If you’re tempted to listen to BBC5 this morning for some coverage of the London riots, don’t. I made that mistake and was barraged by racist callers spouting off false facts and being moderated by a patronising school ma’am announcer who consistently referred to those involved in the riots as ‘the hooligans’.
When I was reading the Guardian’s initial reports on the tottenham riots late friday night, what struck me was that they referred to Mark Duggan, the man who police shot dead the night before, simply as ‘a father of four’. Had Mark been on the other side of a lethal gun shot there is no doubt the media would have been reporting that a black man had shot someone dead on the high street, but in this case I had to independently research to confirm my strong suspicion that he wasn’t white.
Mark Duggan was indeed a man of colour. It is still unclear why he was being arrested, let alone why police shot him twice in the head. Initial ballistic tests suggest that the ‘he shot at us first’ story suggested by police is about as reliable as the ‘we found Ian Tomlinson on the ground and tried to help him but protesters were stopping us’ story that the met released in the wake of the 2009 G20. Ian Tomlinson was a working class white man — his family is still fighting for some kind of justice from the state. Having received an unlawful killing verdict from a coronial jury this May and a promise of a manslaughter charge against the police officer who shoved Tomlinson to the ground, they are really not doing too badly. By comparison the family of Sean Rigg, a black man who died in police custody in Brixton in 2008 while being ‘restrained’ for mental health issues, are still waiting for the initial coronial inquiry to take place.
According to Inquest there have been 174 black and ethnic minority deaths in police custody or immediately following police contact in England and Wales since 1993. These deaths are occurring in the pre-arrest and arrest phase, so long before the suspects have actually been tried for the alleged offence. (Not that there is any reason to put much faith in the trial process. Britain’s prisons, like those of its ex-colonies, are still disproportionately filled with people of colour.)
Predictably, there is in the media a strong normative divide being encouraged between the family of Mark Duggan, who are allowed to ask for justice, and the feral hooligan youth, who have no genuine politics and simply want to loot stores for new sneakers. So the anger of the family is legitimate and the anger of ‘the youths’ is not. What this narrative of course misses is that unlike the ConDem’s bullshit ‘big britain’, most of the black residents of Haringey are in fact in it together, not in the sense that they form some romanticised version of ‘community’ but in the sense that they are systematically impoverished, killed, harrassed and then ignored by the state. They are not stealing tins of beans from aldi and nikes from JD sports to take home and add to their stockpiles of waitrose caviar and designer brogues.
The riots spread to other poor areas of London over night. Let’s see what the next few days bring. As my friend Roz said on Friday, I’ve always supported Tottenham.