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By Lee Jasper

Monday, December 12, 2011.

An investigation by the Guardian Newspaper has revealed the real causes of August’s riots. Lee Jasper: Co-chair of Black Activists Rising Against Cuts and Chair of the London Race and Criminal Justice Consortium, argues that the facts confirm what most on the left already knew.

The continuing economic crisis has claimed millions of victims across the globe. The promise of globalisation was never anything more than simple unrestrained capitalism. The reality is that reckless banks having been bailed out by taxpayers are now devouring national economies and destroying the social and economic gains made by working people right across Europe.

We are not only witnessing a global economic crisis of enormous proportions, parallel to that, we are witnessing a crisis in the political and moral legitimacy of the institutions of state. Throughout the world, we are seeing the effects of this crisis in the brutal ideological economic and political attacks by wealthy European elites on the poorest and most vulnerable sections of our society.

However the resistance of peoples and communities throughout the world is growing and through the Occupy movements, trade unions, the poor and disenfranchised people are mobilizing in defence of their rights on an unprecedented scale.

Throughout the world we see stiff opposition to Governments attempts to return employee terms and conditions to the industrial dark ages. Students, public sector workers, community and voluntary organisations and poor black and white working class communities are rising up in opposition to the so-called age of austerity.

Here in the UK ,we saw that rage explode. In August thousands of people rioted spontaneously in response to the shooting of a black man Mark Duggan in Tottenham.
The Guardian’s recent survey of young people who took part in the riots
confirmed what most of on the left already knew.

The riots were political in character. 
My own view expressed at the time
 was that racist and aggressive police stop and searches, the increasing number of black men dying under suspicious circumstances in police custody and the savage nature of public sector cuts were main motivations of the majority of rioters.

One of the main motivations for taking to the streets was the opportunity to attack the police. Years of pent-up frustration with police brutality, increasing rates of racism and stop and search have resulted in the police being viewed in many majority black areas as an oppressive army of occupation.

Racial aggression and injustice have been their lot for too long and the shooting of Mark Duggan acted as a catalyst for an inelegant uprising against injustice.

The increase in University fees, cuts to the Education Maintenance Awards, rising youth unemployment against a backdrop of cuts to youth service provision, large scale public sector redundancies faced by their parents and draconian cuts to welfare benefits has created a vast reservoir of anger and discontent.

Their sense of deep outrage and injustice was further inflamed by the fact that not only are the bankers bailed out at the expense of the poorest sections of our community, they suffered the gross ignominy of having to watch bankers continue to pay themselves huge bonuses.

As I stood on the streets of Brixton on the night of the disturbances, young people carrying huge flat screen televisions told me that as far as they were concerned what they we engaged in was the moral equivalent of MPs expenses and bankers bonuses scandals.

They immediately recognised that in the UK there is one law for financial white collar crimes and quite another for black people and those from poor working class communities. The moral and political distrust of institutions and politicians can be traced back to the Blair administrations lies over the Iraq war and weapons of mass destruction despite the majority of British people being opposed to that illegal war. Since that time, British people have become increasing critical and lacking in trust

Since then the MPs and Lords expenses scandal, the bankers bonuses and bailouts: cuts to public sector, spending the illegal and disgraceful activities of News International , disproportionate sentencing for rioters and light sentencing for MP’s for guilty of fraud, the failure of the IPCC to properly investigate police deaths in custody, police brutality corruption and rampant racism in stop and search has culminated in the collapse of trust in neo liberal democracy and its institutions. Alongside this an absence of hope and opportunity for Britain’s poorest communities, has come a profound moral crisis that critically challenged the lack of political and judicial impartiality and inability to demonstrate equality and fairness before the law.

Cameron Government refuses to recognise racism, social and economic injustice.

This outpouring of anger was described by British PM David Cameron and London Mayor Boris Johnson as being nothing more than an act of mass criminality.
They spoke of the “feral underclass” as being a good for nothing, lazy inherently criminal class. The Coalition Government sought to dismiss the riots as being motivated by nothing more than greed and a sense of entitlement from the “undeserving poor”.

The media with few notable exceptions have generally conspired to play down the extent to which the police were the focus of people’s anger that night. Right across the country there are reports of police officers being the primary target. Most mainstream media focused on the effects on local businesses, those who suffered arson and those that tragically lost their lives. Most have chosen to completely ignore the underlying social and political issues that gave rise to the riots.

The reality is that that the events in August were a direct political statement of opposition to racism, inequality and injustice. Of course as with any outbreak of large-scale disorder, there is always an opportunistic criminal element.  It is in the interests of both Governments and the police to focus on criminality as an explanation of the riots. The politically unacceptable alternative would be to admit that Government cuts, inequality, poverty, institutional racism and injustice were the primary causes.

The backdrops to events in August need to be understood in their proper context.

British Justice favours the rich and condemns the poor.

Over the last three years we have experienced increasing levels of institutional police racism. The gains made as a result of the McPherson recommendations have come under constant attack and now widely undermined and ignored. The central Government has made it clear that racism in policing is no longer a priority and as a result the police have returned to their cultural default setting of rampant institutional racism. In doing so, the Government is returning us to the dark days of the 1980s where police and black community relations were at their worst.

