Insurrection of the Masses. Darcus Howe on the British Riots

Darcus Howe, was part of the the first acknowledgment from a British judge that there was racial hatred in the Metropolitan Police Service, which came after a 1970 protest got out of hand. Now, 40 years later, Howe brings us the point “Mark Dugan – he has parents, he has brothers, he has sisters. A police officer blew his head off.” He talks of recent UK police actions “They have been stopping and searching young blacks for no reason at all.” Including his grandson who has been pulled over and searched so many times he can’t remember them all.

This is a wake up call to the deep distrust between black communities and the police in many cities. It’s not so easy to explain the violence of the past few days. It began in the north London neighborhood of Tottenham, the catalyst was the killing by police of a black man. The questions are uncomfortable. Is this just mindless violence? or has London failed to address deep social problems that it thought belonged to the past?

The key issue here is the mixture of policies that have combined to make an explosive community in N. London. Firstly most rioters are young males – they are suffering disproportionate unemployment and things like abolishing EMA and student fees has alienated them from the economy. Secondly cuts in housing benefits in particular amount of “social cleansing” of inner cities of the poor, plus other benefits cuts. Thirdly the devaluation of the £ has driven up inflation for food, energy and petrol, so there is a big squeeze on most people who are really feeling the pinch. Many living in these areas are also public sector workers, who are bearing a disproportionate share of spending cuts and job loses.

The following is a post by a graphic designer at Haiz Design firm from London:
Living in London, UK, and very close to the scene of the start of the riots, I have been very aware of the events unfolding around us recently, so I am taking a small diversion from the usual content to share my thoughts on the matter. The last few days of rioting and looting really have been shocking, and one of the first televised scenes that made it all the more disturbing was the building in Tottenham, right next to my partner’s workplace up in flames! This is 10 minutes away from our house and the Wood Green riots and looting that followed are right on our doorstep, so the helicopters were very low and flying over continually. People have lost their homes and livelihoods and in some cases, lives. It has been utterly tragic.

Seeing it unfold on subsequent nights and spill over to other parts of the country has been quite alarming – like some surreal movie playing out on the streets. Everyone I speak to is anxious that this is not over, in spite of the very public naming and shaming and large-scale arrests taking place. We have had extra police units drafted in to London, with16,000 police on patrol over the last couple of nights. They must be exhausted and naturally, we wonder how much longer they will be there and what happens when they relax their presence… Communities, particularly Sikh and Muslim, are coming out in force and taking charge of their streets, so we are not far from a vigilante culture. Interestingly, the press have been saying how the faith-based communities, in particular the Muslims, are modelling the behaviour we want to see. What a turnabout, as only a very short while ago they were seen as potential terrorists and a race to be feared!

People are saying various things about the causes; bored kids who don’t respect authority being top of the list, but we have seen our ‘authority’ figures in a different light – MPs fiddling their expenses and police taking back-handers in the phone-hacking scandals that rocked us recently. So, what is the difference between ‘nice’ crime and street crime? Things have been going to hell in a burning handcart for some time, and personally, I think the drive to get all the parents working in the slave-mentality has opened up society for a lack of moral leadership. Gang culture has grown so kids learn their morals from their peers and we have seen rampant mass-consumerism encouraging people to get the latest brands at the cost of personal debts. People saw an opportunity to get all the free stuff they wanted and thought they were safe within the mass of the mob. Why are we shocked to hear that amongst those arrested we have a graphic designer and a teaching assistant (who was portrayed on his school’s website as a mentor for the children)? Do we not realise the extent of the work done by the advertising industry, convincing us that this Nike “Just Do It” lifestyle is something everyone can adopt? We live in an increasingly disposable society where we want more, better, bigger and faster and the values attached to the material goods we possess have changed significantly.

I wonder if eBay has been advised about the looting as that could prove a minefield for sellers and buyers!

Now, this could all go the other way and become the tipping-point for a clean-up of our society. With the Age of Aquarius and all that it entails, there might well be a move towards greater community and social awareness. Our government suggest consensual policing is the way forward. Does this mean we give our consent to whatever the police demands are, such as equipping them with more powers, weapons and the ability to carry out the one-man justice system where they can arrest and convict on the spot? Or does it suggest that the public see more of the police in their local areas so we can all work together to tackle crime? I hope the police numbers are not cut as this will become more difficult to make reality. Parents were advised to keep their kids off the streets at night. Hmm, this is a good one! Many parents in my experience have no ability to control their kids nocturnal activities and with a 47 year old man involved in the riots, there is a good chance that many of those parents were on the streets themselves.

I hope we see changes and improvements in parenting-awareness as a result of this. Next, schools need to change – stop the emphasis on academia and bring in proper citizenship and social studies, not one lesson every other week. Teach kids Love education, not sex education so respect for others is instilled through parenting AND schooling. Schools need to find out what kids are interested in and encourage individual success, instead of forcing failure on young people when they have no aptitude or interest in subjects that mean very little to them. People need to be engaged in their world not dis-connected from it. If the government cuts continue at their present rate, more intelligent spending has to come into play so we can see a return of local services such as community and youth centres. As communities are rebuilt I hope we will see less of the ‘broken windows’ environments and some sense of pride can be restored along with some new thoughts about the world around us.

I hope things change for the better…