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The lessons from the past have not been learnt

TOTTENHAM 2011: A community once again left destroyed by unrest.

TOTTENHAM'S SPRAWLING Broadwater Farm estate was rundown and bleak when I visited it after the uprising by black youth of 1985. Yet it had vibrancy because of activists like firebrand Stafford Scott.

Since then the famous estate has had millions of pounds pumped into it by Haringey Council, aided by national government, and been spruced up. But Scott, and others, say life for youth there and elsewhere in Tottenham is just as apalling as it was in 1985.

He told me: “The situation is just as bad in terms of the stopping and searching of black youth by the police, black students being thrown out of schools and unemployment.”

Add to that volcanic mix the unexplained fatal shooting of 29-year-old Mark Duggan, and it is not difficult to see why there was a riot at the weekend that spawned a series of disturbances across the UK.

Symeon Brown, who works with young people in Tottenham, says that Haringey Council has cut youth services by a dramatic 75 percent.

Civil rights leader Martin Luther King said that riots are the voice of the unheard. That doesn't mean that I expected local MP David Lammy, who replaced the late Bernie Grant to be a Malcolm X and spout “no justice, no peace”. But I would have expected Lammy to say that, while he did not condone violence and looting, he demanded swift answers about Duggan’s slaying.

He should have voiced what many of his constituents on the streets said to me, that the police killing of a young man was more violent than the burning of vehicles and buildings.

Moderate voices behind the Strategic Alliance of Communities Reducing Youth Destruction, run by Black church leaders, boldly demanded answers and justice. The group added that the community should “restore peace so that the focus remains on seeking answers to the events that led up to the death of Mark Duggan”.

First in Tottenham, then in other parts of London, including Wood Green, Enfield, Walthamstow and Brixton, youths went on the rampage and wrecked businesses and homes in their own communities.

Why did they not march on Scotland Yard? While the riots have focused the minds of the authorities on youth disengagement with civil society, the danger is that they will give politicians and media the opportunity to switch attention from a grieving black family’s quest for justice to their right-wing law and order agenda.

What happened? There are reports that SO19 marksmen were tailing Mark Duggan who was in a mini cab on Ferry Lane. It is said that his last communication to his girlfriend, Semone, was that “the feds (police)” were following him.


MURDERED: PC Keith Blacklock

Moments later he was dead. Rumours spread quickly, particularly on social media that armed officers shot him in the face on the ground at close range. That led to activists claiming it was a cold-blooded “assassination” which the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which is investigating, deny.

Evidence of the rage that had built up came from relatives of mine who live on Broadwater Farm estate, made famous by the uprising in 1985 that cost PC Keith Blakelock his life. Then the trigger was the appalling death of Cynthia Jarrett, a black mother, in the custody of officers arresting her.

I went to High Road, the heart of the riot, and experienced surly, rude police behaviour. It is this that causes huge community resentment, especially among the youth they stereotype as criminals.

The High Road devastation was shocking. Two burnt out cars – police vehicles I was informed. The ground was covered in bottles, bricks and other missiles. There were charred, gutted buildings. Shop merchandise spread over the pavement. Wailing shopkeepers remonstrating with police. Black and other ethnic minority businesses trashed as well as High Street big name stores. Apparently, the unrest kicked off after peaceful protesters, including Duggan family members, marched from Broadwater Farm to Tottenham Police Station in the early evening.


TOTTENHAM 1985: Broadwater Farm left devastated after a night of rioting

They demanded that a senior police officer should come and give an explanation about the shooting of Duggan.

Then anger boiled over when a 16-year-old girl, arguing with police, was allegedly attacked by them. Some youths peeled away from the demo. Two police cars, parked in side roads, were torched. A double-decker bus and buildings followed.

Riot police and vans were pelted with missiles and officers baton charged their attackers.

I saw that the crowd was black and it was white. People yelled “murderers” at the tooled up Darth Vader officers.
When Lammy and Haringey Council leader Claire Kober spoke on camera to condemn violence and appeal for calm, on behalf of the establishment, hecklers yelled, “mention justice”. And, “there can be no peace without justice”.

This is the place where officers involved in the deaths of black people in their custody have never been prosecuted, leading some people to believe they have a “licence to kill”.

The Tottenham area victims were Cynthia Jarrett (1985), pushed to the ground, Joy Gardner (1993), who had been strapped with a body belt and 13 ft of tape wrapped around her head and Roger Sylvester (1999), a father, who was arrested naked. Mark Duggan now joins them.

Musician Akala, Miss Dynamite's brother, tweeted: “This was not a reaction to one incident, this was a reaction to decades of unbroken oppression."

It’s a tinder box that is not helped by the provocative condemnations of Lammy (Labour), Conservative Home Secretary Theresa May, her sidekick Lynne Featherstone (Liberal Democrat) and Richard Barnes (Conservative), standing in for London Mayor Boris Johnson, who was on holiday.

Grassroots Tottenham spokespeople staunchly defended their community, saying they did not condone the mayhem and criminal damage, but they understood its cause, which was injustice.

Now Britain has erupted into flames and we are all wondering if the unrest will continue in the weeks to come.
 
* Marc Wadsworth is an activist and editor of The-Latest.Com. In the 1980s he was leader of the Labour Party Black Sections.

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