Your View

The Riots That Will Define My Generation

This is a cross post by Talal Rajab, of The Urbanite

Having been bought up and raised in North London, right bang in between Tottenham and Enfield, this weekend’s events have left a sour taste in my throat.  Seeing the streets that you call home in disarray, the shops that you visit burnt down and the community that you love given a bad name hurts.  Shop keepers have lost businesses, people have been made homeless and the decades of community work that has gone in around this area has been rendered meaningless within the space of 48 hours by the actions of idiotic thugs. 

What hurts even more, however, is the misinformation and ill-advised comments that I have witnessed on various media platforms and social networking sites over the weekend regarding the trouble in North London. 

From the shotgun reaction from certain sections of the media, who quickly labelled Mark Duggan a ‘gangsta’ who shot at police without waiting for verification of the facts, to the completely idiotic muppets on twitter and Facebook who called for fellow North London residents to ‘rise up against the f***ing feds’, what we have witnessed here is a merry-go round of claims and counter-claims that has finally escalated into the apocalyptic headlines that we see today.  Some of these claims clearly need to be addressed. 

Firstly, we need to let the IPCC get to the bottom of what really happened between Mark Duggan and the police last Thursday.  On the one hand we have accounts that Duggan was a dangerous thug from the media, conveniently fed to them by the police along with this photo of Duggan looking as menacingly as possible, whereas on the other hand we have accounts from people around the area that described ‘starrish Mark’ as a family man and well known member of the community.  At the end of the day none of us know what happened and the endless speculation and rumours have only escalated what must already be a gruesome time for the young man’s family. 

Secondly, social commentators need to cease making comparisons between what happened in the 1980s and what is happening today.  Despite their many failings, of which I shall come to later, the Met have come leaps and bounds over the past decades and are not the same racist force that our parents and grandparents had to put up with.  SUS laws have ended and the institutionalised racism that was described in the Macpherson report has been all but stamped out. 

However, that is not to say that the police are angels.  Young residents in this area continue to hold reservations against the police and trust levels between the youth and the police continue to be at an all-time low, even before the events of last week.  This, however, has little to do with institutionalised racism and more to do with the fact that the police continue to patronise and misunderstand the youth of today.  Put simply, if you dress in a certain manner and talk in a certain way (regardless of your race) you are treated differently by the police and many people on Saturday and Sunday, wrongly I might add, saw this as their chance to ‘get back at the feds’. 

Furthermore, with continued levels of gun and knife crime in the area many youth do not feel adequately protected by the police.  One of the most common statements that I have heard over the weekend from terrified residents is that the police allowed the riots to happen.  Scenes of young people rioting and looting for hours on end in Wood Green without any police intervention lends more weight to their concerns.  I remember being robbed and attacked a number of years ago with CS spray and a hammer by two hooded youths my age and the last thought on my mind was to report the crime for fear that I would then be viewed in suspect terms by the police.  Although I now see this as a mistake, I can understand why many people younger than me hold similar reservations.  The only result of this, however, are more young people ‘tooling up’ for protection and further violent crimes. 

Thirdly, this has nothing to do with multiculturalism or government cuts and any attempt to link the two with events this weekend are nothing but political opportunism, from both the right and the left. 

In regards to multiculturalism, it is clear from the images in Tottenham that this was not just a “black issue”, despite the media predictably rolling out so-called “community leaders” many of whom are apparently leading our community yet we have never even heard of them.  Members of all races were rioting and if anyone knows this area well then they will know that Tottenham is a strong mix of black, white, Polish, Turkish and Jewish communities, many of whom took to the streets on Saturday. 

The scenes in the predominately white area of Enfield should also lay to rest those who are quick to blame multiculturalism for this mess.  Despite this Sky News have continued to roll out a very well spoken and thoughtful black guy (I will not mention his name because I think he actually makes some very good points and it is not his fault) to explain the situation in Tottenham even though he lives in South London!  Multiculturalism, for all it’s failures, does not encourage people to loot and riot and those (mainly right wing commentators) attempting to use this weekend to lament multiculturalism should be ashamed of themselves. 

As should those on the left, such as Ken Livingstone, who have tried to link the riots to the coalition cuts, arguing that they have caused ‘social division’.  This is nonsense.  Many of the kids looting and rioting would probably be unable to name our Deputy Prime Minister, let alone be aware of the effects of spending cuts in the area.  It should also be noted that many of the people rioting are not ‘under-privileged’ and economically poor.  Many tales of the riots in what is relatively the middle class area of Enfield describes seeing well dressed youths escaping with loot in their VW GTI’s.  Today we are hearing rumours of riots in Southgate and Palmers Green – hardly Compton and the Bronx.  To try and simply paint this as ‘poor people’ uprising is lazy and quite typical of some of us on the left who try to blame the coalition for everything and see economic causes when there are none. 

That is not to say that the cuts in this area have not had an effect, as can be seen in this video.  Youth clubs are being closed down, unemployment in the area is rising and local community groups are losing funding.  What we need to ensure, as a community, is that these cuts do not have a detrimental effect in the future and prevent the area from progressing socially. 
Lastly, I cannot overstate the effect that social media has had in encouraging the riots.  Many people have called this the ‘twitter revolution’, but I am afraid that the kids are once again one step ahead of our adult counterparts.  This was not merely a twitter revolution, it was a BBM revolution.  The amount of Blackberry broadcasts, such as this, that were being sent out clearly had an impact, particularly on the riots in Enfield. It seems that the riots on Sunday were clearly planned and organised, but not on the well known platforms like twitter and Facebook which rioters were aware were being monitored by the police.  They were being planned via the Blackberry, which seems like the phone of choice for today’s urban rioter.  This article here explains why

So where do we go from here.  Whilst it is too early to tell of the effects that the riots will have on the community here in the future, what is clear in the meantime is that until the police get a quick hold on the situation this will continue and continue.  Shops have already shut early in Southgate and Palmers Green today and the fact that looting spread as far as Brixton last night is further proof that this is unlikely to end anytime soon.  Serious questions also need to be asked of the police inaction in what has been a terrible month for Scotland Yard.  I guess all we can do here is clean up the mess and brace ourselves for further problems in the coming week.  Whilst we do that, however, it would help if outsiders stopped spreading misinformation, for all our sake’s.  

The saddest thing is that whilst our parents fought for noble causes such as equal rights and the end of apartheid our generation fought for Nike trainers and iPads.  

This, I am afraid, will define my generation