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Mad Mobs and Englishmen? Myths and Realities of the 2011 Riots by Steve Reicher, Cliff Stott
Specifically, the Commission has found no evidence that all or any of the disorders or the incidents that led up to them were planned or directed by any organization or group, international, national or local.’66 Agitator theories were equally popular in explaining the UK riots of the 1980s. Following the Brixton riots of July 1981, the Conservative MP William Shelton blamed left-wingers, saying that ‘they believe that in our inner cities they have found the Achilles heel of our society’. More specifically, he blamed ‘the same hooded and masked men and the same motor cycle riders’ who had been spotted at similar events.84 Again an enquiry was set up to investigate these and other claims. The Scarman report into the Brixton riot concluded that while it was certainly true that outsiders tried to take advantage of circumstances and that they may have urged radical action, there was nothing to suggest that the events had been planned, organized or led by conspirators.67 By 1992, in LA, focus had shifted from outside extremists to local gang members who were organizing events to serve their own disreputable purposes – although there was little evidence to actually support this contention.36 Equally, in 2011, the focus was on gangs, however it didn’t take long for that claim to fall apart.
Yet others may come along once the police are out of the way, to take advantage of the situation: to steal, to settle old scores, to gain profit from bogus insurance claims. These are very different phenomena involving different dynamics, arising from different motivations and involving different groups of people. The Scarman report acknowledged the same complexities in the Brixton riot of 1981.67 However, for all the complexities involved, and the difficulties of separating out who participated and for what reason, Kerner’s team still drew a clear picture of the ‘typical’ rioter: He was not a migrant. He was born in the state and was a life-long resident of the city in which the riot took place.
Something is still needed to kick things off – but what something? That is the question to which we now turn. How do Riots Start? Iconic Events Nearly everyone uses the metaphor of tinder and spark when it comes to describing the inception of a riot. Many examples could be brought to bear, but consider just this one, from the Scarman report into the 1981 Brixton riot. Lord Scarman argues that indignation, resentment and suspicion of the police ‘produced the attitudes and beliefs which underlay the disturbances, providing the tinder ready to blaze into violence on the least provocation, fancied or real, offered by the police.’112 This is a powerful metaphor – dare we say it, a poetic metaphor.
No Such Thing as Society by Andy McSmith
anti-communist, Ayatollah Khomeini, Berlin Wall, Big bang: deregulation of the City of London, Bob Geldof, British Empire, Brixton riot, call centre, cuban missile crisis, Etonian, F. W. de Klerk, Farzad Bazoft, feminist movement, fixed income, Francis Fukuyama: the end of history, friendly fire, full employment, glass ceiling, God and Mammon, greed is good, illegal immigration, index card, John Bercow, liberal capitalism, light touch regulation, Live Aid, loadsamoney, long peace, means of production, Mikhail Gorbachev, mortgage debt, mutually assured destruction, negative equity, Neil Kinnock, North Sea oil, Northern Rock, old-boy network, popular capitalism, Right to Buy, Ronald Reagan, Rubik’s Cube, Sloane Ranger, South Sea Bubble, spread of share-ownership, strikebreaker, The Chicago School, union organizing, upwardly mobile, urban decay, Winter of Discontent, young professional
No buildings were set on fire that night, but there was some organized looting; it was thought that white criminal gangs had moved in to profit from the disturbances. By the end of the evening, another 165 people had been arrested, it was reported that another 122 police officers and 3 members of the public had been injured, and 61 police vehicles and 26 private cars were damaged.19 The Brixton riots were given a vast amount of publicity, making it an obvious risk that copycat riots would break out somewhere. In fact, there were six quiet weeks before riots suddenly broke out in almost every city centre in England. On Friday, 3 July, a group of white skinheads from London’s East End turned up for a concert at a pub called the Broadway, in Southall, West London, an area with a large Asian population.
His influence and restless energy helped push through several major construction projects in Liverpool and in Knowsley, including the building that now houses Granada Television and the 1980s housing in Stockbridge Village. Lord Scarman, who was asked by the government to report on the causes of the Brixton riot, took the Heseltine view and made several recommendations to improve relations with the police, including positive discrimination. All this was ignored, but the government enshrined in legislation his more punitive recommendations, including the creation of a new offence of ‘disorderly conduct’, introduced in the 1986 Public Order Act, which was widely seen as an attempt to bring back the notorious ‘sus’ law under a new name.
There were two seats, in Lewisham and Nottingham, where the arithmetic suggested Labour would win but the black candidates lost, perhaps because of the Atkin affair. However, the bigger news was that for the first time since the 1920s, blacks and asians – Abbott, Boateng, Grant and Vaz – had made it to the House of Commons. After the Brixton riots, a lawyer named Rudy Narayan was chosen to head a new Brixton Defence Committee, until the local youths decided that he was too much of an establishment figure and replaced him with the beat poet Linton Kwesi Johnson, who had arrived in Britain from Jamaica in 1963 as an eleven-year-old boy. The poetry that Johnson began publishing early in the 1970s was highly political and drew a bleak picture of the lives of immigrants.
