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Riots in London

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
August 09, 2011

I am in London, a few miles away from where the riots are taking place. Here in central London, one feels untouched by these riots and only knows its effects from what one reads in the newspapers. As I write, the riots continue to take Britain by surprise. It started in Tottenham, then spread to Brixton and Enfield; there from to Walthamstow and Hackney. London's Independent newspaper described them as "London's worst rioting in more than 25 years" (August 9). Although business seems to be going on as usual there is an eerie feeling that the police have little control of over what is taking place.

As the violence spread to Birmingham, Leeds and Liverpool, David Cameron, the Prime Minister and Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister retreated from their seclusion in Europe where they were vacationing; Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, left Canada after many entreaties, while Theresa May, Home Secretary, forewent the serenity of Switzerland to return to Britain. They couldn't get home soon enough. Mike Fisher, leader of the Croydon Council asserted: This violence is degenerating into "mindless hooliganism."

The riot started when the London police sank two bullets into the head of Mark Duggan, a father of four, whom they had been trailing for a while and who is believed to have had connections with the Jamaica Yardies, a London gang. Reports indicate that the police were following Duggan when they surrounded a minicab in which he was traveling. Although the police claimed that Duggan shot at them first, evidence is emerging that the police fired first and even came close to killing one of their colleagues.

Some years ago, the London Sunday Times reported that the Yardies were so engrained in London "that part of Brixton in the south of the Capital is known as Little Tivoli, named after Tivoli Gardens." Little seems to have changed from the riots of 1985 where there was little rapport between police and the community. The inability of Tottemham's police to respond expeditiously to citizens who marched peacefully on Saturday to the police station to find out what went wrong with Mark's killing led to this outbreak of violence? (Remember Moruga two weeks ago?)

At first, the police were afraid to intervene in the disturbances. They cordon off the streets and watched as the fires burned, the looters broke into the stores, and some of the citizens began to fetch choice articles. To the police great astonishment things began to spread. Many more neighborhoods began to get in on the spree. At Hackney, a Tesco supermarket was raided "by laughing and joking looters who walked off with crates of Diet Coke, Ribena and bottled water. When police charged in to clear them they responded by throwing cans of drink that had just been stolen." Some of these youths even began to throw missiles at police and set fire to cars.

The riots of 1985 took place against "a background of inner-city deprivation, social alienation and high unemployment, particularly among young people" (Independent, August 9). Little changed since then. Clive Bloom, author of Violent London: 200 Years of Riots observes: "Black youths in London's most deprived areas are now more self-reliant and inward-looking, even more than their counterparts in the 1980s. A minority rely on drug dealing and petty thief. The social cohesion that once came from youth clubs and churches has too often been replaced by the structure and sense of 'belonging' of a gang-a social role with its own morality and self-esteem, but at least one that counts for something in a world of limited prospects."

As the riots were breaking out in Totemham, our Prime Minister was visiting Laventille's Pan Festival enjoying the sights and sounds of that alienated part of Trinidad. True to reports she was having a good time, unaware of the turmoil that resides at the heart of that community. A community without jobs is a dangerous community. What seems a pleasant place to frolic can, in the twinkling of an eye, turn into dangerous activities. Any time the lid can blow off.

As she prepared for her visit, Colin Partap, a Minister in the Ministry of National Security, assured the public that his police would not tolerate any "miscreant behavior. It will be stamped out quickly." Pressed by the media about the recent upsurge in crime in that area, he assured the country that "the ministry had been working with the relevant parties to combat and reduce all related crimes" in the area.

Less Partap forget, there was a time when the people in Laventille held good jobs on the wharfs and made a good living. Then they were retrenched, given a payout and left to make in on their own. Today, there are few jobs and increasing mayhem. The social cohesion of the community had broken down, the crime rate soars and these young black people can look forward to nothing but continued double-speak from their politicians, including those from the PNM.

Contrast what happened with the people of Caroni. When the sugar cane industry started to fail, the government gave the workers lands to cultivate, a process that has been happening ever since the modern history of this country began; continued by Governor Gordon (1866); repeated during indentureship and culminated in the shameful land giveaway of the PNM.

If one wishes to understand the time bomb under which the country sits and the persistence of the "miscreant behavior" of the people of Laventille they ought to understand what it means to be a landless people without any hope, permanent unemployment and absence of good jobs. A lumpen proletariat as Fantz Fanon called them, has no place to go but down unless the powers that be take the situation in hand, provides meaningful jobs for these people and provide them with a plot of land they can call their own.

Today it's London. Tomorrow, it might be Laventille.

Professor Cudjoe's email address is scudjoe at

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