Tottenham is located in the borough of Haringey, north London, where over 10,000 people claim jobseeker’s allowance. One ward, Northumberland Park, is among the most deprived areas in Europe.
The council has voted to add to this immiseration with £41 million in cuts to vital public services and jobs. Tottenham is also where the 1985 Broadwater Farm riots took place, sparked by the death of Cynthia Jarrett, linked to the police.
And now Tottenham is burning again. Adding to the deprivation suffered in the borough is the destruction of homes, services and shops that resulted from the rioting of 6-7 August.
But, contrary to reports from some politicians and media, the rioting and looting that took place was not just the result of ’outsiders’ or ’hooligans’ but was a spontaneous outpouring of the anger of sections of the local population, particularly young people.
Contrary to the media reports these were not ’race riots’, but involved young people from every ethnic background. Following the fatal shooting on 4 August of a 29-year old man, Mark Duggan, by police, a peaceful demonstration from Broadwater Farm, Mark’s home, demanding “justice” and explanation about his death was ignored.
Anger spilled over into rioting, which left parts of the area looking “like a battlefield”. Without fundamental change, the conditions for further rioting exist.
’Just the tip of the tip of the iceberg’
Youth who gathered to survey the debris on Sunday 7 August, said that the rioting that took place in Tottenham the night before only gave the merest glimpse of the seething anger and frustration bubbling up in the area.
Causes of this anger include acute unemployment, with 54 jobseekers for every vacancy in Haringey. As recently as 31 July the Guardian website posted a video where young people warned that the closure of eight out of 13 youth clubs would lead to riots.
“There’s nothing here for us”. Young people’s services are being hit hard as part of Haringey Labour-led council’s plans for £41 million of cuts over three years.
One 18-year old man told the London Evening Standard: “You get no opportunities around here. The police stop you because you’re black.
“They stop you because you’re wearing a hood”. Police racism is an accepted fact.
One young worker said that being stopped while driving was almost a daily occurrence.
Shocking as the scenes and footage of Tottenham have been, it was not unexpected. Over recent years, as young people have faced growing attacks on their right to a future, riots have ripped through France and Greece and other European countries.
Many, including the Socialist Party, warned that if brutal cuts were brought down on the heads of young people in Britain, riots could happen here. In April 2010, even Nick Clegg, then of ’Cleggmania’, now Lib Dem deputy prime minister in the coalition government, warned that a Tory government would create “Greek style unrest”.
36% of children in Haringey grow up in families struggling to meet the basic necessities of life. And the policies of the Tory/Liberal government are making things worse.
The end of EMA student payments was widely cited by young people in Tottenham as contributing to the growing frustration.
These conditions, while severe, are not unique to Tottenham. Far from it – cuts in public services and jobs are ravaging communities across the country.
Within hours, the rioting and looting spread to other areas of London. Stella Creasy, Labour MP for nearby Walthamstow, tweeted on Sunday evening (7 August) that there would not be rioting in her constituency.
Within hours hundreds of young people were gathered on her local high street and in other parts of London.
Mark Duggan’s death in Tottenham is the latest of a number of shocking deaths at the hands of the police, mostly of young black men. But the highly combustible material was also the crippling poverty, frustrated ambitions and alienation of much of Tottenham’s inhabitants.
Stafford Scott, a community activist from Broadwater Farm, explained how the rioting started:
“The reason I believe that it happened is that police paid disregard to the feelings of the family of the young man … They haven’t met with any family liaison officers at all.
“We were absolutely disgusted by that, so we decided that we needed to come to Tottenham police station, because they may not be aware that a murder has been committed.”
Over a hundred people protested outside Tottenham police station on Saturday afternoon to demand justice. Stafford explained that the police prevaricated for hours, sending no one in a senior position to speak to the protesters.
People in Tottenham said that the rioting began after a 16-year old woman was beaten by the police. The shopping areas were the main target – and this has been the case in other areas too.
Petrol bombs were thrown. Shops were looted.
Mobile phones and sports clothing were taken – ’must-haves’ for young people, many of whom can’t afford such luxuries given poverty minimum wage rates and benefit levels.
But also taken were basic items such as food and nappies, an expression of the crushing poverty.
Police claims that Mark Duggan was only shot after he opened fire on police are treated with contempt locally. There is no trust in the police, particularly following their lies about the deaths of Jean Charles de Menezes in 2005 and Ian Tomlinson last year as well as many other incidences, including the framing of Winston Silcott and the ’Tottenham Three’ during the Broadwater Farm riots of 1985.
Nor is there any confidence in the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) to carry out an independent investigation. In fact on Sunday evening the Guardian reported that “reliable sources” said that a bullet that lodged in a police radio, police ’evidence’ of Duggan’s firing, was a police issue bullet.
“The early suggestion from the IPCC was that the Met officers had returned fire after someone in the minicab opened fire.” The IPCC has so far refused to comment.
As the Socialist Party demanded after the death of Smiley Culture earlier this year, a genuinely independent inquiry is required, made up of elected representatives from the local trade unions, community organisations and especially the youth.
It should be allowed full access to all involved in the police operations that led to the death and take all the evidence it requires to reach a conclusion.
Widespread anger towards police
The vast majority of people do not condone the riots and condemn the burning of homes, post offices and council services. There is widespread anger that the police did not act effectively to defend people’s homes and local small businesses and shops.
Given how widely predicted rioting was, there was also anger that police were not prepared to protect local areas. Many blamed government cuts to police services.
Paul Deller from the Metropolitan Police Federation said: “Morale among the police officers dealing with this incident, and within the police service as a whole, is at its lowest level ever due to the constant attacks on them by the Home Secretary and the government in the form of the reviews into police pay and conditions.”
A trainee nursery assistant complained that only now, after the riots, when she and many others have lost friends to gun and knife crime over recent years, has there been so much interest in the area.
One young unemployed man who had attended the police station protest in Tottenham complained that media footage gave the impression that only black people had attended.
He said the reality was that young people from all sections of the community were represented and he feared the dangers of presenting the situation as ’race riots’.
Following the Murdoch scandal and years of criminalisation of young people the mainstream media is massively discredited in the eyes of young people. In the wake of rioting in other areas of London parts of the media appear to be playing up this false impression that there is a ’race’ element.
Organised, united campaign needed
Rioting, while an understandable reaction of rage to the conditions so many young people face, does not offer a way forward. On the contrary, the destruction of homes and services hugely exacerbates the problems working class people face.
The background to these events is the looting of public services and jobs by the Tory/Lib Dem government. Working class people face the biggest attacks on our living standards since the 1920s.
Given the theft