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16 August 2011 One Comment


By Tendisai Cromwell

Last week, the streets of England were set ablaze. Characterized by wanton violence and lawlessness, thousands of youth engaged in some of the most destructive rioting England has endured in decades.

What began as a peaceful protest against the shooting death of Mark Duggan by police in London, rapidly devolved into a chaotic three-day street rampage resulting in deaths, assaults, the destruction of property and widespread looting.  Hundreds have been apprehended and it is expected that up to 3000 individuals could be implicated in the rioting. How this anarchic, violent spirit swept across England has yielded much conjecture and many are pointing to race and class.

Residents of Tottenham, where Duggan was fatally shot, are no strangers to police violence. With yet another death of a young black man at the hands of the authorities without due explanation, members of the community had risen up. The rioting that emerged from that protest raged on in largely, but not exclusively black and lower income neighbourhoods. This is causing heated debate about whether the riots were the result of legitimate grievances of a marginalized segment of society or whether anti-police brutality protests were usurped by thrill-seeking, opportunistic youth.

Brit Rochelle Ross-Goulding, 25, tells swaymag.ca that she had been raised in the lower income areas of London describing those years as a period of instability, living on benefits and moving every two to three years between temporary and subsidized housing.  Having lived in some of these communities herself, she is intimately aware of the conditions within. Ross-Goulding staunchly condemns the rioting and looks inwardly to the communities in placing the blame rather than outwardly to the government.

“Young people have to start taking ownership for their decisions. It’s difficult sometimes because of the cards some of us have been dealt, but we can’t hold other people to blame forever and do nothing about it ourselves, ”Ross-Goulding said.

While expressing profound disappointment in the behaviour of the rioters, Ross-Goulding hopes that the British government will take note and address disparities in a progressive manner.

Amina Sheikh, 26, an international student at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London believes that the root of the riots lies in government actions.

“I think what we saw is a result of the society, institutions and culture. It’s not an individual issue, or a black issue, or a particular community issue, it’s a result of the state and system. It’s the fault of the British government and economy,” Sheikh expressed.

Many more voices are emerging from the ashes of the torched buildings, including that of Tottenham’s MP David Lammy. Lammy remarked in a speech during a General Debate on Public Order, that although the behaviour displayed was inexcusable, there are many systemic problems that have caused many youth to feel disconnected from their communities and resultantly unbound by a moral code to British society. He also made an appeal for an open and independent investigation into the death of Duggan.

Lammy, himself, was referenced by British historian and broadcaster, David Starkey. Starkey suggested that Lammy, as a successful black man, is an exception amidst a pervasive black culture responsible for the rioting violence.

“The whites have become black, a particular sort of violent, destructive, nihilistic, gangster culture has become the fashion and black and white, boy and girl operate in this language together, this language which is wholly false, which is this Jamaican patois,” Starkey said in a BBC interview.

Starkey’s inflammatory statements invoked a fury of criticism, though his opinions are shared by many as the debate widens and is had on all levels – in political and academic realms, locally and globally, on the streets and online.

Some say that the events should be a wake-up call to the British government who can no longer afford to ignore certain social realities hidden beneath the surface.

The Guardian reported on Monday that in response to the rioting, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced his committment to help England’s 120,000 most troubled families. While condemning the violence, Cameron admitted to some sense of responsibility on the part of the government.

“Social problems that have been festering for decades have exploded in our face,” Cameron remarked. “People’s behaviour doesn’t happen in a vacuum, it’s affected by the rules that government sets and how they’re enforced, by the services that government provides and how they are delivered and perhaps above all by the signals government sends about the kinds of behaviour that are encouraged and rewarded.”

Whether or not the riots represented the unbridled cry of the underprivileged, marginalized and racially profiled may never fully be ascertained, yet a very important dialogue has opened about a society that may have very well been crumbling long before rioters took to the street.

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One Comment »

  • junior burchall said:

    the natives in the beloved ‘mother country’ are restless. they have started to steal things and set things on fire. are their actions born out of the spirit of resistance to oppression? do the wealthy robber barons have anything to fear? are we seeing – at long last – the embryonic beginnings of the Rise of the Planet of the…People?


    when the poor and the rich share ‘common ground (ideologically speaking)’, the discontent of the former arises, not from frustration with and anger toward the system, but from a profound dissatisfaction with one’s subordinate position.

    put another way: “‘there is absolutely nothing intrinsically WRONG with the act of theft; we just really, REALLY dislike our position as the victims!”

    we THINK like our oppressors. as such, what we see now (in England) is little more than the tossing and turning of a fitful sleep.

    …and that is why one can draw clear parallels between resource seizure in the Niger Delta by royal dutch shell (essentially, a smash and grab job of truly devastating proportions – ‘looting’, multinational style, if you will) and the theft of iPads, sneakers and flat screens by looters in london.

    the motivation emerges from the same poison source – only the SCALE is different.



    the naked savagery of the lapdogs of the state – the police – in concert with the racist attacks upon the oppressed by the media and the politicians, has the capacity to trigger a shift from inchoate rage against a nebulous enemy to a much clearer understanding of the nature of the intersection between xenophobia, race and class in britain.

    it is this subversive energy and the resultant potential shift towards revolutionary resistance – ironically triggered by the violence of the state – that the oppressed can then call upon to fight against the architects of their systemic disenfranchisement.

    and THAT is what makes the insurrection in the ‘mother country’, as well as similar uprisings in the u.s. (e.g. the Watts Riots, the Rodney King Riots) so threatening…there is ALWAYS the possibility that the Oppressed, so long lobotomized and lulled to sleep by the bread and circuses of the state propaganda apparatus (aka the ‘education’ system and the media), might rise from their fitful slumber and completely overturn the system.

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