The police in Britain are under a great deal of scrutiny, as is the body that oversees it the Independent Police Complaints Commission. The hacking scandal, and allegations that police officers took payments for information has led to a greater public distrust of the force, especially the Metropolitan Police.
On Thursday night in Tottenham, a young man named Mark Duggan was shot dead by police, in an operation carried out under 'Operation Trident' which was set up in 1998, to investigate issues of gun crime in the black community. This followed on from an initiative originally established by members of the black community.
Information is too confused to be able to say exactly what happened, other than Mr. Duggan was killed in a minicab on Thursday night. Therefore it is the aftermath, and how we on the left should react that I intend to deal with.
On Friday there was a peaceful protest outside the police station in Tottenham against the shooting of Mark Duggan. The march started at Broadwater Farm (which has historical significance as in 1985 PC Keith Blakelock was murdered there, perhaps as an indication that the protesters were not intent on trouble.
Tottenham is a deprived area of North London, but relations between police and community had been better, especially since further riots in 1995. But on Friday night things got out of hand, as rioting broke out following the march, and a number of buildings were attacked, and police cars and a bus set alight.
Some twenty-six officers have been treated in hospital, some quite badly hurt, and a lot of damage done. However, unlike incidents in the past, there seems to be more of an element of criminality over the rioting, than a statement against alleged police violence. As I watched the riot unfold last night, one thing that struck me was, that despite Mark Duggan being black, and his killing being a part of 'Operation trident,' the perpetrators of the violence were from all backgrounds. Young, mainly, men who were intent just on destruction and robbery. Although more details will emerge over the next few days, this wasn't 1985 or 1995, this wasn't about race.
Many people have been made homeless, and shops and businesses have been destroyed, which will inevitably cost people, perhaps already suffering, their jobs. Looting of many well known chains occurred, with names such as Comet, B & Q and McDonalds affected. However, there are reports of cash machines also having been ripped out, and these would take some specialist equipment to do. Even if they turn out to be free standing ones in shops, it would indicate planning and not random events.
Reports of further looting in Enfield tonight, would seem to confirm this. It would appear that groups from outside the area, are coming in, and using the tensions as an excuse to cause criminal damage and attack the police. These are the same sort of people who jumped on peaceful protests last year and this, against rises in university tuition fees, and government cuts to create havoc.
Whilst it may not be the same people involved, it is the same mentality, as they take the legitimate protests of people, in order to advance their own agendas. Previously it was against government property, but this is just the right of ordinary people to make a living, and live peaceful lives.
It must be clearly understood these people are criminals, not protesters. The protesters on Friday were peaceful, and making a statement against the killing of one of their community by the police. Mark Duggan's family and friends have themselves condemned the violence, and Tottenham MP David Lammy said:
“The vast majority of people in Tottenham reject what has happened here last night. A community that was already hurting has now had the heart ripped out of it…by mindless, mindless people.
“What happened here on Thursday night raised huge questions and we need answers. But the response to that is not to loot, to rob. This is a disgrace… this must stop. And this is nothing like the sorts of scenes we saw in Tottenham 25 years ago. Then, there was a particular relationship with the police. This is an attack on Tottenham, on people, ordinary people, shopkeepers, women, children who are now standing on the streets homeless as a consequence…
“I’m concerned that what was a peaceful protest escalated. It seemed to go on for many hours before we saw the kind of policing that was appropriate. What were small skirmishes initially should have been stopped far quicker…
“The IPCC need to be in close contact with the family of Mark Duggan, who felt totally isolated in the initial stages after Thurs night…We don’t want 25 years of rebuilding community and trust destroyed because of mindless nonsense on the streets of London.”
That is why it has pained me to hear some prominent spokespeople on the left have taken the opportunity to make political points. Ken Livingstone, former Mayor of London and candidate for 2012, used the riots as an opportunity to blame the rioting on the government's cuts, and to take forward his election campaign.
There will be ample opportunity over the next year for him to make political points, and legitimate statements about government policy, and the performance of Boris Johnson as Mayor. But now is not the time, the Labour leadership have hitherto let David Lammy, the MP for Tottenham do the speaking on this, and they are right to do so. No doubt Ed Miliband will say something in the next day or so, but for now, it is the voices of the real people of Tottenham that need to be heard.