The Rioting Act
“Black people gotta lotta problems
But they don’t mind throwing a brick”
Joe Strummer’s longing lyrics to The Clash’s 1977 hit White Riot are a gross libel on a community, but they also contain a grain of truth. The diplomat’s son who always wanted to be a working class hero was waxing envious about what he saw as black willingness to rise up and take direct action against the ‘system’. He wanted both to join them and have a racially exclusive “White riot—a riot of my own”.
The long unheard song has been widely aired over the last four days, as Britons watched parts of their inner cities dissolve in partly race-driven unrest, in the worst rioting for over two decades.
The problems were sparked by the police shooting last Thursday of a 29 year old black man named Mark Duggan in Tottenham, north London. At first it was said the police had fired in self-defence, but now it seems both shots were fired by police. Duggan had been under surveillance, presumably because of his membership of the Star gang, which according to the Guardian’s Gavin Knight
. . . had a notorious reputation for being armed, dealing Class A drugs and intent on making money. It was affiliated to larger, older gangs in the area.
Tottenham gossip has it that Duggan was “a major player” in the local demi-monde, who “lived by the gun” and caused “grief”. These associations seem reasonable grounds for keeping an eye on him, although of course any death at the hands of the police is unfortunate.
As always with these incidents, there will be an in-depth investigation and normally an accurate account of the circumstances eventually emerges—as happened in the recent cases of Jean Charles de Menezes and Ian Tomlinson. But there seems little appetite to await any such inquiry.
This is partly because there are especially painful echoes in Tottenham of previous confrontations between blacks (AKA “youths”) and police (called “The Feds” by youths who were playing computer games when they should have been doing homework—AKA “acting white”).
The most notorious incident was in 1985, when a white policeman called Keith Blakelock was macheted to death by youths on the Broadwater Farm Estate. The proximate cause of that violence was the death of a black woman during a police raid—and that raid had been designed to suppress rolling unrest after the police shooting a few days previously of Cherry Groce in Brixton, south of the Thames. In 1999, there was again unrest in N15 when Roger Sylvester died whilst being restrained by police.
And it is not only Tottenham which holds these memories, but large parts of black Britain. The idea that the Feds pick on the youths out of casual racism is endemic and ingrained amongst many whites as well as blacks, and is remorselessly fed by the political left.
Black-police relations are coloured (sorry!) by folk-memories of street battles going all the way to the first days of large-scale black immigration in the late 1940s. In 1958, there were the Notting Hill riots, when white Teddy Boys rocked and rolled along the streets in their blue suede shoes attacking random Afro-Caribbeans who quite naturally resisted, and since then there has been a sort of low level, sporadic ethnic intifada in parts of England’s inner cities, interspersed with outbreaks of worse violence exploited by the far Left, the mainstream Left and (counterproductively) by the far Right. The mainstream Right’s response has usually been to masterfully do nothing, trusting that the naughtiness will magick itself away.
While Conservatives alternately blustered and equivocated, and Labourites poured political petrol on all flames, inoffensive people (many black) were constrained to watch as their districts were periodically destroyed by youths AKA activists—Brixton, Toxteth, Handsworth, St. Paul’s, to name just a few once agreeable suburbs that have erupted before and have just erupted again.
Those who were (badly) paid to police these places were constrained to accept the blame for operational mistakes (rightly)—but also the far bigger mistakes made by politicians who expected them to do a Godawful job without giving them the tools they needed or even much thanks.
Not only that, but the police were accused of being at best indifferent to the needs of black people, or worse, having a “canteen culture of racism”. Anti-cop conspiracies cluster around any mysterious black deaths—like the 1981 New Cross Fire, when 13 partygoers were burned to death by a black man, which many in SE14 still believe was a police/National Front cover-up). Then there was Stephen Lawrence (which led to the 1999 Macpherson Report), Ricky Reel (Asian, but co-opted into African-ness for political purposes, who fell into the Thames and drowned in 1997) and Joy Gardner (a several times warned illegal immigrant who died in 1993 after struggling with immigration officials). The latter case inspired one of the great works of 20th century protest poesy. Benjamin Zephaniah’s last lines are perhaps the best, and not just because they are the last:
I cannot help but wonder
How the alien deporters
(As they said to press reporters)
Can feel absolute relief.
Deaths of blacks while in police custody (and they are disproportionately likely to be in police custody for certain categories of crime) are especially controversial, even though 75% of such deaths are of whites. In these cases, the dead are always saintly and the police always guilty until they are proven guilty. So too with Mark Duggan – who somehow managed to combine being a criminal “major player” with being a model dad.
There was a highly charged demonstration outside the local police station on Saturday, and afterwards vibrancy vibrated through Tottenham and adjacent areas, with what the media called “disaffected youths” setting fire to cars and buses, looting from and then torching shops. They were soon joined by shrewder others, using the “protests” as a cover to promote assorted adolescent agendas or obtain democratic discounts at JJB Sports.
