Lord Scarman was appointed by then Home Secretary William Whitelaw on 14 April two days after the rioting ended to hold the enquiry into the riots. The terms of reference for the enquiry were "to inquire urgently into the serious disorder in Brixton on 10—12 April and to report, with the power to make recommendations". The riot took place in Brixton , London on 11 April At the time when Brixton underwent deep social and economic problems — high unemployment , high crime , poor housing, no amenities — in a predominantly African-Caribbean community. Plain clothes police officers were dispatched into Brixton, and in five days almost 1, people were stopped and searched.
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John Lea and Simon Hallsworth put the riots into political and historical perspective. To make sense of last summer's riots it is important to put them in historical perspective. A comparison with the riots in Brixton, Liverpool and elsewhere and with the riots in Bradford and nearby towns reveals two shifts. The concerns of the rioters have shifted from a clear response to manifest injustice — usually at the hands of the police — to a more diffuse expression of generalised rage.
Meanwhile the response has shifted from attempts — symbolised by Lord Scarman's report on the Brixton riots of — to reintegrate the rioters and their communities into what remained of welfare citizenship to a reinforced criminalisation of a dysfunctional population. The backdrop is of course the demise of the Keynesian Welfare State and the harsh realities of neoliberalism.
For three days in April young black men battled the police on the streets of Brixton. These youngsters were faced with the toxic combination of unemployment, racism, a society which marginalised their political voice and which addressed the symptoms of urban decay with systematic over-policing. Lord Scarman, commissioned by Home Secretary Willie Whitelaw, started from the perspective that policies aimed at integration of the Black community had failed.
He understood that the rioters had a particular grievance regarding police behaviour. Scarman was in effect calling for Keynesian state-led investment in the riot-torn inner cities. But he was already out on a limb.
The first Thatcher government had been elected in and was determined to reduce public spending despite high levels of unemployment. The model for the future was rather the visit to Liverpool by environment secretary Michael Heseltine aiming to attract private investment to urban regeneration.
The result was a renewal of the city centre while poor riot-torn areas like Toxteth were largely ignored. Deindustrialisation and private-led urban regeneration were already laying the foundations for the next wave of riots. The Bradford, Oldham and Burnley riots of were the fruit. Stretching from May to July they involved sporadic three-way street battles between White and Asian youth and the police.
The poor were now fighting each other in communities abandoned by both private capital and the state. The collapse of the Yorkshire textile and steel economies as investment went elsewhere left young Asians facing 40 per cent unemployment and competing with Whites for an ever diminishing local supply of jobs and resources. This was becoming fertile recruiting ground for the far-right on one hand and Islamic extremism on the other.
Meanwhile the police were frequently notable by their absence as if these poor communities were simply not worth bothering with. Each town got a separate report and a ministerial overview chaired by John Denham. The message was by now firmly neoliberal.
New Labour, now in power, had adopted the neoliberal agenda. It was ready to intervene, but not with state-led employment, rather a battery of community renewal and cohesion initiatives came forth. Then came the financial tsunami of and the cuts. Last August's riots were something new. They included, but spread beyond, areas that had previously experienced riots. Many familiar elements were present — though mercifully not inter-ethnic conflict — yet the order of importance seemed different.
The police shooting of Mark Duggan and failure to subsequently communicate with the community was familiar enough. In four days of rioting — during which police appeared frequently overwhelmed — scores of shops, often high status consumer outlets, were looted, some burnt to the ground. Looting, and creating havoc on the streets, rather than a side-effect of the chaos as in previous riots, was the main activity. That is why they are more serious than any that have gone before.
Evidence — mainly from police and court data on those arrested — shows the rioters were overwhelmingly young, poor, unemployed, educationally deprived, multi-ethnic and involved in petty crime. The nightmare scenario is a link-up between unemployed youth and the global wave of student-led protests against financial greed and privatisation of education. But the government is able, or willing, to do remarkably little. Inquiry into the riots has been kept at arm's length from government.
In place of a Scarman or even a Cantle we get fragmentation: the head of Jobcentre Plus running a low key investigation while some local authorities are conducting their own inquiries. If the riots highlighted the crisis of the welfare state, last August's riots highlighted the crisis of its neoliberal successor. Global financial meltdown has led — wrongly Keynesians argue — to massive cuts in public spending, to which a public inquiry of Scarman stature might recommend a halt or even reversal.
This is understandable as an immediate response to the mayhem of a riot but it has been prolonged and strengthened such that it now constitutes the main response.
Police tracking and arresting rioters has continued much longer after the event than in previous riots and there have been far more arrests at the time of writing around 3, with many still to come as the police pore over CCTV footage. Cantle, T. Coleman, R. Hallsworth, S. London: Home Office. Skip to main content. John Lea and Simon Hallsworth put the riots into political and historical perspective To make sense of last summer's riots it is important to put them in historical perspective.
Scarman, already too late Bradford and community cohesion The Bradford, Oldham and Burnley riots of were the fruit. August zero-degree protest Last August's riots were something new.
More on August riots. Young people.
Understanding the riots
Following the Brixton disturbances in April, Lord Scarman was appointed by then Home Secretary William Whitelaw to 'inquire urgently into the serious disorder in Brixton on April and to report, with the power to make recommendations'. Lord Scarman found that the riots in Brixton, said to have involved over 5, people, had not been planned but were spontaneous outbursts resulting from built-up resentment and tensions. He made a number of recommendations to the police force, including efforts to recruit more ethnic minorities into the police force and changes in training and law enforcement. He stressed the importance of tackling racial disadvantage and racial discrimination. The inquiry recommended 'urgent action' to ensure that racial disadvantage did not become an 'endemic, ineradicable disease threatening the very survival of our society'. Scarman's inquiry was given added urgency by the rioting which flared up across the country in July of the same year and the scope of the inquiry was widened to include Southall, in London, Birmingham, Toxteth in Liverpool and Manchester.
The report of the inquiry into the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence, to be published next week, is the most significant comment on police and the community since the Scarman report into the Brixton riots of Such inquiries - set up under the Police Act, to look into a matter of serious public concern - are far from common and bring to light facts and opinions that are frequently hidden from view. They require senior public officials to account for themselves in public and provide an opportunity for individuals and organisations - local and national - to submit evidence in writing. In both Scarman and Lawrence, the issues of central concern related in some sense to a failure in policing. Each inquiry has probed established police procedures and the extent to which paper policies have been carried out in practice.
Facing the ugly facts
My Lords, with the leave of your Lordships, I will now repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. The Statement is as follows:. Speaker, with permission, I should like to make a Statement on the report of Lord Scarman's inquiry into the disorders in Brixton in April of this year, which I have published today. He describes these as riots—initially spontaneous and, throughout, inexcusable in their violence. He measures the immediate response to that disorder in these words: 'Those who were privileged, as I was, to hear the evidence during the inquiry, will have had many opportunities to marvel at, and be thankful for, the courage and dedication which was displayed by members of the police and emergency services in Brixton over that terrible week-end'. He sees then as stemming from a breakdown in confidence between the police and the coloured community, against a background of urban deprivation, racial disadvantage and a rising level of street crime. The report acknowledges the good work which has been done, and is being done, by the police, and others, to prevent such events recurring but emphasises that all those concerned have important lessons to learn for the future.