by Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
Published Aug 17, 2011 4:58 PM
By Aug. 15, some 2,800 people in Britain had been detained in connection with an Aug. 6 through Aug. 9 rebellion there. Police used photographs and news reports to target people in coordinated home invasions and arrests. Courts were kept in operation through the night in several cities so that people could be charged and imprisoned for various alleged crimes.
The four-day rebellion swept through various regions of England in response to police brutality and the worsening economic crisis facing the country. The spark was lit in Tottenham, North London, after police actions resulted in the death of 29-year-old African-Caribbean Mark Duggan. By the third night of the disturbances Black and other working-class youth had risen up in Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Bristol, Nottingham and other cities.
On Aug. 15, allheadlinenews.com reported that some 1,300 people had been charged. Furthering the repressive measures, Work and Pension Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has warned that those convicted would lose their welfare benefits, like unemployment, disability and housing, even if they do not get a custodial sentence. (Aug. 15)
London Mayor Boris Johnson has requested that the government permit the courts to send youth aged 11 to 15 to pupil referral units — alternative schools that some teachers consider to be dumping grounds for youth. Meanwhile, the city of Manchester reportedly prevented those suspected of involvement from entering 400 downtown stores. People who have family members charged with participating in the rebellion are already being evicted from social housing.
The rebellion proved to be an extreme embarrassment to London’s Conservative-Liberal Democratic coalition government, which has imposed austerity measures on youth and the working class through increased layoffs, cutbacks in social spending and the raising of educational costs.
Creating even more embarrassment for the political elite, many of the leading ministers in the government, including Prime Minister David Cameron, were on holiday when the cities erupted. They were forced to return to London after images of the “shopping for free” and the burning of businesses and police cars were shown across the world.
Law enforcement agencies were completely overwhelmed by the sheer mass anger, generated by years of pent-up frustrations stemming from an unjust, racist class society.
Cameron was compelled to convene an emergency session of the British Parliament on Aug. 11. Rather than acknowledge the deep social and racial cleavages that have historically plagued British society, the prime minister denounced the people involved in the rebellions, who were predominantly Black and working class but also included more affluent sectors of the population. He backed his words by placing 16,000 cops on London streets and thousands more in other cities. Mass arrests took place even after calm was restored on Aug. 11.
Racist, class-biased response
Cameron’s address to Parliament dismissed any link between the outbreaks of demonstrations and rebellion and the social conditions inside the country. Cameron said: “It is criminality pure and simple. And there is absolutely no excuse for it.” Cameron has pledged to wage what he calls an all-out war on “gangs.”
With racist undertones, Cameron asserted: “This is not about poverty. It’s about culture. A culture that glorifies violence, shows disrespect to authority, and says everything about rights but nothing about responsibilities.” He stressed that “we will not let any phony concerns about human rights get in the way of the publication of these pictures and the arrest of these individuals. We need to fight back and a fightback is underway.”
In efforts to clamp down on the unrest throughout the country, the British government is looking for assistance from the United States. Cameron has requested the consultation of the so-called “supercop,” Bill Bratton, who is known for conducting massive law-enforcement sweeps as police chief in New York and Los Angeles.
Cameron has said that the police models used in Los Angeles during the 1990s and in Boston since would be examined for application in Britain. These statements have increased existing tensions between the government and the police over the handling of the rebellion.
The Metropolitan Police in Britain have faced tremendous pressure ever since members were accused of selling information to the tabloid press owned by Rupert Murdoch. The police commissioner and his deputy were forced to resign several weeks ago amid revelations of corruption.
Several police officials took exception to Cameron’s criticism of the police for not utilizing proper tactics to curb and suppress the disturbances. Former British senior officer Brian Paddick stated that Bratton’s invitation “adds insult to injury at Scotland Yard. Bratton’s style of policing would probably not have stood up against the European Convention on Human Rights, which may be one of the reasons why some on the right wing of UK politics want to abandon the law.” (CNN.com, Aug. 15)
The emphasis on heavy-handed police tactics and blaming the victims of state policy and the economic crisis for the social ills of capitalist society has created a sharpened racist atmosphere within British public opinion.
The British Broadcasting Corp. coverage of the rebellions has fostered increased hostility toward Black, Asian and working-class communities. On the BBC’s News Night program, London-based historian David Starkey used racist and class-biased slurs to denigrate the social character of millions of people in England.
Starkey indicated that he had been reading British politician Enoch Powell’s 1968 “Rivers of Blood” anti-immigration speech, in which Powell predicted civil war in England if more Caribbean people were allowed to enter the country. He said, “What happened is that substantial sections of the Chavs [classist derogatory term for working-class people without social skills and perceived to be without ambition] that you wrote about have become black. The whites have become black.” (NewsDay.co.zw, Aug. 15)
On another BBC program, longtime African-Caribbean activist and writer Darcus Howe was insulted by network presenter Fiona Armstrong. During an Aug. 9 interview Armstrong asked Howe: “You are not a stranger to riots yourself I understand, are you? You have taken part in them yourself.” (Telegraph, Aug. 10)
Howe responded saying: “I have never taken part in a single riot. I’ve been part of demonstrations that ended up in a conflict. You just sound idiotic — have some respect.” The government-controlled news service was later forced to apologize as a result of public outcry.
Forces throughout the international community have expressed solidarity with the rebellion. In Tehran, Iran, hundreds of Iranian students protested outside the British embassy on Aug. 14 against what they called the “savage aggression” used by the police.
The Iranian students chanted, “Death to England!” “Where are your human rights?” and “Protesters, we will support you!” The students were denied a meeting with the British ambassador to Iran.
In Libya, leader Moammar Gaddafi, who is fighting to defend the North African government against U.S., British and French military assaults, called upon Cameron to resign. Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe condemned the hypocrisy of the British government, urging London to “put out its fires first and to leave us alone.”
The Bail Out the People Movement issued a national call for demonstrations in defense of those being arrested, prosecuted and imprisoned. On Aug. 15 a picket line was held outside the British Consulate in New York.
A BOPM statement points out that “[Cameron‘s] government of bailouts for the rich and cutbacks for the poor has done so much to create an environment ripe for rebellion. Cameron and other establishment politicians are whipping up a lynch-mob atmosphere against rebel youths.
“In conditions of deepening poverty, joblessness and racist repression, it is inevitable that people will rise up. What happened in London could happen tomorrow in New York, Los Angeles or any other U.S. city.”