[Marxism] London rioter: we're taking on "the ruling class"
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
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
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
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
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
“Boredom, alienation and isolation are going to be factors,” he added.
John F. Burns contributed reporting.
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