By Carol Brickley, Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!
There has now been a constant stream of politicians, police and press anxious to condemn violence on the streets of Tottenham, Brixton, Enfield and elsewhere, all of them threatening dire ‘retribution’ to the ‘rioters’. The press is already leading the witchhunt to spot the ‘looter’. Deputy Mayor of London Kit Malthouse is anxious, as well he may be: ‘Obviously there are people in this city, sadly, who are intent on violence, who are looking for the opportunity to steal and set fire to buildings and create a sense of mayhem, whether they’re anarchists or part of organised gangs or just feral youth frankly, who fancy a new pair of trainers.’ There is condemnation only for the violence of the oppressed; none for the police violence that killed Mark Duggan; none for the lies that have been told about him. This response is identical to previous uprisings, from Brixton in 1981 to Broadwater Farm in 1985. Promises of revenge and exemplary sentences issued after the Broadwater Farm uprising led to this community being under police siege for months and the framing of three innocent men for murder.
As in 1981 and 1985 the Labour Party has been just as keen as right-wing Tories to condemn the demonstrators. Ken Livingstone, voice of the Labour left in London, neatly avoiding any comment about the plight of black people and poor people during the years of Labour rule, is now criticising the Tories for creating ‘social division’. But his real point is the same as always:
‘In a period of cuts and unemployment it would be extreme folly to continue to erode the neighbourhood policing teams that put the Met into direct daily contact with communities and ensure a closer understanding between local people and the Met. The plan to force hundreds of sergeants in local police teams to reapply for their own jobs must be abandoned.’
Livingstone is concerned that the British state should be strong enough to police the oppressed in times of crisis.
Commentators are trying to argue that life for inner city young people is better than it was in the 1980s, so there is less excuse for rising up against the police. But, in fact, London is an increasingly divided society. The rich live in ‘gated’ boroughs where the Cameron Coalition government is aiming to ensure that there are no benefit claimants, no council houses, no beggars, no youth on the streets and private rents are beyond the reach of anyone even on average income. Workers will need to commute into these boroughs to provide basic services at minimum or below minimum wages. In areas like Tottenham, Hackney and Brixton, where black and oppressed communities have to live, the pressure on families is growing. There is no work for young people, especially young black men. Benefits are being cut, so that families with young children are under the most strain. Schools in these areas are the ones most under stress, where teachers are hard to recruit and facilities are poor. Working class children do not see a future for themselves and grants like the EMA (which helped them stay in school) have been abolished, alongside the dramatic hike in university fees. The children of the working class, the poor and the oppressed, have to compete for a future with middle class and rich children who buy their privileges at private schools and elite universities.
Mark Duggan’s family know the truth – that for the Metropolitan Police Mark’s life did not count. They also know that their distress at his killing is of no account. Working class people in inner London have no illusions. We are expected to pay the price of solving the public sector debt crisis – the capitalist crisis – without fighting back. We are expected to acquiesce to police repression of our communities. Make no mistake. It was the uprising in Tottenham on Saturday night that made Mark Duggan’s life count, and made his family count. Fighting back is our answer to the ruling class who would like us all to quietly rot.