Are The Tottenham Riots Just The Beginning?
Back in 2010 the crime journalist, Graham Johnson, warned us about this: "The feeling among experts, politicians, and even police officers I’ve spoken to, is that the British underclass of this country is going to rise up against the authorities like nothing we’ve seen since the Brixton or Toxteth riots of the 80s."
He wasn't wrong. At the time of writing, the riots, looting and arson that took place in Tottenham this weekend could be a scary one-off, but these things are infectious. North East London is going to be a tense place, and all it would take is one paranoid cop getting caught on camera phone crowning a teenager, and we could have a British Rodney King – that is if Mark Duggan hasn't already become that figure.
In the VBS film, Teenage Riot, two gang members from the estates of South London predicted that the student protests in central London were merely a bourgeois precursor to a larger series of protests fuelled by economic instability and cutbacks. Hopefully they were showing off when they theorised that these would be similar to the LA Riots; long-running battles between police and armed gangs, but right now it doesn't look like they're totally full of shit. After all, as VICE has previously reported, the police have been militarising themselves in preparation for such events. While there seems to be little evidence of armoured cars, sniper platforms, or other military equipment being used by the coppers on Saturday night, that was a riot no-one had predicted. If the mood sweeps across London, gangs keen to smash up their local JD Sports and get some shitty trainers will be facing more than just riot shields.
Police must be hoping it doesn't spread to South London, where they have had far less success in dismantling and reaching out to gangs than they have in the East.
Street war sounds like a pretentious prediction, but don't forget, fighting is in the air in 2011. The student protests proved that even wannabe theology students and prog rock progeny could make a menace of themselves. Just as significantly, the Arab Spring has been covered with such triumphalism that the concept of the freedom fighter is as fashionable as it has ever been. Sure, you could argue that the Tottenham rioters have nothing in common with protesters in Syria, but try telling a group of poor, young, powerless kids, drunk on danger, faced with a line of armoured cops, that this is not their finest moment of autonomy. If you get your money dealing drugs, the police are clearly the enemy and once they start shooting you, it makes sense to fight back, (high-def TVs are merely the spoils of war.) It's easy to assume the angry moral high-ground when you're the underdog - and every unemployed youth in Tottenham, or Hackney, is certainly that. And, if it's true that the weekend's violence was triggered by the assault of a teenage girl by a platoon of police with night-sticks, then that high-ground will be a very seductive place to be.
Whatever happens, you know the police will be desperate to shut down any unrest in East London long before the Olympics start. I'm not sure this country's diminishing reputation could survive the Dutch bobsled team getting merked by E9 Band Bang.
WORDS: ALEX MILLER
PICTURES: HENRY LANGSTON