What happened in London was tragic but it didn’t come out of nowhere; a culture of violence, and disrespect has been building for a long time. We’ve seen the stabbings, the shootings and the general lack of respect that some people (it’s not just young people) have for others. Now it’s exploded. Thousands of people were involved in looting. For some it was an expression of frustration, for others an expression of their criminality and violence, for many it was simply an opportunity to ‘fill their boots’. Whatever the motivation they felt little affiliation for society.
The one thing that youth centres and youth services give disaffected young people is some link to the wider society. A space where they can let off steam and make connections with adults on a more equal level than is possible with teachers, parents, police or employers. It’s not really equal because the youth workers have responsibilities and resources that the young people don’t; but if the youth workers are doing their job well then there is an understanding that these responsibilities and resources are held for they young people. To cut youth services is to cut an important link between young people and society.
If you are middle class or waged you see some of the effects of cuts in public services and rises in the costs of living, but we are not generally aware of how hard this hits people at the bottom of the social ladder. The apparatus of the state, banks, corporations and police treat the poor with disrespect. The incident that sparked the riots was the killing of a black man by the police in what some regard as judicial murder similar to the killing of Jean Charles De Menezes.
The media ignores this and focussed on the lawlessness of the rioters. Darcus Howe was interviewed very soon after the riots made the connection but the BBC interviewer made it clear that she did now want to hear about this.
That the media should take such a prosecutorial tone suggests that it is interested not in getting at the truth but in pushing a particular perspective.
John Pilger writes of the interview with Darcus Howe:
On 4 August, the BBC’s Fiona Armstrong – aka Lady MacGregor of MacGregor – interviewed the writer Darcus Howe, who dared use the forbidden word, “insurrection”.
Armstrong: “Mr. Howe, you say you are not shocked [by the riots]? Does this mean you condone what happened?”
Howe: “Of course not … what I am concerned about is a young man Mark Duggan … the police blew his head off.”
Armstrong: “Mr. Howe, we have to wait for the official enquiry to say things like that. We don’t know what happened to Mr. Duggan. We have to wait for the police report.”
On 8 August, the Independent Police Complaints Commission acknowledged there was “no evidence” that Duggan had fired a shot at police. Duggan was shot in the face on 4 August by a police officer with a Heckler and Koch MP5 sub-machine gun – the same weapon supplied by Britain to dictatorships that use them against their own people. I saw the result in East Timor where Indonesian troops also blew the heads off people with these state-of-the-art weapons supplied by both Tory and Labour governments.
An eyewitness to Duggan’s killing told the Evening Standard, “About three or four police officers had [him] pinned on the ground at gunpoint. They were really big guns and then I heard four loud shots. The police shot him on the floor.”
This is how the Metropolitan Police shot dead Jean Charles de Menezes on the floor of a London Underground train. And there was Robert Stanley and Ian Tomlinson, and many more. The police lied about Duggan’s killing as they have lied about the others. Since 1998, more than 330 people have died in police custody and not one officer has been convicted. Where is the political and media outrage about this “culture of fear”?
The lawlessness of the police in the way they treat the underclass, the lawlessness of the government in their prosecution of illegal wars, the cheating of MPs over expenses, the social irresponsibility of bankers are connected to the lawlessness on the streets. It is easy to condemn the kids on the street and it’s right that acts of violence, vandalism, terror and cruelty should be condemned. But it’s important to understand deeply and poetically the connections.