The London Compendium by Ed Glinert
1960s counterculture, anti-communist, Big bang: deregulation of the City of London, Bob Geldof, British Empire, Brixton riot, Corn Laws, Dava Sobel, double entry bookkeeping, Edward Lloyd's coffeehouse, Exxon Valdez, hiring and firing, invention of the telegraph, Isaac Newton, John Harrison: Longitude, John Snow's cholera map, Khartoum Gordon, Mahatma Gandhi, mass immigration, Nick Leeson, price stability, Ronald Reagan, Sloane Ranger, South China Sea, South Sea Bubble, spice trade, the market place, trade route, union organizing, V2 rocket
Many left home, and not wishing to move out of the area, took up places in the local squats, where their refusal to conform to the established social codes and to respect (white) authority provoked hostility from the police. The Brixton riots On three occasions – 1981, 1985 and 1995 – Brixton has witnessed considerable unrest as simmering local tension, mostly caused by policing methods, has boiled over into serious violence. The first Brixton riots, 10–13 April 1981 Early in 1981 plainclothes police stop nearly 1,000 people (mostly black) in Brixton on suspicion (‘sus’) that they have committed or are about to commit a crime, arresting 118 people in one six-day burst.
South-west London BELGRAVIA, SW1 (i) The Cadogan Estate Brompton Road Lennox Gardens Pont Street Sloane Square Sloane Street (ii) Upper Belgravia Belgrave Mews West Belgrave Square Eaton Square Knightsbridge Wilton Crescent (iii) Lower Belgravia Chester Square Lower Belgrave Street BRIXTON, SW2, SW9 Electric Avenue Gresham Road Jebb Avenue CHELSEA, SW3, SW10 (i) north of King’s Road Cale Street Fulham Road (ii) King’s Road King’s Road (iii) Chelsea village Cheyne Row Glebe Place Oakley Street Old Church Street Radnor Walk Royal Avenue Royal Hospital Road Swan Walk Tite Street (iv) Cheyne Walk Cheyne Walk EARL’S COURT, SW5 Warwick Road SOUTH KENSINGTON, SW7 (i) north of Cromwell Road Brompton Road Ennismore Gardens Mews Exhibition Road Kensington Gore Prince’s Gate (ii) south of Cromwell Road Cromwell Place Gloucester Road Harrington Road Queen’s Gate Reece Mews Selwood Terrace The Brixton riots BELGRAVIA, SW1 Belgravia, the flower boxes, and the awnings over doors, and the front walls painted different shades of cream. The gracious living in red with huge green squares outside the windows – Absolute Beginners, Colin MacInnes (1958) An ostentatiously wealthy district dominated by stucco-clad nineteenth-century properties, Belgravia was developed after Lord Grosvenor paid £30,000 in the 1820s for what was then known as the Five Fields a swamp through which the River West-bourne flowed and ‘a place where robbers lie in wait’, as Addison wrote in the Tatler – and obtained an Act of Parliament to drain, clear and raise the land.
Although the police try to justify the operation by citing a 138 per cent increase in local crime between 1976 and 1980, compared with 38 per cent across London as a whole, they ruin their case by using the operation as an excuse to indulge in racial harassment that causes much resentment locally, resulting in the first Brixton riots. • Friday 10 April 1981. Two police officers on foot patrol stop a black youth who is being chased by a group of black men along Kellett Road, near the Ritzy cinema. He has been stabbed in the back and is bleeding profusely, but the youth, who assumes he is being arrested, refuses to explain his injuries.
London: The Autobiography by Jon E. Lewis
18 August 1970 FRANCES PARTRIDGE The Sex Pistols Play Their First Gig, St Martin’s Art College, 6 November 1975 VARIOUS Wade Wins Wimbledon, 1 July 1977 FRANK KEATING Enter Mrs Thatcher, 4 May 1979 MARGARET THATCHER The SAS Storm the Iranian Embassy, Prince’s Gate, May 1980 ANONYMOUS SAS TROOPER The Brixton Riots, 10–12 April 1981 MARTIN HUCKERBY Docklands: Days in the Life of a Bethnal Green GP, c. 1986–90 DAVID WIDGERY The Funeral Procession of Diana, Princess of Wales, September 1997 DEBORAH BULL Arisen from the Wreckage: 30 St Mary Axe, December 2003 JONATHAN GLANCY The London Bombings, 7 July 2005 VARIOUS Sources and Acknowledgements Index Illustrations 1 Map of Roman London with its grid of straight roads.
Mayhew’s depiction of Victorian ‘toshers’ (those who subsisted by trawling the city’s sewers for saleable refuse) makes for squeamish reading, while the long-standing xenophobia of London is deeply disquieting, stretching back as it does to the massacre of the Jews in 1189. Indeed, violence of all sorts seems imprinted in London’s DNA. The Brixton riots of 1981 were just one part of a chain of Mob outbursts against the Establishment, beginning with the Tallage riots of 1194. The Krays, meanwhile, would have recognized the professional violence of the Edwardian gangster Arthur Harding, who in turn would have appreciated the menacing technique of the highwaymen who robbed the Duke of Ormond in 1674.
He stood before us, tears of joy unashamedly running down his cheeks, wringing his hands in relief. He thanked the assembled team members for what they had done for the country that day. ‘This operation will show that we in Britain will not tolerate terrorists. The world must learn this.’ It was a fine personal gesture and rounded the operation off perfectly. The Brixton Riots, 10–12 April 1981 Martin Huckerby Huckerby was a journalist on The Times. AT 8 PM on Saturday night Brixton was burning. A pillar of smoke, hundreds of feet across, rose into the darkening sky; its base was tinged with red from the fires in Railton Road. Further north more smoke climbed from the blazing buildings in Brixton centre.