From Liverpool, Cecília Toledo discusses the rebellions that have struck the most important cities in England in the last few days.
By all indications, it was an execution, pure and simple; the English police was conducting one of its constant raids in neighborhoods in predominately black areas of London, looking for Mark Duggan, who according to the police, was a gang member. Duggan was in a taxi when the police surprised him, stopped his car and shot him in cold blood. None of the evidence suggests that Duggan shot at the police but according to the police, Duggan was armed and he started shooting. According to all the witnesses, the family, the neighbors and all of the community, Duggan was unarmed.
In reality, Duggan was assassinated. It happened on Thursday, August 4th, at night. On Friday, in the neighborhood of Tottenham, in the northern London, as dawn came, the area was on fire. The community, hearing of the death of Duggan, reacted with rage and took to the streets to protest. The police surrounded the area with its cavalry and hundreds of officers armed to the neck with batons, tear gas, and rubber bullets. The repression was violent, hundreds were arrested and injured but even so, the police failed to put down the insurrection. The more the police attacked and arrested people, the more people took to the streets. A crowd made up mostly of black youth confronted the police, throwing rocks and burning tires, and setting fire to houses and cars. During the next three days, the protests stretched to other poor neighborhoods in London, like Hackney, Lewisham, and Peckham. In Lewisham, groups of young people set fire to cars and containers as the police blocked off the streets around them. In Peckham, in the southeastern part of London, a bus was set on fire, according to a spokesperson for the London transportation services. More than 220 people were arrested for participating in the revolts, including an 11-year-old boy. Damages are estimated at more than 115 million euros ($165 million).
In the district of Croydon in the south of London, a massive fire, apparently the work of groups of youth, frightened residents. Images broadcast on BBC showed a burning building in the central part of the district. It took firefighters over an hour to put out the flames. In Croydon, there were reportedly also incidences of looting, clashes between protesters and police, in addition to fires set on cars, buses, and other buildings. The police did away with blank ammunition and stared to use live ammunition. A 26-year-old man was killed. Early Tuesday morning, the violence made its way to more central neighborhoods, like Notting Hill, Clapham, Ealing, Camden and Hampstead and in spite of the fact that the majority of the protesters were black still, white youth started to join the protests.
On Monday, young people in other important English cities like Liverpool, Manchester, and Birmingham joined the protests as well, according to BBC reports. In Birmingham, the second largest city in the country, at least 100 were arrested and dozens were hospitalized. Groups of masked youth destroyed stores and restaurants in the city, including a MacDonald’s and an Armani boutique, in addition to setting fire to cars and mailboxes. The local police even announced that a downtown Birmingham police station was set on fire.
At the start of the protests, the police tried to negotiate since the protests were still limited to Tottenham and the main buildings that were attacked were the community’s own. But when the protests spread and rich neighborhoods were threatened, the police received orders to attack the protesters directly, including with guns. The British prime minister, David Cameron, who’d come under criticism for being on vacation in Italy as London was on fire, returned to the country in a frenzy and issued a declaration threatening black youth: “You will feel the force of the law. If you are old enough to commit these crimes, you are old enough to face the punishment,” said the prime minister in an emergency meeting with his cabinet. Cameron also announced a series of measures to deal with the crisis, among these, the suspension of holidays and off days for police officers, an increase in the number of police in the streets from 6,000 to 16,000 and the reconvening of Parliament, which was in recess (The Guardian, 8/9). After being criticized for his absence, the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, also returned from vacation. The great fear is that London will host the 2012 Olympics and the English Federation of Football is demanding that the mayor take urgent measures. On Tuesday morning, the Football Federation (FA) decided to cancel a “friendly” between England and Holland, which would have taken place on Wednesday in Wembley Stadium in northwestern London and was expected to gather 70,000 fans. All of this caused the security forces of the British capital and of other parts of the country to take to the streets in mass. According to the Metropolitan Police of London (known as Scotland Yard), in the last three days, at least 334 people were arrested and 69 indicted. Around 1,700 police officers had to be brought from other cities to reinforce the policing of the streets. “The violence that we saw is simply inexcusable. The lives of common people were turned upside down by this stupid savagery. The police are going to make all those responsible face the consequences of their actions and go to jail,” stated the chief of Scotland Yard, Christine Jones.
As she was making this declaration on television, the revolts were exploding in the neighborhood of Hackney in northern London, because a man was stopped and searched by the police, who found nothing. In protest, groups of people began to throw rocks and cans at the police and to attack their police cars with pieces of wood and iron bars. Stores were looted and destroyed. According to Scotland Yard, three police officers were injured in Hackney and two in Bethnal Green, but there is not information available concerning residents who were injured. According to the police, young people organized the protests through Twitter and text messages, which are now being monitored by the police in an attempt to anticipate where the protests are going to occur.
