When riots broke out in August, the Tories and the press rushed to explain them away. It was just looting by gang members, they declared, or “criminality, pure and simple” as David Cameron put it.
But a new research study proves that rioters had a clear target—the police. As one 21 year old student put it, “Police are a gang. They shot Mark Duggan. Look what they done and they think it’s OK. That’s what a gang is.”
The study based on interviews with 270 people who took part in the riots. It was put together by researchers at the London School of Economics together with journalists from the Guardian newspaper.
A student involved in the Tottenham riot pointed to the long history of deaths in police custody in the area. “I was born the year before Cynthia Jarrett was killed in Tottenham,” he said. “So I heard from my family, ‘You gotta be wary of the police.’
“We heard stories about Roger Sylvester, that kind of kicked off a lot of friction, and then you had Mark Duggan. It’s like a slap in the face.”
The killing of Mark Duggan fed into wider anger against the police that had been fuelled by years of stop and search.
Overall interviewees were eight times more likely that average to have been stopped and searched in the past year. One said he had been stopped seven times by police in the previous three days.
“Young people in general cannot walk down the street without the police stopping them,” said a 27 year old woman from Salford.
“They say—‘Take your hat off, take your hood off, what you doing, empty your pockets, there’s four of you, you’ve got to split up, you can’t go round in a group’—even when they’re not doing anything wrong.”
One man from south London felt police “stop you for nothing”. He said, “I fit the description. What’s the description? Young black male.”
The study’s results seem to have come as a shock to the Guardian—but they confirm what Socialist Worker argued when the riots broke out.
An 18 year old student said, “I thought of it as a war between the youth and the government, police. I thought, wow, like, there’s actually a force against the government.”
Another described the joy of seeing the police turn tail. “We weren’t running from the police. They was the criminals today. We was enforcing the law. Getting them out of our town because they ain’t doing nothing good anyway for no one.”