrations, but simply forced further down the High Street as looting continued. M&S, Vodafone, H&M and McDonalds all had their windows smashed. I recieved a torrent of abuse online for expressing support for the riots. The same abuse I expect Martin Luther King recieved for saying “A riot is the language of the unheard”. The same abuse I expect Bob Marley recieved for singing “That’s why we gonna be burning and looting tonight…” 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. Nor, for that matter, does it lie with the politicians, now so quick to condemn the riots, who sent the British army to burn and loot in Afghanistan and Iraq.
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 police 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 could do. Stop killing people.
Whilst many seek to pin the blame on the inevitable result of decades of oppression in under-privileged communities, the causes of the riots are swept under the rugs looted from Carpet Right. Inequality is at the heart of this. As long as the police see themselves as above the law, young people will take it into their own hands.
On Effra Road, a police helicopter flew so low overhead that I could feel the shaking on the ground. I saw it filming the crowds as people hauled goods out of Currys. Young people without the foresight to cover their faces, and a crackdown is sure to follow. More arrests, more stop and searches, more targeting of ethnic minorities, and the looting will be the excuse.
For this uprising to continue in an effective manner, organisation is needed. Random looting is not going to overcome police injustice. But until then, the language of the unheard will continue to be spoken.