[Marxism] London rioter: we're taking on "the ruling class"

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Aug 8 11:18:22 MDT 2011


NY Times August 7, 2011
London Sees Twin Perils Converging to Fuel Riot
By RAVI SOMAIYA

LONDON — As London surveyed the damage on Sunday after a small 
anti-police demonstration spiraled into looting and violence that 
left 26 police officers injured and led to more than 160 arrests, 
many sought to cast the blame beyond the rioters themselves.

In Tottenham, the northern London neighborhood at the center of 
the rioting, residents spoke of twin perils that had converged to 
leave their streets scarred and smoldering on Sunday.

Frustration in this impoverished neighborhood, as in many others 
in Britain, has mounted as the government’s austerity budget has 
forced deep cuts in social services. At the same time, a widely 
held disdain for law enforcement here, where a large 
Afro-Caribbean population has felt singled out by the police for 
abuse, has only intensified through the drumbeat of scandal that 
has racked Scotland Yard in recent weeks and led to the 
resignation of the force’s two top commanders.

The riot was the latest in what has turned out to be a season of 
unrest in Britain, with multiple demonstrations escalating into 
violence in recent months. And there was not long to wait until a 
new one erupted: across London, skirmishes broke out on Sunday 
between groups of young people and large numbers of riot police 
officers, which one officer said were drawn from forces around 
London.

In Enfield, a usually calm suburb, shop windows were smashed and 
debris lay in the street. In nearby Edmonton, groups of young 
people gathered near damaged storefronts. In Tottenham itself, 
roads were closed, a helicopter hovered overhead and squads of 
police vans swooped in to make arrests in side streets.

The episode in Tottenham began as a small and peaceful march, in 
which residents gathered outside a police station to protest the 
killing of a local man, Mark Duggan, in a shooting by police 
officers last week. Scotland Yard has said that Mr. Duggan, who 
was riding in a taxi at the time of the shooting, was the subject 
of a “pre-planned operation” by officers. The police officers 
involved in the shooting have been quoted in newspapers as saying 
that they had come under fire, which slightly wounded one of the 
officers, before they began to shoot.

It was unclear where things went wrong on Saturday night, and 
there were conflicting accounts.

A statement by Scotland Yard said the flashpoint came when police 
cars were attacked at 8:20 p.m. by “certain elements” — a phrase 
that other police comments suggested meant local troublemakers who 
used the protest as a chance to act violently. But Tottenham 
residents talked about rumors of a physical confrontation between 
a police officer and a 16-year-old girl that enraged the 
demonstrators.

The march turned into a pitched battle between hundreds of 
officers, some on horses, and equal numbers of rioters, wearing 
bandannas and armed with makeshift weapons that included table 
legs and an aluminum crutch. Looting throughout northern London 
continued past dawn, leaving streets littered with glass. In 
daylight, residents emerged to survey buildings, many considered 
landmarks, that had been left gutted and smoldering.

A local man, who said he was a bus driver but did not want to give 
his name for fear of reprisal, warned that unless endemic youth 
unemployment in Tottenham was curbed, “this will happen again. 
These kids don’t care. They don’t have to pay for this damage, we 
do. Working people do. What do they have to lose?”

Aaron Biber, 89, stooped to pick through the debris of his 
ransacked barber shop, which he said he had run for 41 years. 
“This country has changed,” he said. “We’ve lost something.”

Though the rioters, he said, were “lunatics,” he felt that the 
police had stood by while his business was being savaged. It was a 
common complaint — many voiced concern that looters in other areas 
of London had been allowed to smash and steal for several hours 
before officers arrived.

The police said, in a statement, that there “was no indication 
that the protest would deteriorate into the levels of criminal and 
violent disorder that we saw.” The force’s priority had been to 
preserve life, the statement said, though the looting was 
“regrettable.” It said a major inquiry had been started to find 
and arrest those responsible for the violence.

Economic malaise and cuts in spending and services instituted by 
the Conservative-led government have been recurring flashpoints 
for months.

Late last year, students demonstrating against a rise in tuition 
fees occupied a building near Parliament and clashed repeatedly 
with the police. Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, the Duchess 
of Cornwall, were attacked in their Rolls-Royce as protesters — 
some of whom were subsequently jailed — shouted “Tory scum,” a 
reference to the Conservative Party’s traditional links with the 
aristocracy, and “off with their heads!” In March, a reported 
500,000 people marched against the cuts, with some protesters 
occupying the exclusive food store Fortnum & Mason — Prince 
Charles’s grocer.

On Saturday night, as rioters in Tottenham threw fireworks and 
bottles at police officers, one man shouted, “This is our battle!” 
When asked what he meant, the man, Paul Rook, 47, explained that 
he felt the rioters were taking on “the ruling class.”

The Metropolitan Police force, once one of Britain’s most 
respected institutions, has also been severely criticized for its 
role in the anti-austerity riots — for use of excessive force, or 
for being perpetually unprepared for the sheer levels of rage 
unleashed on London’s streets.

The force’s former commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, said last 
year that he was “embarrassed” by the failure to prevent 
protesters from occupying buildings. Sir Paul is one of two senior 
officers who were forced to step down last month as information 
about links with The News of the World tabloid emerged as part of 
the phone hacking scandal that has enveloped Rupert Murdoch’s 
media empire in Britain. Senior officers have been openly 
chastised by politicians, and the police investigation into 
newspaper abuses is also looking into allegations that police 
officers had been bribed.

The sense of disarray and incompetence at the top levels of 
Scotland Yard have led to widespread calls for a wide-ranging 
shake-up, with an added element of urgency because of the Olympic 
Games. Set to start next July just a few miles from where the 
rioting broke out in Tottenham, the Games have been described as 
posing one of the largest challenges ever to the British police.

Concern in the government has risen to the point where Prime 
Minister David Cameron, a strong advocate of a police shake-up, 
has pressed for the search for the next head of Scotland Yard, due 
to be appointed within weeks, to be widened to include successful 
candidates from outside Britain. He has urged that William J. 
Bratton, a former police commissioner in Boston, Los Angeles and 
New York, and now chairman of the New York security company Kroll 
Associates, be considered for the job. But the result has been 
another political imbroglio, with the threat of a veto from Home 
Secretary Theresa May and protests from police organizations.

Speaking about clashes between disenfranchised youths and police, 
Graham Beech, the strategic development director for the crime 
reduction charity Nacro, said in a recent interview they could be 
rooted in “a culture of enforcement,” which aimed to “sweep these 
young people away as a problem.”

As the budget cuts take hold, risk of unemployment increases and 
social measures like youth projects are sacrificed, Mr. Beech 
said, and “all logic says there will be an increase in antisocial 
behavior.”

“Boredom, alienation and isolation are going to be factors,” he added.

John F. Burns contributed reporting.




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