On Sunday and Monday, the violence spread across London to encompass Camden/Chalk Farm, Bethnal Green, Peckham, Ealing, Deptford, Lewisham, Clapham, Croydon (a man found there with gunshot wounds later died), Bromley, Woolwich, East Ham and Stratford. Outside London, there were outbreaks in Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, Bristol and Nottingham.
Monday night was the London Fire Brigade’s busiest ever night (including the Blitz) and the Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner admitted to the BBC “The Met was stretched beyond belief in a way that it has never experienced before.” The only good news was that several football matches were called off. London became quieter on Tuesday, thanks to the presence of 16,000 police, but there were problems in Birmingham again, and in Manchester and Wolverhampton—which could not even be headed off by the joyous news of David Cameron’s return from holiday.
The events brought in their train a half-horrible, half-hilarious farrago of fact and fantasy. There was the Russian reporter who claimed that the roaring of escaped lions and tigers from London Zoo could be heard in high streets. There was video footage of a gang of rioters who came to help a fallen man to his feet so they could go through his pockets more easily. There were stories of “vigilantes” tooling up with baseball bats to defend their families and premises. There were the girl geniuses interviewed by BBC Radio 4, sitting in the street at 9.30am drinking stolen rosé to refresh their maidenly parts after a hectic night of after-hours shopping:
It was madness, it was good fun . . . showing the rich people we can do what we want . . . it’s the governmen’s fault. The Conserva’ives, Yeah, wha’ever it is . . . who it is. I dunno.
Asked if these agreeable activities would carry on the next night, they reflected, with growing confidence.
Yeah, hopefully, definitely.
One tactician who criticized the police response seemed shy about revealing his alternative master-plan:
I don’ need to be talkin’ about wot they need ta be doin’
Another Napoleon put his finger on one of the inherent problems of “colour-blind” policing:
The police are bein’ abusive—they don’ like black people, they don’ like Asian people, they don’ like their own people.
There was an amusing disconnect between the widely quoted West Indian lady representing respectable Hackney opinion and the un-Bowdlerized Youtube actualité:
Why are you burning people’s shops that they have worked hard to build up?… Look at that shop over there, she has worked hard to make it work and you’re just going to go and burn it up?
Her impassioned addendum was less widely mentioned:
And for what, just to say you are warring and a badman? This is about a f***ing man who was shot in Tottenham. This ain’t about busting up the place. Get real, black people, get real…You lot piss me the f**k off.
There were small mercies, such as the Hackney shop-owner who found that the “feral rats” who had fingered through her stock had taken all the designer label stuff but left “the tasteful things”.
Behind this semi-comic carry-on lies a terrible story of decent people of all races besieged terrified in their own houses and waking up to find their homes, shops, streets scorched and littered with debris. On Tuesday, Channel 4 interviewed a Sri Lankan shopkeeper who had lost an estimated £30,000 worth of uninsured stock, and trembling young women trapped in Manchester city centre because their way home was blocked by hundreds of masked men breaking into shops.
And behind this again, the seriously irresponsible and unpleasant (and almost always white) hard left are at work. A leaflet entitled Don’t Panic; Don’t Talk! initially circulated in Bristol soon found its way to the Indymedia website, giving what must surely be illegal advice:
“Do think about changing your appearance…get rid ALL clothes you were wearing…spray cans, demo-related stuff, dodgy texts/photos on your phone. Don’t make life easy for them by having drugs, weapons or other illegal stuff in your house.”
The Socialist Workers’ Party (or should that be Worker’s?) jumped helpfully on the bandwagon, because “the state tries to discredit riots”. This cannot be allowed to happen, because “riots can win important gains”. They continued, with the brilliant reasoning we always hope for from this quarter:
It’s not about people smashing up their local area for no reason. It’s about them expressing their anger, wherever they happen to be.
After all, what is a riot compared with the violence dished out daily by the system?
The violence of riots is minor compared to the violence the system inflicts on a daily basis—like famines . . . and wars that slaughter millions.
It’s all down to that Great Satan the “anarchy of the market” which As Any Fule No is “far more devastating than the supposed anarchy on the streets”.
Labour MP John McDonnell would seem to go along with some of this analysis, Tweeting sagely:
Reaping what has been sown over 3 decades of creating grotesquely unequal society with alienated young copying ethos of looting bankers.
Ken Livingstone, ex-London Mayor and again Labour candidate for that post, concurs:
[T]he economic stagnation and cuts imposed by the Tory government inevitably create social division . . . [the rioters] feel no-one at the top of society, in government or City Hall, cares about them or speaks for them.
Gavin Knight of the Guardian at least realizes there are serious obstacles in the way of rehabilitation for disaffected youths wanting to be disinfected from criminality:
Youth offenders who try to turn their back on a life on the streets are constantly hampered by prospective employers doing Criminal Records Bureau checks.
Perhaps he should lead by example, and give a few of them jobs at the Guardian. At least they’ll all have nice new trainers to wear to the interview.