Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Tottenham: ‘This is what you get – fire’

The riot came from a community pushed to the edge by the violence of the police, writes Clarence Williams

August 7, 2011
5 min read

‘There’s no excuse for violence.’ It’s a familiar refrain. Even people who spend their lives campaigning against injustice are susceptible to blindly repeating it at the first whiff of a riot’s rising smoke.

But stop to think for a moment before you condemn what’s happened in Tottenham.

Violence, after all, bleeds from every pore of the capitalist state: from dire impoverishment and starvation through to police brutality, all the way up to war. But this kind of violence is routinely excused: it’s either necessary to ‘keep us safe’, or it’s just the way things are.

The kind of violence that we’re told there’s ‘no excuse’ for – the kind the newspapers focus on so angrily and relentlessly – is usually not even actual violence at all. It’s setting a police car on fire – or, for that matter, smashing the windows of the Millbank Tower.

Property damage is not violence – it doesn’t physically hurt anybody. And it doesn’t come out of nowhere: time after time, it is a desperate response to the violence of the police.

Student Kit Withnail wrote about Millbank in Red Pepper: ‘I had my head bashed in that day by police who charged us when I had my back to them. I spent the evening in hospital, bleeding from the head and vomiting.’ And that was just one of hundreds of terrible stories.

Occasionally a cop grazes their knee or similar at a protest, and it’s reported with the utmost seriousness as an ‘officer injured’. But it’s hardly a fair fight.

In Tottenham, as the media makes ‘scenes of looting’ its focus, the original act of horrific violence that this is all really about starts to get lost.

This is about a community enraged by the police killing a man named Mark Duggan. The media have been quick to call the 29-year-old a ‘gangster’, despite the utter lack of evidence for that assertion.

The known facts are that the father-of-four was shot twice in the face on Thursday by a police officer wielding a Heckler & Koch MP5 sub-machine gun. (Few have rushed to condemn that violence.)

Semone Wilson, Mark’s girlfriend, said: ‘I spoke to him at about 5pm and he asked me if I’d cook dinner. He said he spotted a police car following him.

‘By 6.15 he had been gunned down. I kept phoning and phoning to find out where he was. He wasn’t answering.

‘I rushed down to where it happened. They let me through the police lines but they wouldn’t let me see his body.’

Some witnesses report that Duggan was lying on the ground when he was shot.

An eyewitness told the Evening Standard: ‘About three or four police officers had both men 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.’

Yesterday (Saturday), hundreds gathered to demand justice for Duggan, marching from the Broadwater Farm estate where he lived to Tottenham police station.

They asked for someone to come out and speak to them. A resident told the BBC that a 16-year-old girl approached police to ask questions – and they ‘set upon her with batons’.

Then people got really angry. As the fires started, they were chanting a simple demand: ‘We want answers’.

They deserve those answers. And those who tell them to be calm and wait for the IPCC inquiry might reflect on the record of that useless organisation.

Because this is not just about Mark Duggan. This is about Smiley Culture. This is about Ian Tomlinson, Jean Charles de Menezes, Harry Stanley and so many hundreds more…

Martin Luther King said ‘a riot is the language of the unheard’. The people on the streets of Tottenham are not ‘violent’ criminals with some burning hatred of Aldi. They are part of a community that has been pushed to the edge by the very real violence of the police.

As one rioter, Jamal, told Channel 4 News: ‘We’re here to tell the police they can’t abuse us, harass us. We won’t put up with it. This is just the beginning, this is war, and this is what you get – fire.’

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services

With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas

Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world

A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle

Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune

Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali

To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi

Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun

Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh

With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament

Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair

A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook

‘We remembered that convictions can inspire and motivate people’: interview with Lisa Nandy MP
The general election changed the rules, but there are still tricky issues for Labour to face, Lisa Nandy tells Ashish Ghadiali

Everything you know about Ebola is wrong
Vicky Crowcroft reviews Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, by Paul Richards

Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for an online editor
Closing date for applications: 1 September.

Theresa May’s new porn law is ridiculous – but dangerous
The law is almost impossible to enforce, argues Lily Sheehan, but it could still set a bad precedent

Interview: Queer British Art
James O'Nions talks to author Alex Pilcher about the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition and her book A Queer Little History of Art

Cable the enabler: new Lib Dem leader shows a party in crisis
Vince Cable's stale politics and collusion with the Conservatives belong in the dustbin of history, writes Adam Peggs

Anti-Corbyn groupthink and the media: how pundits called the election so wrong
Reporting based on the current consensus will always vastly underestimate the possibility of change, argues James Fox

Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole

Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part

Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper

Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s

Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach

Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.

Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite

Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead

Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee

Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power

The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced


1,877