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Panic on the streets of London, panic on the streets of Birmingham, I wonder to myself…

August 9, 2011

The reaction and news coverage of the recent and seemingly ongoing riots in the UK, have left me with a continued concern about the state of media coverage. Watching the events unfold on BBC news, it would seem that the whole affair had come as one big surprise and had begun because a man named Mark Duggan had been shot dead by police after he had opened fire on police officers, this resulted in a demonstration outside the local police station in Tottenham which then for some unknown reason turned into a full scale riot.  Sitting in their ivory towers, police and government officials had their statements read out and repeated continually throughout the coverage, condemning the ‘criminals’ who were seemingly only engaging in these acts in order to ‘spread chaos’ and take part in ‘looting’. However much seems to be missing from this story, why did a community react in the way it did to one man being shot who had apparently shot first anyway? Why did a small demonstration outside a police station result in a full scale riot? Why have the riots continued for 3 days and have gathered pace? And maybe most importantly why have these riots spread throughout the country when the people involved in them in Liverpool, Birmingham and Nottingham amongst others have no apparent connection to the dead man? Are all of these participants and community members opportunist thieves? Are they all participants in organised crime?

These questions can be seen to be left unanswered by main stream media such as the BBC, where the vast majority of the UK population gather their news and information from. This would seem important when considering public opinion on the matter. Social media sites and news comments can be seen to be awash with what can only be described as ignorant, fascist, right wing bile with racism playing a very central role in the structure of reactions to the news stories. This is hardly surprising though given the content of the news reporting. Studies such as Greg Philo’s ‘More Bad News from Israel’ (2011), have demonstrated a direct correlation with news content and public opinion. The gaps in people’s knowledge of an event and situation can be seen to directly correlate with the gaps in news reporting.

The question of why the community reacted in the way it did, can arguably be seen to be answered in the reports which suggest that Mark Duggan not only never shot at police officers first, but that he in fact did not shoot at them at all and that he may have not actually been armed. Rumours of what would seem to be an execution by police had apparently circled throughout the Tottenham community which resulted in a small demonstration outside the police station. Very little if any of this was actually reported within main stream media however, regardless of the fact that for the best part of a day the very same media outlets had been repeating the claimed details of Mr Duggan opening fire on police officers. It would also seem that very little if any was said about the claims that during the small protest outside the police station a young woman had apparently been the victim of a blow to the head from a police baton and that this had actually been one of the major contributors to the small demonstration turning into the full scale disturbances it did, but again this alternative description of events was missing from the news reports.

The reasons why these demonstrations have gathered pace and have continued and indeed now spread, can only be speculated at this point as it would seem very little is being done in order to go and actually speak with those who are involved with these actions, especially within the mainstream media. However, the social conditions in which the people of Tottenham and the other areas in which the riots have spread to, can be suggested to have played a significant role. Reports that Tottenham has been subjected to a 75% cut in youth services of late and that unemployment has reached such levels that over 50 people are fighting for every 1 job vacancy are worrying statistics enough. However statistics that 333 people have died in police custody since 1999 without one police officer being charged and prosecuted and that the black youths who live in these communities are still 6 times more likely to be stopped and searched by police than a white person, can be seen to suggest a broader picture of why most of the animosity of these young people seems to be aimed towards the police. Statistics such as these are seldom known by us, the majority of the population, and are only discovered when searching for greater information on events such as these riots, but the people who live in these communities know and understand them very well. The young people involved in this rioting, live every day fully aware of the risk of themselves being stopped and searched and possibly arrested. They are also very aware that friends, family members and acquaintances have perished when in custody of the police. These types of statistics and social realisms however are also left out of the mainstream media, adding further to the distortion of the story and understanding of its audience.

I have read comments regarding the disturbances that have ultimately broken out in Liverpool, such as ‘this isn’t London, what are these idiots doing’ and ‘these scumbags don’t even know why they are rioting’. Well for the last year I lived in the area which last night witnessed rioting for the first time since the 1980’s and I can tell you, that it surprises me not one little bit that this spread to the area. Lawrence Road, Smithdown Road and Lodge Lane have been subjected to some of the worst social policies in Liverpool. The area has little to no quality youth services, a huge proportion of its young people attend schools like Shortfields in Dingle, a school that regardless of opposition in the form of student lead walkouts and staff strikes is to become an academy, essentially privatising their education and placing profit before their futures. These young people’s voices have been silenced by the authorities on that issue, as well as the wider school children’s voices in the city being silenced when they tried to demonstrate against education cuts and fees last year, and were subsequently treated to house visits and arrest by police. The area is a cultural melting pot and my time living there was very much enjoyed, however the demolition of a large number of the homes in the area have left the community in a state of despair. Streets of empty houses and flat land where communities once lived can be found right through the area and the community centres and youth clubs that once played a central role in keeping a poverty stricken population together are now also gone. This is an area where a huge majority of its residents, especially the youth can be seen to feel disenfranchised, forgotten and ignored. Couple these social problems and others with the same harassment that its ethnic minorities receive from police as those do in London and it can be argued to be no wonder that the young people of the area became inspired by the events happening around the country.

This piece is not an attempt to celebrate in the fact that buildings are being burnt and that violence is taking place on the streets of the UK, but what this piece attempts to do is stress the importance of understanding the reasons why events like this take place. There is of course some who will take advantage of the situations that are presented to them and looting will and has always taken place when events like this have arisen. However to suggest as ministers and police chiefs and the media outlets have tried to do, that these riots are simply a group of organised criminals who have orchestrated these events in order to carry out widespread thievery is at best ridiculous and ignorant. The once regular activity of stolen goods being sold on the door steps of communities has long gone and has been replaced by the much more profitable drugs trade, how many ‘organised criminals’ do you think are prepared to risk arrest by running into Curry’s to grab a couple of flat screen TV’s when they make huge profits from drugs?

It serves no purpose what so ever to provide only a short sighted and one sided narrative of an event, except of course to cover up the short comings of a political system. If politicians, police and business’s actually have an interest in putting an end to these riots and making sure they never happen again then a full analyse of why they happen must take place, starting with our media outlets doing their job and actually providing its audiences with a full and balanced account of the events. What its audiences may want to consider in the mean time however is taking its reports with a air of scepticism and actually searching for their own alternative news sources (BBC News Online does not count), instead of jumping the gun and spouting off the racist ignorant comments currently splashed across social media and news comments.

SIDE NOTE: Today I came across a group on a social media site which was called ‘Not smashing up Liverpool cause your a fucking decent scouser’, now I am not in a position to criticise grammatical or spelling errors so I will leave that point alone. However what I am concerned with are the reasons behind why people have first created and subsequently joined this group. Now the title seems fair enough, if you’re a decent scouser you wouldn’t smash up your own city. However my problem with the individuals, who have joined this, is their belief that being a decent scouser amounts to not smashing up your own city. Growing up in the city, I always got the impression and feeling that being a decent scouser was to have morals that transcended the norms of elite society, that a sense of community was central to the city, that working people stuck together in times of adversity, that when the city came under attack from those who wished to put us out of work, lower our standards of living and harass us that we banded together and fought those attacks off. In the 100th year anniversary of the transport strike in Liverpool that consequently resulted in the national general strike, the celebrations have been named Liverpool’s year of the Radicals. Features of the celebrations have consisted of talks and exhibitions looking at the Toxteth riots in the 80’s and the Dockers strikes amongst others. The city has a long history of militancy and has always stood side by side with other workers and the unemployed when needed, including bus loads of workers travelling out of the city to join the picket lines of the mining strikes during the 80’s. I wonder how many of these people who have joined this group where present at the student lead demonstrations in town? I wonder how many marched through the streets in order to support Public sector workers facing pay cuts and job losses? I wonder how many have stood on the many picket lines of working people facing the same fate? I even wonder how many of them have even walked down Lodge Lane? I am sure some of them have, but I wonder if they are raising any of the issues discussed in the above article in the forums of this group?

Being a decent scouser as far as I am concerned means looking out for your friends, family, colleagues and strangers who face similar and different struggles to you, in their time of need, not joining a self proclaimed ‘decent scouser’ facebook group condemning those who fight back against those who have disenfranchised and harassed them for years.

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From → Politics, UK

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