The 2011 riots that gripped Britain were sparked by gang violence. The gang in question is called the Metropolitan Police Service, and the act of violence that triggered the country’s greatest unrest in 30 years was the murder of Mark Duggan, a young black man from Tottenham, in broad daylight.
Studies carried out in the aftermath of the riots confirmed that large numbers of rioters took to the streets for revenge – against a political system that marginalised them, against an economic system that condemned them, and most of all against the police, the daily face of oppression.
The rioters’ anger reflects generations of police racism, brutality and violence. From stop and search to deaths in custody, the crimes of the police – carried out with impunity – have blighted the lives of black and ethnic minority people in this country and elsewhere.
Since 1990, 1484 people have died in police custody or following police contact. Apart from direct killings, such as the shootings of Mark Duggan, Azelle Rodney or Jean Charles de Menezes, a disturbing number of inmates have committed suicide while incarcerated. No police officer has ever been brought to justice over these deaths. Often, officers escape scrutiny or disciplinary action by taking early retirement or even simply transferring to another force.
Black and ethnic minority people make up a disproportionate number of those killed by police. The same is true of stop-and-search, a tactic inflicted daily upon huge numbers of people – often young, black men. Some rioters had been subjected to these humiliating public searches several times a week.
When Stephen Lawrence was murdered in 1993, the police victimised his friends and family and failed to robustly pursue his murderers. It has recently been revealed that they went as far as to spy upon and attempt to discredit the Lawrence family, who established themselves as tenacious campaigners for justice. Such steadfast campaigning by the loved ones of those killed by police – such as the Lawrence, Rigg and Duggan families – has repeatedly brought the crimes of the police to national attention and furthered the fight for justice.
Campaigns against the militarisation of the police and in defence of the right to protest continue to be vital. The issues go further than racism. Police assigned to help rape victims have themselves turned out to be rapists; homophobia within police ranks has led to suicide. Earlier this month, police in Luton attacked a man with autism because he “looked suspicious”.
Divide and rule
Such behaviour is routine, and rooted in the very reason the police exist – in order to protect the powers that be by oppressing, intimidating and dividing ordinary people so as to defend property and the status quo.
So we can’t agree with Owen Jones when he argued in the Guardian that the Met should be closed down – only to be replaced with a reformed police force. Violence and injustice and built into every police force worldwide. The only way to end that is to end a society divided by class where the rich depend on the cops for protection.