Thursday, 29 March 2012

UK Riot Report 2012: The fire next time….

Image Detail
London bus on fire during the 2011 Summer uprising

The report into the causes of the August 2011 by the Riots Communities and Victims Panel disturbances has been published. The report like most of its kind tells us what some of us already knew about the reality of life in some inner city areas. The quality of life in these areas has become degraded by racism and the deadening effect of economic exclusion. The consequences are that whole communities have been left to rot in festering islands of inequality characterised by social breakdown. In these places and spaces, hope and aspiration have left town being replaced by desperation and cynicism. Post recession and austerity there are no obvious pathways out of the ghettos of social exclusion. The doors to opportunity and employment have been sealed shut.

What we have are whole areas full of young people bursting with dynamic creative energy and intelligence that are penned in and held down by the metaphorical chains of poverty and racism.

What we have is the absence of hope for the future: a most terrible and debilitating condition.

It is one that erodes community confidence and turns the vibrant, radiant dawn of hope and opportunity into the cold soulless night of hopelessness and despair.

As for the riots: I saw this coming. I have spent years working with communities and have perfected a sensitive social radar that allows me to see emerging trends. There is no great secret to this I happen to live in my community. This connectivity helped me predict that civil disturbances were likely in March 2011, It was then that I described the black community as being at ‘boiling point’ as a result of deaths in police custody. I have also consistently pointed out that the massive rise in stop and search rates were becoming increasingly oppressive and counter productive.

What I and said then and say again today to anyone who cares to listen, was that these events were primarily connected with a widespread sense of alienation, anger at policing injustices and inequality of opportunity.  The legacy of racism and racial stereotypes that is embedded in the culture of Britain has delivered us to this pretty pass. Now the lives of young black people in our cities are seen as nothing more than the raw material necessary to maintain a growing criminal justice system that financially feeds of the dysfunctional symptoms of racism acute poverty and exclusion.

The report completely vindicates those of us who spoke in the immediate aftermath of these riots pointing out these issues. We were castigated for doing so. This report supports our early analysis and critically undermines the expressed view of the Prime Minister that the disturbances were “purely criminal” in character.

Disappointingly the response of some of our “black” politicians was lamentable. MP’s David Lammy and Chuka Umunna (two people for whom I have a great deal of respect) virtually agreed with the line being offered by the Prime Minister.

Their responses, amid the smoke and smouldering embers of the aftermath of the riot seemed to me the equivalent of sticking a finger in the air to see which way the wind was blowing and responding accordingly. Lammy’s primary focus was on the symptoms rather than the cause, criminality rather than poverty, injustice and racism. Umunna  followed a similar line describing the riots as “totally opportunistic and utterly unacceptable”.

This emphasis was wrong and ignored the larger context. That context is the toxic racism that has infected black communities as a consequence of the recession. Our communities were already suffering enormously from a huge range of acute social issues as a result of racism and poverty prior the recession. The last four years have seen the economic and social life of our communities deteriorate substantially and as a result our collective condition has become seriously aggravated.

Where were these voices of virulent condemnation when stop and search rates increased in London by 300%. Why did we hear nothing about the fact that black deaths in custody increased by 120% since 2007 or that nationally, black men dying in custody has also increased?

What they unleashed with their initial comments was a torrent of right wing media bile demonising black youth. They gave a green light to others, like a section of the media, who have a vested interest in promoting racism. I despair for some of our black elected representatives, whose political articulation always seems to be to deny their blackness, avoiding any real discussion on racism. That is bad enough of itself but their desperate desire to appear “ mainstream “ is compounded by the fact that although we face the greatest challenge of a generation they are incapable of working together as a strategic group with programme that the black community can support and get behind? . Where is the All Party Committee on Race? Why do we not have a Parliamentary Black Caucus? Where is their call for a public inquiry into suspicious black deaths in custody?  Reactionary statements focusing on the criminal symptoms with no substantive comment or work on underlying causes of unemployment racism in policing, poverty and exclusion is not only politically unbalanced it is both deeply disingenuous and dangerous.

This failure however disappointing is completely overshadowed by the sheer political ignorance on matter of race and the undeniable culpability of London Mayor Boris Johnson and his crony bag carrier Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse. They were repeatedly warned in a series of articles by others and myself about the precipitous decline in the confidence of black communities in the MPS and they choose to do absolutely nothing.  They were off the pace and out of touch with multicultural London.

These riots were entirely avoidable and could have easily been prevented by early intervention and genuine dialogue. Boris and Kit have no expertise in the field of race equality and black communities. Ideologically committed to a French approach to multiculturalism they wilfully ignored the issue of race and as result they “sleepwalked” the country into the worst riots seen in a generation.

The riots were the inelegant inarticulate political expression of the alienated underclass. These deeply alienated sections of our communities are forced through economic exclusion and poverty to inhabit an economic subterranean twilight zone of crime and unemployment. We choose too ignore these issues and the suffering of this section of our nation at our peril.

The report cites parental failure as a factor in the riots. It would be churlish not to accept this as a reality. However parent’s ability to effectively bring up their children is fundamentally affected by the extent to which both parents and children have access to good employment, education opportunities and the provision of affordable houses.

