With the official inquest into Mark Duggan’s death taking place at the moment, it is worth remembering that what became popularly narrated as the ‘riots’ of August 2011 were sparked by this tragic, brutal episode where police officers shot dead a young, black father. The local community took to the streets afterwards to protest yet another local death at the hands of the state, but over subsequent days and in light of the unrest that ensued, this was obscured by tabloid hysteria about rioting ‘morons‘ and lurid tales of Duggan’s alleged criminal dealings whilst politicians re-asserted their belief in a vengeful social policy response. The ‘toughness’ of these reactions belied a desire to discredit Duggan, to construct the ‘riots’ as ‘criminality pure and simple‘ and problematise the communities of the inner city as ‘dysfunctional‘. There was of course some praise benevolently handed out to some ‘respectable’ voices within communities and for the clean up brigades who mended shop fronts, but this was an attempt to divide hard-pressed communities between ‘good’ protesters and ‘bad’ rioters and as I argue here and in a forthcoming journal paper, this was behaviourist hair-splitting of a kind only reserved for stigmatised populations whose daily injustices are largely ignored by mainstream political debate. Complex and multifaceted layers of anger, outrage and hurt were reduced to community-framed judgements of performance: the feckless trash and loot, whilst the virtuous clean up.
Let’s be clear, debates over the degree of control working class or BME communities have over the behaviour of their young people and the portrayal of young people as trashing their ‘own’ communities (they didn’t, see here), is hugely problematic, especially in cities where youth unemployment stands at 21%, social security benefits are arbitrarily capped or removed and disproportionate stopping and searching of BME youths continues unabated. Indeed, the entire notion of cohesive, identifiable ‘communities’ which could exert ‘control’, or could be ‘trashed’ is a misleading, homogenising trope designed to organise the further repudiation of marginal populations (for more examples of this repudiation process and how it operates, have a look at Imogen Tyler’s excellent recent book ‘Revolting Subjects’).
The recent award-winning documentary film Riot from Wrong is an evocative account of the 2011 ‘riots’ from some of those involved. The goal of the film-makers is a ‘deeper conversation’ about the young people forced to face inequality and injustice every single day by virtue of their class position, their ethnicity, their age, even their dress and street conduct. The fact that this project came about through the initiative of young people in Tottenham, keen to pursue their own understandings and forge their own narratives about the pressures on their lives stands in starkly poignant yet inspiring contrast to the business-led million-pound ‘regeneration’ of their district and the unfolding, chilling revelations from Mark Duggan’s inquest.
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