On August 4th in the Tottenham section of London, 29 year-old Mark Duggan was killed by a police officer after the cab he was riding in was stopped. What followed within hours was a wave a violent attacks on property spilling into several sections of London and lasting for several days.
London community activist Stafford Scott explains that after waiting four hours for the police to make a statement about Duggan’s death to a crowd that had gathered around the Tottenham police station, the congregation of people began to leave in frustration. Moments later, with the torching of police cars, the peaceful gathering had turned violent.
“It was…an outburst…spontaneous outburst, because people saw, we’ve been here for four hours. Women were leading the demonstration. When the women said, ‘Look, four hours. Our kids are now tired, we’re going home.’ When the guys saw the women leaving, that’s when the guys said, ‘Wow, we’ve been here for four hours and nothing’s happened. Nothing’s changed. They haven’t come to speak to us.’ And then when they saw some police cars—which for some reason were just parked up, unmanned—that was like a red flag to a bull. And they just had their go.”
Darcus Howe, Trinidadian-born columnist and broadcaster, in attempting to place the events in the context of current racial dynamics in London, explains, “In England right now, black boys are seen by the police as pests.” For the past 2 years, he says, young Black Londoners have been subjected to being stopped and searched by police in the street without being given an explanation of reasonable cause.
As well, Howe argues that recent cuts in public spending have resulted in increased lawlessness among youth in London.
“And then came the cuts,” he explains, “There are no youth clubs. Nothing for young people. And everything is going up….[T]he cuts in public spending…locked the fridge. You get one meal a day. That is the poverty that is taking place in this country. And so they’re out on the streets in Putnam. If you had walked around that day [the day of Duggan’s death]…you will see four guys leaning on a lamppost…where usually they would have been in a youth club paid for by the local government. …Supervised, areas for sporting activities, and then there in another area you do your homework. [T[hey have been so ignored, that they will sit in your class at school, and you can’t, as we say, read the play. You can’t know what is going on with them….Watch it. Watch how his eyes start to dart around….and wanting to tell you the teacher, ‘Fuck off….’ And that’s been going on under their noses, beneath the surface; and it exploded on that fateful day when Mark Duggan was executed.”
Included in the acts of violence that communities of color are dealing with in London is Black on Black violence, Howe adds. But the wave of civil unrest that moved through the streets of London last week represents a shift--predicted decades ago by the Afro-Caribbean intellectual Franz Fanon--in the way that social unease is manifested by Black youth, Howe argues. “I am sure now, as Franz Fanon warned us, this internecine strife—killing each other—sometimes it reaches a stage where it turns against something else. I promise you, Black on Black violence is going to fall considerably in the next few months….The energies are targeted elsewhere. The energies are targeted against the police.”
Previously, in the 1980s, London also grappled with a series of insurrections in communities of color in response to police abuse of power. What distinguishes these two periods of civil unrest, Howe opines, is the body of intellectuals that shaped the social awareness of the two sets of youth.
“There has never been at anytime until 1981 a mass consciousness informed by the songs of Jamaica, by the Malcolm X autobiography, by Franz Fanon, by C.L.R. James, series of writings. And then they’d have the Panther newspaper here. Stokely came through and he gave lectures and stuff….That made the foundation. Huge intellects like CLR James and younger ones from India and Pakistan. We weren’t looking like lost children. [We were] full of energy and well-read; and trying to build a base for new ideas. [Rather] than simply saying, ‘No, no, no.’”
On this edition, we speak with columnist and broadcaster Darcus Howe about the recent acts of disobedience by youth in the streets of London.