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Roots of the Riots: Don’t Ignore the Causes, Londoners Plead

By dlindorff - Posted on 11 August 2011


By Linn Washington Jr.

Brixton and Peckham, two of the communities in London rocked by the recent riots, are not mere dots on a map to Paul Bower. He’s lived in both communities, including living through a riot in Brixton thirty years ago.

Bower says people need to carefully distinguish between legitimate grievances festering in the now riot-scared areas – things like lack of employment – and the lawlessness of youthful looters.

The fiery and destructive looter rampages, Bower stresses, like inner city riots in the US in the US during the 1960s, have destroyed many small businesses owned by non-whites and the homes of poor people, white and non-white alike.

“These riots were not about unemployment. Yes, there is a lack of opportunity but [the looters] weren’t saying they want to work. They were saying I want what’s in that window,” Bower said during a telephone interview from London.

Bower’s work includes increasing job opportunities for London residents, so he's well acquainted with the difficulties people have finding jobs in the UK these days.

“In hip-hop terms this is not Public Enemy ‘Fight the Power.’ It is 50-Cent ‘Get Rich or Die Trying,’” explained Bower, who now lives near London’s Camden section, which also experienced some of the rioting. 

The current wave of rioting has already led to nearly 1,000 arrests in Britain’s capital city over just a few days or unrest.

The trigger for the recent riots that swept through communities in London and across other major cities in Britain was yet another death of a black man while in police custody. Over 330 people have died in police custody since 1998 without the conviction of a single police officer.

Abusive police misconduct sparked the 1981 riot in Brixton in South London and the 1985 riot in the North London Broadwater Farm section of Tottenham – the community where this latest round of rioting began on Saturday, Aug. 6, In that incident, police police fatally shot Mark Duggan, a 29-year-old father.

While Paul Bower feels that “stealing,” not social justice, has spurred many of the looters (a mixture of black and white youths), he and many others in London point to systemic social ills like economic inequities and unchecked police misconduct that too many leaders (governmental and corporate) simply ignore.

The slashing of social service funding, particularly for youth related matters from education to recreation, by Britain’s Conservative led coalition government, has accelerated the conversion of Tottenham into a “tinder box waiting to explode,” declares Diane Abbott, the first black women ever elected to Britain’s Parliament.  Abbott represents a district adjacent to Tottenham...

For the rest of this article by LINN WASHINGTON, JR. in ThisCantBeHappening!, the new independent online alternative newspaper, please go


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