Unless you’ve been living under a rock this past week, you’ll have seen that this time ten years ago, cities across the UK were either still in flames – or slowly licking their wounds and assessing the damage caused by them.
15,000 took to the streets across England following the death of Mark Duggan. As a result, £250m worth of damage was done to shops and businesses in London alone, three thousand were arrested, and David Starkey, who by the way still holds his CBE, told us to blame Patois in his famous the “Whites have become Black” spiel.
Yet, as Sophia Purdy-Moore mentions, “Duggan’s death at the hands of police was a catalyst for the 2011 uprisings. But unbeknown to the mainstream, Britain was already a tinderbox ready to be set aflame”.
Looking more closely at Black communities, in particular, it is not so hard to see why.
In 2010-11, police in England and Wales stopped and searched 115 out of every 1,000 Black people, compared with 17 per 1,000 White people – meaning Black people were 6.7 times more likely to be targeted.
Black people were also more likely to be unemployed, with unemployment among Black people being notably higher than White people.
But what of now, all these years on?
We spoke to three respected community leaders from London to Birmingham about how much (or little) has changed, what our collective focus as a community should be ten years on, and where we go from here.
On the aftermath of Mark Duggan’s killing
“At 4front, we think it’s really important that we collectively mark the anniversaries of all those who have been killed by the police and by the state. I think in terms of Mark Duggan’s killing and the uprisings that followed, it has really led to a significant shift in the way that young Black people and our communities have been policed. You can really directly connect the ‘so-called’ war on gangs and gang culture, which has had a detrimental impact on Black youth and really exposed our communities to increased surveillance, violence, and systemic racism and abuse. You can track all of that back to the killing of Mark Duggan and the ultimate lawful killing verdict, which basically said that you can be shot whilst unarmed and that be lawful in this country.”
“I think it is really important for everyone to remember that deaths in police custody are really only the tip of the iceberg because the culture of violence that enables them to happen at the scale that they do really has many more victims. At 4Front, we support some of the young people that have been impacted by state violence, and they need a lot of support – they need advocacy support, they need space and support to heal, and ultimately, they need justice. They need accountability.”
“Policing is an inherently violent institution. Today, the fight is to dismantle systems of punishment that inflict harm, trauma, and pain on not just individuals but families and whole communities as well. That fight goes on. We are fighting, and we’re fighting to build a new framework of accountability through reparation. We need acknowledgment; we need repair, we need restitution, we need succession, and we also need non-repetition. This is the kind of framework that we need to be looking to in terms of what real accountability what real justice can look like.”
“When I kind of reflect back on it now. One of the things that [it] really highlighted or [that] was demonstrated to me was how social inequality can erupt… through the frustrations of the people.”
“After a decade of having conversations about cutting services, austerity, the impact of Youth and Community Services being reduced to engage with issues that impact our children and young people. We hear about the rise in gun crime, knife crime gangs, criminal exploitation, you know there’s… young people being in situations, that’s a cause of concern for parents and practitioners. Nothing has changed.”
“So when we talk about “would there be another riot,” I would say as long as the systemic factors that create environments for people to feel that they’re either unseen, unheard, oppressed, targeted. These things can ultimately happen. I keep using the word social inequality for a reason. So we’re in the middle of COVID-19 and what COVID-19 has also demonstrated and it’s highlighted is that the social inequalities that we’ve been talking about for over a decade still exist.”
“And whilst we do not have a plan or an approach to seek to look at the underlying factors that create the environment for such behaviors and thought patterns amongst our youth to take place, it is inevitable that these behaviors may happen again.”
“When we talk about that collective response to respond to issues of social injustice, police brutality, I believe it needs to take a multi-layered approach. There is no one way, and there is no one method.”
“I think when we approach these conversations, it is more about having a paradigm shift in our thinking in the way in which we approach the powers that be and hold them accountable. We’ve had enough reports, we’ve had enough research we know the data. We know how Black males are treated different to their White counterparts. We know all the statistics and the data; the question is how do we hold those that are within power accountable?”
“I also think it’s a conversation about ‘what do we do amongst our youth within our community. How do we upskill them? How do we give them the knowledge, how do we build their resilience, then when they come into contact with the law, knowing that there is a plan to almost wipe out our children and young people. How do they respond to law enforcement?”
Dr Martin Glynn
Dr. Glynn recalls an interaction with a community youth worker in the aftermath of rioting in Handsworth and reflects on what this and other encounters told him:
“I met ‘C’ a youth worker who is based in Handsworth, who was a significant safety blanket for many young people during the disturbances. Even though ‘C’ is a hardworking, law-abiding youth worker, he still had some strong opinions regarding what took place in Handsworth, where he has a level of empathy towards those who were involved in the disturbances.”
C: “My interest is never the disturbance, rather than what is the root cause to why people felt they should burn things down, attack the police, rob local stories, and attack people at random. Although none of us condone this type of behavior, the reality is the actions didn’t stem from nowhere. I lost my uncle, my friend, and another family friend due to murder in the hands of our so-called protectors. So what we are seeing or have seen on the streets is a symptom of injustice, racism, and an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality between the haves and have not’s. My view stems around the misuse of power, social exclusion, social injustice, and the lack of resources that the youth grow up with no hope. Until people start addressing the illness and not the symptoms, it’s going to be difficult to move forward.”
“‘C’ tells me that the generic approach to youth work is failing and hampering more appropriate and bespoke ways of working and engaging ‘hard to access’ young people with challenging behavior. He goes on to talk about how things are not helped by the continuous erosion of resources, both economic and personal with young people.”
Dr. Glynn believes public health must be put back into focus and that academics and communities can unite to find answers to the issues that caused the riots:
“It is my view that any future remedies should be located within a wider ‘public health agenda’ as I feel a criminal justice solution may only serve to incarcerate the problem, not solve it. The public health framing should acknowledge the trauma and the need for a recovery paradigm for all communities that have been badly affected.”
“Academics will no doubt at some stage be entrusted with the powers to investigate what happened, make recommendations, and assist in improving public and social policy. However, it is incumbent on research centers to call upon the services of community people as active participants in processes that will enable them to be stakeholders in any inquiries undertaken. Furthermore, I am advocating that community people should seek to enlist the support of academics in enabling community members to ‘name their own reality’ and become ‘authors of their own lives,’ as a way of healing and restoration.”