A costly mistake... but we are people tooTagged as: cuts repression riot_2011 social_struggles solidarity
Neighbourhoods: hackney harringey islington
I was under ten when PC Keith Blakelock was killed and Broadwater Farm erupted in the now infamous riots of 1985. I was growing up a few miles away near Finsbury Park; racial tension existed locally, with the National Front in evidence across north and east London; sympathy for the unwilling victims of an unwanted war in Northern Ireland was widespread; and there was little respect for authority in the form of the Metropolitan Police - a feeling vindicated by the subsequent unmasking of corruption at "Stokey-Pokey" (Stoke Newington) police station, situated only a short distance away in Hackney.
Twenty-five years later, despite what even recently appeared to have been progress, little has actually changed. As a nation, we are all affected by the corruption of authority. The financial extravagances of recent years are causing the economic system to collapse on us - and the poor are paying. Racial tensions persist, with increasing support for the English Defence League across the country, and DNA profiles samples taken by police in London are disproportionately far greater for non-northern European whites (more than 1 in 2 of all such profiles) than the comparable figure for the London population as a whole (approximately 30%). We remain involved in costly, unwanted and unnecessary wars against "terrorists", and bribing the police is apparently still rife - if their conduct surrounding the red-top press is anything to go by.
Yet the riots in Tottenham and Wood Green on Saturday night were not political in origin, say the commentators. I disagree. They may not have been consciously political - the destruction of local businesses (I don't mean the IKEAs, CarPhone Warehouses or HMVs, but the local grocery stores and small businesses run by families or individuals) is not commensurate with good neighbourly manners - but the riots carry a message: "We are people too." The banking excesses of the past decade have robbed us - the people - who are now expected to pay the price. And now the people are asking "why?" Why are our youth clubs, nurseries, leisure centres, and libraries being closed? Why are hospital budgets and health care services being cut? Why are we blamed and why are we carrying the can for the problems caused by elites?
Indeed, Haringey seems to suffer most from this robbery: as a borough, it is ranked in the top 15 most deprived boroughs in England (there are 326 altogether). More specifically, it is Tottenham that bears the brunt of this; the western half of the borough contains the relatively much more affluent districts around Alexandra Palace, Muswell Hill and Highgate. The deprivation figures across the borough only become more extreme when looking at specific measures of deprivation such as child poverty, employment levels, or housing.
Is there a light at the end of the tunnel? It would be nice to say "yes," but I'm not sure that I can. Downing Street on Sunday morning lit a candle in the dark: by stating that "[t]he rioting in Tottenham last night was utterly unacceptable" the door at least has been opened for local residents to claim compensation under the Riot (Damages) Act 1886. This makes provision for monies to be "paid out of the police fund of the area" But such retrospective claims often take years to effect, and the damage upon our communities is being inflicted now. Cameron's cuts can only lead to further unrest; the true remedy requires long term investment in community combined with an understanding of every day life - an understanding that this government is clearly lacking. The coalition's failure to learn the lessons of the last 30 years is proving a costly mistake for us all.
Contact email: gdm [at] aktivix [dot] org