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Rioting reflects long-held grievances of dispossessed black youths ignored

The rioting, destruction and violence cannot be excused, but it still needs to be explained. It was initially triggered by the police killing of Mark Duggan in Tottenham on Thursday night, though there are disputed accounts of the circumstances, and made worse by the delayed and inadequate response of the police to the family – this in an area which has seen three deaths in police custody in recent years (Cynthia Jarrett, Joy Gardner and Roger Sylvester). But policing in London has improved in training and leadership since the Brixton riots of 1981 since Scarman’s denunciation of its aggressive, high-handed and racist approach. The underlying causes this time go wider and deeper, and certainly reflect the underlying resentment and anger already expressed in gang killings in London and a sense of hopelessness about making out in a white man’s world.

It’s all very well for Theresa May to sound off repeatedly about criminality, thuggery and looting, and of course the violence has got to be contained. But what does it say when young men engage in an orgy of destruction in their own neighbourhood? It is surely a sign of very deep-seated grievances and bitterness and despair within their own community – at joblessness, poverty, lack of being respected and listened to, over-crowded housing, frustration at being unable to compete successfully in a consumption-driven world.

The lesson surely is that a quarter century after the Broadwater Farm riot in 1985 the community in Tottenham still remains so disadvantaged and broken that a significant group feels no local pride, has no real deep sense of local identity, and has no instinct to safeguard what they do not see as their own. The explosion of rage and anger which was directed inwardly into inter-gang warfare on the streets of London has now erupted outwardly with terrible destructiveness. But it will not be fully quelled until all the underlying causes are acknowledged, faced up to and redressed.

It is right that Parliament should be recalled to debate this urgently. A full public inquiry is needed, not just an investigation by the distrusted IPCC or an internal inquiry by HMIC. All societies ignore (and quietly abuse) their under-class, and it is tragic that it takes such mayhem to get attention to what has been festering unattended for so long.


  1. Laban Tall says:

    “has no real deep sense of local identity”

    But a well-developed sense of racial identity.

    “has no instinct to safeguard what they do not see as their own”

    That’s the best euphemism I’ve read since the Guardian described Roma as being “detached from Western concepts of property rights”.

    “it will not be fully quelled until all the underlying causes are acknowledged, faced up to and redressed”

    Absolutely. But there is disagreement about the underlying causes. The dominant narrative of the last 40 years is that the underlying causes lie without, and must be addressed from without – more youth clubs/arts centres/social workers/5-a-day anti-racist smoking cessation co-ordinators, lots of diversity training for public servants, more social housing, lots of money to buy off agitators and turn them into responsible ‘community spokespeople’.

    This dominant narrative has been reinforced with vast quantities of taxpayer cash, and has produced the situation we see today. It was described pretty accurately forty years ago by Tom Wolfe, in an essay called “Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers” – worth a read.

    I happen to believe that the underlying causes are within the community, and can only be addressed from within – or to put it another way, doing more of the same will produce more of the same.

  2. R.Cadwell says:

    Some forty years ago I said that what has happen would, the reason I felt this way was because all power had been taken away from parents school teachers and the police I wasn’t the only one to say this there were thousands, who did we blame then the same people we blame now the govnerment the leaders why because we were telling them what would happen but just like now they didn’t listen, we do need to keep our police force well maned as we don’t know what may happen in the future, they say that they are going to bring someone from the USA to show us how its done well over there they have so many police that for one person not using its blinker lights they’ll send out maybe something like twenty police to arrest the person it won’t be long before we won’t have that many in one town if our PM has his way. So let us write to our MPs as they seem to be the only people that can get in touch with the PM on our behalf.

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