I was as shocked as anyone to see the rioting and buildings burning in Tottenham in North London overnight when I watched the news on Sunday morning. But in a way I was not surprised.
It all began when a young black man named Mark Duggan was shot dead by police on Thursday. The initial media reports said 'shots were fired' and Mr. Duggan 'died'. This implies, without actually stating, that the deceased may have shot first and this was almost certainly based on information given to the media by police. Subsequent reports stated that a bullet was lodged in an officer's radio, supporting the initial reports that the police were acting in self-defence. However it has since been revealed that the bullet was police issue and therefore not fired by Duggan. So far, no officers have even been suspended.
People in Tottenham were naturally outraged at the way this man had been effectively assassinated. I lived in Wood Green and Enfield for about six years until three years ago and went to the university campus that was then in Tottenham so I know the area well. There is a large African-Carribean community, a large Asian community of which many are muslims, a smaller African community as well as Eastern European, Turkish and Greek Cypriot communities. The BNP described Wood Green in one of its disgusting leaflets as a 'hell-hole' for the simple reason that they cannot stand the way so many communities live together side by side and with a great deal of integration.
The real source of tension is between young, mainly black, mainly men and the police who stop and search and generally harrass them on a daily basis. Rarely did a day go by when I did not see the police harrassing a group of young, black men for little more than being alive. It is also not the first time a black man has been killed by the police. Quite apart from the police shooting of Brazilian electrician Jean Charles de Menezes in 2005, there have been 400 deaths in police custody over the last 10 years. Kingsley Burrell Brown died after 'dealings' with the police in March this year and Smiley Culture died, also in March after his house was raided by police. Indeed it was the killing of Cynthia Jarrett and resistance to police harrassment under the 'sus laws' that led to the Broadwater Farm riots in 1985. Roger Sylvester, also from Tottenham, died after eight police officers jumped on him and then 'restrained' him in 1999.
After the shooting of Mark Duggan on Thursday a protest march was organised for Saturday to call on the police to provide the family with the questions they needed to be answered. Around 200 people marched peacefully from Broadwater Farm to Tottenham police station. According to an online Socialist Worker article, "As they gathered on the steps of the police station they were promised that a senior police officer would address them and answer their questions. But this didn’t happen." Then, according to an eyewitness, a 16 year old girl approached police lines and was attacked by riot cops with batons. Naturally this was too much for many after the shock of previous days and the humiliation and frustation of previous years. It is important to make clear it was not only black people that were involved in the riot. They were black, white, Asian and Hassidic Jews.
Naturally the media, the police and politicians have been quick to condemn the rioters and to argue that it is nothing to do with the police shooting a young black man at point-blank range. But clearly this is exactly what it is about. That and the police brutality and racism I have already mentioned and the increasing inequality that exists across much of Britain but which is clear to see in urban areas like North London. Indeed some young people from Tottenham have complained at youth projects being closed down and increasing unemployment in the area as a direct result of the policies of the Tory-led government. They are right, Tottenham has the highest unemployment rate in London and eight out of the thirteen youth centres are closing.
As Nick Clegg returns form his holiday to take charge (the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Chancellor, the Home Secretary and the London Mayor were all out of the country on Saturday night) he may have reason to remember what he said to Sky News in April last year. He said there was "a really serious risk" of rioting in the streets should the Tories "slash and burn public services with a thin mandate". Indeed.
This is about the Tories trying to make working people, young people and the unemployed pay for an economic crisis we did not create. The uprising in Tottenham is part of the wave of revolt sweeping round the world: Tunisia, Egypt, Greece, Spain and now Tottenham. The student revolts and the mass strikes are our fightback against austerity and cuts and Tottenham must be seen as part of that. We need to turn this into a revolutionary movement against the ruling class. We need to unite the fights against racism, the police, the bankers, the rich, the Tories and the capitalist system itself. We need to get rid of this rotten government and continue the fight for a better world.