Lives made ever more miserable by families crammed together suffering overcrowding, failing schools and an oppressive policing that sees entire communities as inherently criminal. The cost of living rises remorselessly.

I challenge any politician or media mogul to live in this environment on welfare benefits or a low wage and bring up healthy families. They would be running back to the comfort of their taxpayer salaries and second homes in a week.

As for black communities we have seen huge increases in the use of Stop and Search (SAS is the new SUS), increasing numbers of black men dying in suspicious circumstances without consequences.

Such is the current level of open contempt for our communities then when such deaths occur we are denied basic respect. No apologies, no timely explanation by an IPCC (that has now lost the confidence of entire communities) nor are we, as far as the police are concerned, afforded any degree of legal or professional accountability.

The real progress made in the decade after the murder of Stephen Lawrence and the McPherson Report has been squandered. The right wing and liberals alike attacked as “political correctness gone mad” the race equality policies that emerged. This prevailing hostile political culture and attitude now applies to the concept of multiculturalism in general and specifically to all formal race equality policies. In London the Mayor Boris Johnson shared this ideological fervour to consign multiculturalism to the dustbin of history. As a result he ignored race equality issues and dismantled the entire policy-monitoring infrastructure associated with McPherson. The result was that over four years the Police and London’s black community entered into a deadly spiral of declining trust and confidence. There was always only going to be one outcome of such political folly such blind ideological hatred of “state multiculturalism” chaos. In a modern city like London race equality is mainstream politics and any politician who does not understand this reality will drag the city into racially dived quagmire. It is this refusal to recognise the multicultural reality of the city, the reality of racism that cost London and the country dear.

As for race equality such is the open political contempt for equality law that this Government have abandoned any pretence at compliance.

For example the Treasury failed to complete an equality impact assessment of the October 2010 budget and has succeeded at bribing bullying and blackmailing the Equality Human Rights Commission into not taking legal action against them despite being found guilty of failing to comply with the Equality Act.  This is an act of political cowardice of immense proportions.

This kaleidoscope of social, economic and political issues combines to create black people who are British in name only. This Government dispenses the high criminality of economic and social injustice as ideological doctrine to the majority of black citizens.  As a result we are relegated to the status of third class citizens in a supposed first class democracy. Make no mistake we suffered under the previous Labour Government but that was tempered until two years ago by economic growth and public sector spending focused on managing the worst effects of poverty and exclusion. Yes things were bad but not impossible.

During the last couple of years poor black and white communities have been pushed into the social abyss. 

This Government’s austerity economic policy refracted through the lens of discrimination has resulted in an appalling and unremitting level of racism on a scale not previously experienced. The huge differential impact on black communities of these cuts is dismissed and ignored and as a result our communities are becoming increasingly economically unsustainable. Its tantamount to   pouring salt into our open wounds.

The current climate is exacerbated by people like the Prime Minister who is virulently opposed to multiculturalism and the Mayor of London Boris Johnson. The PM seeks to seek to target Muslim communities as being essential problematic and the source of terrorism. The widening of the remit of once hugely successful Operation Trident to tackle gangs in London results form the equation in Boris’s mind of gangs with black youth. Both regarded race equality and multiculturalism as special group pleading and inimical to British values.

This scapegoating of black communities is contributing toward a rise in levels of societal and everyday racism experienced by black people. Racist attacks are in the rise, the English Defence League modelled on the White Defence League attacks black communities Racism in public places and on the football field and the stands is on the increase. Racism in the UK is resurgent and will be further inflamed by poor communities competing with each other for scare resources.

The report also cites that the relentless focus of materialism and advertising of brand name goods creates an environment where young people in poor communities care goods they cant afford. Peer pressure then results in young people seeking to obtain brand named goods “by any means necessary”. Firstly not all the rioters were young people and secondly the reality is that these brand names firms have not implemented the corporate social responsibility programmes of he same businesses in the US.  These firms fund community centres, sports facilities, education bursaries. Yet once they come to Britain they leave both their employment, supply side diversity programmes and corporate social responsibly budgets at JFK airport. What we need is the US model of corporate social responsibility in these areas.

What the also report ignores is that the current economic crisis has brought with it a crisis of legitimacy. The bankers trillion dollar bail out at the expense of the poor, bankers bonuses, MP expenses, police brutality and corruption, the press phone hacking scandal has revealed the profound economic inequality and moral hypocrisy of British society. In many communities that anger is rising as the public sector cuts begin the process of ripping out and demolishing precious community assets and support networks that made a real difference to people’s lives.

I doubt that any of this report’s major recommendations will be implemented’ with this Government committed to paying lip service to tackling racism with gesture politics and rhetoric. 

The tension is jaw clenching in the riot communities whose orientation is to hit back any time they can. The morality of the nation is discredited and that gives licence to an anything goes society where the only crime is not to get caught. This reflects and is informed by the tarnished reputation of the civic leadership in this country who whose moral decline has mirrored our economic decline. I fear that the prevailing political culture and political establishment will refuse to listen to the legitimate claims for jobs and justice. I predict the fire next time will be more violent and more destructive than anything seen previously.

The report is welcome; there is nothing as pleasing as the sound of gently closing stable doors.

 Lee Jasper