Who Mark Duggan was
Mark Duggan was a 29-year-old English man. Married with three small children, at the time of his death, he was being investigated by the police as the suspect of a crime. The police, with the help of the “brown press” have been trying to portray Duggan as a criminal, as a gang member. But according to witnesses and thousands of people that are being constantly interviewed by TV news stations, Duggan was loved by all in his community. In the midst of bouquets of flowers that were constantly being placed in front of Duggan’s home, family members have refused to speak with journalists, protesting the media’s coverage for “distorting the truth” and stating “all those lies” about Duggan. “He was a good man. He was a family man,” a family member told The Guardian (8/9).
Duggan’s girlfriend, Simone Wilson, admitted that Duggan was under investigation by the police but denied that he had ever been arrested. She said that Mark, whom she met 12 years ago, was a “good father” and that he “worshiped his children.” The two had plans to marry soon and leave Tottenham to “start a new life together” with their three children: 10-year-old Kemani, 7-year-old Kajuan, and 18-month-old Khaliya.
In a statement to Channel 4 News, Simone Wilson said that her boyfriend was not a gang member and that he never shot at the police. “If he had a weapon—which I do not believe—Mark would have run. Mark is a runner. He would have preferred to run as opposed to shooting and I tell you this from the bottom of my heart. They are saying that Mark was a gang member. Mark was not a gang member. He doesn’t even know any gang members or any gangs. I am telling you, he was not like that.”
One of Mark’s brothers, Shaun Hall, told journalists that it was “completely crazy” to state that Duggan might have shot at police. “My brother was not that kind of person. He was not stupid enough to shoot at the police, that’s ridiculous.”
A long list of deaths
In an article published in The Guardian on August 9th, the journalist Alex Wheatte compares the revolts in Tottenham to those that took place in another black community called Brixton, in 1981. Wheatte is black and actively participated in the clashes with police during that time. He still remembers the brutality of the police and the impunity with which they carried their actions against black youth. The revolts in Brixton were also provoked by the death of a young man, 22-year-old David Moore, killed by police after they chased him through the black community. The riots spread to three neighborhoods, Brixton, Toxteth and Moss Side, and the police acted with extreme brutality, hundreds were injured and others arrested. “The circumstances are identical: economic crisis, unemployed youth, deep cuts to social services and deterioration of relations between black youth and the police,” said Alex Wheatte.
According to him, “Mark Duggan is the latest of a long list of deaths caused by the police. Recently, the reggae singer Smiley Culture was accused of attempting suicide with a kitchen knife in his home in police custody. The entire black community refuses to believe this story. The murder of Jean Charles de Menezes in Stockwell still puzzles many people. The police always say they are investigating but nothing happens.”
The government tries to “isolate” the revolt
Submersed in an enormous economic crisis, involved in huge political scandals, such as the Murdoch case, and still without a solution, the conservative Cameron government has been trying every way to portray the revolt as an isolated event, caused by a gang of vicious and out-of-control black youth. The deputy mayor of London, Kit Malthouse, has stated that the violence is the doing of a small group of criminals that are motivated by money and not by police conduct or other wider social problems caused by the slow economic recovery of the UK. “This is a relatively small group of people in our community in London that are frankly looking for things to steal. They are choosing specific types of stores because they want a new pair of shoes or whatever,” he stated to Sky News.
It is true that any young person would like a new pair of shoes. And they have a right to this. But wanting a pair of shoes is one thing and occupying an entire country and facing up to police bullets is another. Simply stated, it should be quite difficult to convince someone with even a minimum level of intelligence that a fight for a new pair of shoes could be the cause of so many days of fury. The people are being called morons, the lowest of low. But the government is trying to convince people of this because they cannot say anything else, they do not have anything of substance to say to the people. They have no way of explaining the economic crisis that is endangering some of the most important and sacred gains of the English working class, like a quality public health care system, a decent public transportation system, and water, light and gas services that work and a little time ago (before Margaret Thatcher came to power) were practically free in England. All of this is being privatized at a shocking rate, in the blink of an eye, perhaps so that no one realizes. The cuts to social services and to social security hit the poorest communities the hardest, those that for years have been suffering from harsh lives of unemployment, misery, and abandonment. It is estimated that in black communities, close to 50% of young people are unemployed or can only take on precarious work from time to time. Racism, which is growing day by day in England, is another factor of oppression in these communities. Young black men are the biggest targets of police and the constant police raids in black neighborhoods is an everyday thing. “If they are in a car, young blacks will always be pulled over by police,” a 60-year-old black man stated on a television program. And nearly everyday, one of them turns up dead and the police can never give a convincing explanation.
The government is trying to disconnect the revolts in London from this terrible situation, as if the riots were occurring in a separate world. But in this moment, in which the entirety of the English working class is rising up and mobilizing against the attacks by the government, it’s more and more difficult to fall for the government’s tales. And just like in Brixton in 1981, the working class must understand these protests as part of their struggle against the government’s attacks, as a more than justified reaction to the terrible situation that black communities live in, brutally oppressed and targeted by the police much more than white workers. This is a struggle of the entire English working and as such, the trade unions must support the revolts, join the protests and come to the aid of the black communities, demand that the government cease the repression, free the prisoners and come clean about the murder of Duggan, harshly punishing those responsible for this crime.