On a warm spring day, strolling in south London, I heard demanding voices behind me. A police van disgorged a posse of six or more, who waved me aside. They surrounded a young black man who, like me, was ambling along. They appropriated him; they rifled his pockets, looked in his shoes, inspected his teeth. Their thuggery affirmed, they let him go with the barked warning there would be a next time.
For the young at the bottom of the pyramid of wealth and patronage and poverty that is modern Britain, mostly the black, the marginalised and resentful, the envious and hopeless, there is never surprise. Their relationship with authority is integral to their obsolescence as young adults. Half of all black British youth between the ages of 18 and 24 are unemployed, the result of deliberate policies since Margaret Thatcher oversaw the greatest transfer of wealth from the bottom to the top in British history. Forget plasma TVs, this was panoramic looting … //
… On 4 August, the BBC’s Fiona Armstrong – aka Lady MacGregor of MacGregor – interviewed the writer Darcus Howe, who dared use the forbidden word, “insurrection”.
Armstrong: “Mr. Howe, you say you are not shocked [by the riots]? Does this mean you condone what happened?”
- Howe: “Of course not … what I am concerned about is a young man Mark Duggan … the police blew his head off.”
Armstrong: “Mr. Howe, we have to wait for the official enquiry to say things like that. We don’t know what happened to Mr. Duggan. We have to wait for the police report.”
- On 8 August, the Independent Police Complaints Commission acknowledged there was “no evidence” that Duggan had fired a shot at police. Duggan was shot in the face on 4 August by a police officer with a Heckler and Koch MP5 sub-machine gun – the same weapon supplied by Britain to dictatorships that use them against their own people. I saw the result in East Timor where Indonesian troops also blew the heads off people with these state-of-the-art weapons supplied by both Tory and Labour governments.
- An eyewitness to Duggan’s killing told the Evening Standard, “About three or four police officers had [him] pinned on the ground at gunpoint. They were really big guns and then I heard four loud shots. The police shot him on the floor.”
- This is how the Metropolitan Police shot dead Jean Charles de Menezes on the floor of a London Underground train. And there was Robert Stanley and Ian Tomlinson, and many more. The police lied about Duggan’s killing as they have lied about the others. Since 1998, more than 330 people have died in police custody and not one officer has been convicted. Where is the political and media outrage about this “culture of fear”?
- “Funny, too,” noted the journalist Melanie MacFadyean, “that the police did nothing while some serious looting went on – surely not because they wanted everyone to see that cutting the police force meant more crime?”
- Still, the brooms have arrived. In an age of public relations as news, the clean-up campaign, however well-meant by many people, can also serve the government’s and media goal of sweeping inequality and hopelessness under gentrified carpets, with cheery volunteers armed with their brand new brooms and pointedly described as “Londoners” as if the rest are aliens. The otherwise absent Boris Johnson waved his new broom. Another Etonian, the former PR man to an asset stripper and current prime minister up to his neck in Hackgate, would surely approve.