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‘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.’
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The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going
A very social economist
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Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase
Beware the automated landlord
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Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton
Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi
A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain
Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank
Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded
West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens
Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age
Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
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Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
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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