Sunday, 7 August 2011

Some thoughts about the Tottenham civil unrest

The community and the police have been sitting on a tinderbox for years and the most recent spark has set the whole thing alight.  The background to this isn’t just one shooting, but years of heavy-handed and racist policing coupled with decades of economic neglect and a plethora of politicians from all parties cocking a deaf ear to the problems of real people everywhere.

Inevitably this will continue over the coming days and weeks as police statements are reported as fact and the mainstream media chooses to prioritize pictures of fires and stories of looting over the real grievances which have sparked the events of Saturday night and Sunday morning.

This has happened before in Tottenham, in 1985, after police killed a woman in her home during an unauthorized search.  It seems the attitude of the police towards local residents has changed little.  Another shady killing of a local resident has been followed by a protest demanding answers and then the apparent assault by police with batons of a 16-year-old female protestor.

The wider context of all this is that such communities have no confidence in the police, who continue to push the lie that they are the benevolent protectors of the public.  Yet a Guardian article last December points out that since 1998, 333 people have died in police custody and not one police officer has been successfully prosecuted, with the IPCC saying that jurors’ inability to convict police officers is a problem.

Add to this such high-profile cases as Blair Peach, Cynthia Jarrett, Jean-Charles de Menezes, Ian Tomlinson and Smiley Culture, heavy-handed policing of legitimate protest (including duping the Fortnum and Mason protestors into a mass arrest) and excessive sentences relating to the likes of Charlie Gilmour and Johnny Marbles when compared to similar offences, while police officer Delroy Smellie is acquitted of an assault which took place in full view of the cameras and it becomes easier and easier to understand where this lack of trust in a police force which seems to be a law unto itself actually comes from.

And when this is set against the background of economic deprivation in such communities as cuts to local services continue while banks carry on handing out billions in bonuses and corporations are making billions more in profit as working people are pushed to the wall, it will come as little surprise if this weekend’s events are repeated up and down the country over the coming months and years.

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