Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
‘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.’
Drawing connections between events as disparate as the ‘social murder’ of Grenfell and recent mudslides in Sierra Leone, Remi Joseph-Salisbury points to the enduring relevance of Pan African thought for anti-racist struggle today.
We work ourselves into the ground for little economic benefit. It's high time to for a change, writes Aidan Harper.
Deregulation and tax loopholes are justified by saying that they 'protect growth'. But really, they just protect the wealthy, writes James Fox
Inequality is often treated as a law of nature - but really, it's the result of conscious political choices. It's time to choose equality, writes the IPPR's Carys Roberts.
Tom Palmer, aka Agent Kingfisher, was the 'messiah' of London's squatting scene until his death last year. But who was responsible for his fate? MI5, late capitalism or simply a drug overdose? Matt Broomfield investigates.
'Docs Not Cops' write that we must resist attempts to make our NHS any less universal
Louis Mendee explains the real human costs of climate change for the global south.
From climate change to automation to demographic shifts, Mathew Lawrence explains the challenges our economy will face in the coming decade.
Fifty years after the Abortion Act, women are still dying from being denied basic services, write activists from Feminist Fightback
We need to tackle the patronising ideology that lets Tory think-tanks sneer at social tenants, writes Emma Dent Coad
Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism
Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists
Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson
As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win
The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution
Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.
‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny
Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke
The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana
Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth
Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company
You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild
Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University
This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback
Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein
Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up
Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement
‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic
Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden
There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright