Riots in london 2011 essay help
May 7, 2018
The petrol bombs started flying on a Saturday night, amid rumours over police mistreatment of a local black man. It would be the first in a series of disturbances, as rioting erupted across the capital and parts of Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester.
The riots that began in Brixton in 1981 were in many ways similar to those that blighted England this summer. Both took place while a Conservative prime minister grappled with the effects of global economic downturn and rising unemployment. Both had created a strong sense – for those involved – of unity.
"I was sitting in my brother's house and I smelt fire, I smelt burning," said a 19-year-old man who rioted in Brixton this August. "So we left the house, went up to Brixton. The first person that we talked to was some old rasta man on some walking stick who was in the last riots, directing people where to go, saying: 'Yeah, everyone hook up as one.' A union thing, wasn't it? Go fight the government."
The English riots of 2011 can certainly lay claim to being the biggest civil disorder in a generation. But to what extent were the August riots really that different from civil unrest in previous decades?
The Guardian and London School of Economics joint inquiry into the August disturbances, involving 270 interviews with rioters, helps place the summer disorder in context.
One key difference was speed. In August, disturbances spread across England in just four nights, fuelled in part by the BlackBerry messaging service that enabled flashmobs to congregate at prearranged locations. In 1981, by contrast, it was three months after Brixton before riots broke out in Liverpool, Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham, although they then spread across five cities in a week.
The rush to blame technology, however, is nothing new. The government mistakenly blamed social media such as Twitter and Facebook for the "viral" spread of the August 2011 riots. During the LA riots, rolling TV coverage was the scapegoat, while riots in France in 2005 were partly explained by reference to young people communicating via text message, email and blogs. Even in 1981 there were scare stories that, in Manchester and London, rioters were communicating using "£10 radios".
An undoubtedly significant technological development has been the rise of CCTV. Although used in the 1970s and 1980s by the police, CCTV was initially confined primarily to targeting football hooligans and political demonstrators.
Its spread across the UK's urban landscape only really occurred in the 1990s, but has now reached such a scale that much of what occurred in the August riots was caught on film.
Its impact can be seen most dramatically in many of the 4,000 arrests: on Wednesday, Junior Saunders, a 36-year-old from Hackney, was given a five-year sentence – the harshest to be handed down to any rioter – after being captured on CCTV during the rioting.
Cameras first caught Saunders riding through Hackney on his bike; later he was spotted wearing the same beach shorts, hooded top and sunglasses attacking police vehicles, throwing stepladders at police, breaking into a lorry, burgling an optician's and attacking a branch of Tesco with a shovel.
Race and police
If there is an overriding theme than runs like a thread through most of the riots in postwar Britain, it is undoubtedly race. Some of the earliest postwar disturbances, in Nottingham and Notting Hill, London in the summer of 1958, were widely described as "race riots". The Institute of Race Relations described a history of conflict in Nottingham in the late 1950s between white and recently arrived black residents, which had been going on for at least a year by the time the riot occurred. Newspapers covering the second and third days of rioting in Notting Hill reported violence so serious that all available police reserves were on duty or standing by and that dozens of arrests were made when a large crowd had gathered to join in racist chanting.
Such direct racial confrontation has been relatively uncommon; in recent times perhaps the closest parallel to those 1950s events were the disturbances that occurred in the north of England in mid-2001. There, initially in Oldham, and then in Burnley, there was significant conflict between local Asian and white youths. Subsequent disturbances in Bradford occurred after the National Front announced plans to march in the city, sparking confrontations between local Pakistani youth and white extremists.
By contrast, the major disturbances of the 1980s, beginning in St Paul's in Bristol in 1980, and then, in 1981, proceeding via Brixton, Handsworth in Birmingham, Chapeltown in Leeds, Moss Side in Manchester and Toxteth in Liverpool, and picking up four years later in Handsworth, Brixton and Broadwater Farm in Tottenham, tended to coalesce around conflict with the police, although race was at the heart of the grievances.
Sheldon Thomas, a gang expert and youth worker who was involved in Brixton in 1981, remembers the problems of isolation and unemployment that his generation of young black people faced. These were compounded, he said, by having to "cope with a racist police force who had the power to stop and search us at will". "[With] beatings, deaths in police custody … Most young black boys felt completely persecuted," Thomas said.
For many who were involved, said Ros Griffiths, a community leader in Brixton, the 1981 riots "were fundamentally about race". "In Brixton we called the riots an uprising," she said. On the other hand, Griffiths said: "The riots that took place in August  were not about race but about a growing underclass in our inner cities that feels excluded, isolated and locked out of mainstream society." Thomas agrees, arguing that what has really changed in the past 30 years is that, while many young black people continue to feel the same way as his generation had in 1981, "now that feeling is shared by white working-class people".
Although rioters interviewed by the Guardian/LSE often said their mistreatment, particularly at the hands of police, was a consequence of race, they were mostly adamant the disturbances were not race riots. If anything, many saw the disorder as a coming together of ethnically disparate groups who loosely shared a sense of injustice.
"I can understand, as a black man who grew up with racism, how a lot of white working-class people feel today," said Thomas. "These politicians have no interest in the white man in Salford or the black man in Brixton."
To understand the 2011 riots one needs to look back not just to Brixton, Handsworth and Toxteth in the 1980s, but also to the outbreaks that occurred in the early 1990s in places like Oxford, Cardiff and Tyneside. There the arson, looting and attacks on the police primarily involved white youth in suburban, working-class estates.
All the accounts of these disturbances at the time used words like poverty, deprivation and isolation. All of the estates involved had dramatically high levels of youth unemployment.
The August rioters were ethnically mixed, but most shared an experience of economic deprivation. Of the rioters interviewed in the Guardian/LSE study who were of working age and not in education, 59% were unemployed. Analysis of more than 1,000 court records held by the Guardian suggests 59% of rioters came from the most deprived 20% of areas in the UK.
Almost all of the major outbreaks of civil disorder of the past 30 years have involved looting as well as attacks on property and on the police. In the 1981 Brixton riot, approximately 30 premises were burned, and over 100 damaged and looted.
But with approximately 2,500 shops and businesses looted, and insurance claims in London alone likely to reach £300m, the scale of the looting in August this year, and the fact that some of the disturbances seem primarily to have involved looting rather than other forms of protest or criminality, separates them from previous experiences.
This may reflect the rise of a new culture of consumption. Many of those interviewed by the Guardian/LSE spoke about the status attributed to brand items, admitting they saw August's perceived lawlessness as a "once in a lifetime" opportunity to acquire consumer goods they could not ordinarily afford. As one 15-year-girl who looted in south London put it: "People with the Ralph, the Gucci, the Nike, the trainers, the Air Forces [Nike Air Force 1 trainers], it's all the style, just everyone wants it. If you don't have it you're just going to look like an idiot. Like, that's how we see it, you just look like an idiot. It's a fashion thing."
What the recent English riots do have in common with most previous examples of significant civil disorder is the absence of a major official inquiry.
In 1958, the home secretary, R A Butler, turned down requests for a major inquiry after the Nottingham and Notting Hill riots. Questioned in the House of Commons, he said had spoken with the Metropolitan police commissioner and was satisfied that "everything possible was being done". In the aftermath of August's riots, David Cameron said: "This was not political protest or a riot about protest about politics. It was common or garden thieving, robbing and looting. And we don't need an inquiry to tell us that."
The riots in Moss Side, Handsworth, Toxteth, St Paul's and Broadwater Farm were all investigated in some detail, but while these inquiries were important in their local context, and one or two had larger reach, few really permeated national debates and general public consciousness.
The exception, and the one inquiry that stands out above all others, is that by Lord Justice Scarman into the Brixton riots in 1981. Why? Part of the reason lies with Scarman himself, a man described by the former lord chief justice Lord Woolf as "a lawyer and a judge who had a remarkable insight into human nature and an exceptional sensitivity to the needs of a healthy society". But it was the independence and authority of Scarman's report that was key.
Hard-hitting, it was critical of the Metropolitan police and also took the opportunity to focus in detail on both racial disadvantage and the very high levels of unemployment experienced by Brixton residents at that time. Neither of these features owas guaranteed to endear Scarman's report to the government.
Perhaps the memory of Scarman has been a factor in the official resistance to the establishment of anything similar this year. After Cameron's dismissal of the need for an inquiry led to pressure from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, it was agreed that a riots communities and victims' panel would be established under the chairmanship of Darra Singh.
The inquiry's terms of reference are quite narrow and its findings have been fairly low-key; the suspicion must be that there is a desire to avoid having too much independent scrutiny of such major events.
This is certainly the view of Ted Cantle, the author of the report into the 2001 disturbances. Although he believes that Singh's initial report into the victims of the riots has been strong, in his view establishments have a reason to avoid scrutiny. "The government is always very reluctant to set up reviews because they may find uncomfortable conclusions," he said.
Prof Gus John, who led the Moss Side Defence Committee that criticised the Hytner report into the 1981 Moss Side riots, says "key lessons will be missed" if the government fails to set up a proper inquiry. Without one, "the focus will remain on criminals and their victims, and on the need for more robust, militarised policing and harsher punishments for rioters and looters".
Additional Reporting: Will Wainewright, Ben Ferguson and Yemisi Adegoke
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