Deaths in police custody

In March of this year, I described the UK black community as being at “boiling point“ in the immediate aftermath of the death in police custody of the reggae star Smiley Culture.  In the following five months we saw four more black men dying in suspicious circumstances in police custody.  The deaths of Smiley Culture, Kingsley Burrell, Demetre Fraser and Mark Duggan in Tottenham, brought police-black community relations to a boiling point. For anyone who was paying attention the signs have been there for all to see.

The reality is that as these official Metropolitan Police Authority figures show, since the election of this Coalition Government and Boris Johnson became Mayor of London, deaths in police custody increased massively. It remains a scandal that not a single police officer has ever been convicted of the murder of a citizen.

Stop and search

Despite vehement denials by the police and Government about the widespread extent of ‘ racial profiling ‘ citing reams of equality policies and procedures, the reality is policing canteen culture eats police equality policy for breakfast.
According to the Ministry of Justice latest figures, London has seen black stop and search rates increase from 118,000 people in 2004/5 rising to 205,708 in 2009. In the UK black people are 7 times more likely to be stopped and searched.

The criminal justice system then amplifies police racism. Black people who do get arrested are 3.5 times more likely to be charged than whites and if found guilty will receive on average sentence of 20 months compared to 14 months sentencing average for white people. For 1000 white people there are 1.2 people in jail for the Asian community that figure is 2.4 per 1000 and for black people in the UK that figure is a staggering 7 people per thousand.

The PM himself has ordered the judiciary to hand out exemplary sentences to rioters contrary to the law and any notion of the concept of fair and equal justice.
PM David Cameron and London Mayor Boris’s Johnson shared Thatcherite political ideology means they refuse to recognise the reality of class prejudice and police racism and by doing so have given a green light to what is now an unrestrained torrent of injustice and police racism.

This explains the PM’s constant attack on the concept of multiculturalism and the subsequent down grading of race equality policy within government the police service.

They can’t say they were not warned. Tottenham activists Stafford Scott and myself who alongside others 
pointed out the growing sense of  racism anger and frustration that was apparent prior to the riots.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission has shredded the last vestiges of its waning credibility in the handling of both the Smiley Culture and Mark Duggan cases. At the time of Marks Duggan’s death the IPCC were seen to be colluding with the Metropolitan Police Service to cover up the facts surrounding Marks death falsely confirming that he had shot at a police officer. That was a lie and at the time everyone knew it.

The acute and wilful failure of both Government and the Mayor of London to accept the reality of the impact of profound economic injustice and their tacit promotion of racism comes at a huge economic and social cost to the country. We are bound to seem more riots if the root causes are not recognised and acted upon. The reality of institutionalised racism within British criminal justice system compounded by the stark and growing levels of economic inequality provide a credible and more objective explanation for the disturbances in August.

Public sector cuts

The vast sums of taxpayer’s money used to bailout the banks contrasted with the huge cuts to public spending, illustrate the profound right wing ideological nature of this Coalition Government. Global capitalism is completely out of control and now seeks to subvert even democracy itself as we have seen in both Greece and Italy.

The gap between the poorest members of our society and the richest continues to grow. UK income inequality is the fourth largest of any country in the world. Social mobility has decreased whilst child poverty rates and youth unemployment are on the increase. Young people today face a future that has been robbed of its promise by a free market that is anything but free.

The reality is that western neo liberal democratic capitalism is in crisis and the moral and political underpinnings of its free market philosophical basis revealed as fundamentally predatory and inherently exploitive of the poor and the vulnerable.

Those young people who took part in the riots see hundreds of thousands of their parents being made redundant and their retirement pensions slashed.

They see their youth clubs and employment support projects being shut down. Some are forced to move home because of housing benefit restrictions forcing families out of their homes, they can’t afford higher education and they can’t get a job. For them this misery has no end in sight.

The cuts to the Education Maintenance Award providing much needed financial support for poor students studying in college is an act of pure political malevolence. 100,000 students have been affected and discarded to the scrap heap of long-term unemployment.

That’s why we need to ensure that the riots are properly understood and the links made between the general struggle against the cuts and the broader effects on vulnerable communities.

As at all times of acute economic decline, racism and scapegoating becomes the order of the day for unscrupulous politicians and sections of a biased media.

As we approach the 2012 with prospect of increased levels of racism, it is imperative that the trade union campaigns against public sector cuts ensures that an anti-racist approach is woven seamlessly into the fight for economic equality justice and fairness. Support for progressive campaigning organisations such as   
Black Activists Rising Against Cuts  (BARAC) and the  Coalition of Resistance is vital.

Next year alongside widespread strike action we intend to redouble the fight against racism and step up our campaign for full judicial a public inquiry into all suspicious deaths in police custody. We intend to march, protest and fully mobilise all communities in the battle for social and economic justice, fairness and equality.

Lee Jasper is a political and community activist. He is a former director of policing and equalities for the previous Mayor of London. He blogs regular at http://leejasper.com

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