Darcus Howe, the British Black Panther
Sometimes the BBC really suck balls. Did you see this?
Of course you've seen it. Four million people have watched that clip of Fiona Armstrong patronizing Darcus Howe, the one-time British Black Panther.
As this footage emerged, the internet immediately took exception to Armstrong's bitchy interview with the man she likes to call “Marcus Dowe." Maybe that's because Armstrong's condescension in some way mirrored the snobbery in British culture which many believed to be a cause of riots rooted in class difference. Or maybe it was because, for over 35 years, Darcus Howe has tirelessly documented and protested social injustice within the UK's Afro-Caribbean community, while Armstrong is a bibble who presents things called Fiona on Fishing.
Last week, I went down to Croydon to meet the self-proclaimed "Old West Indian Negro" to find out what he thought about the riots and what it was like to be propelled back into the public sphere.
Howe and I sat in his living room surrounded by photos of him with Jesse Jackson and Stokely Carmichael, cricket bats, books, and a portrait drawing of his uncle, CLR James. Howe twirled his Trinidadian cane between sips of Saint-Émilion wine, drunk against his doctor’s orders, as his long-winded story unfurled over plumes of cigarette smoke. From time to time he’d jolt forward to shout into his bright red telephone as reporters from across the world called in wondering who he was and what else he had to say.
VICE: Thanks for letting me into your house, Mr. Howe. How was your day?
Darcus Howe: I was at NBC today and the reporter was asking strange, but answerable questions. My answer was simple: I don’t believe Cameron knows anything whatsoever about black youth, and the Tottenham MP, [David] Lammy, he didn’t know either. They don’t look and they don’t listen. The other thing he asked me is when would it be over. I said, "It’s over when the caged bird sings." He said, "What do you mean by that?" and I said, "It’s Maya Angelou; she’s from your country." How did you hear about me?
You’re all over YouTube!
Oh, I heard about that. Millions of views on that crap. Being an old West Indian Negro I don’t take to the internet easily. I have never been on it except when my wife goes on. She takes things and prints them out for me.
In your opinion, Darcus, have the police degenerated over the last few decades?
I have never known the British police to appear to be as much of a degenerate police force and the press to be equally degenerate [as they are now], both linking with each other, bribing and hacking. The degeneration is massive in black communities, because they think we don’t know anything. They have that orthodox view of Negros: that we don’t know anything. That’s why I keep calling myself a West Indian Negro. Negros meant lowlife people and I will assume that as a title. They will send the worst policeman—who couldn’t write a proper statement down—to these areas to police us. So it was not a police force of intelligence and patience. The police issue, the serious issue, is "stop and search" and the framing of people.
What’s the deal with stop and search?
The police force believe that the ruling class is depending on them to deal with the Darcus’s of this world. Young people are stopped and searched. Before, you could stop and search someone only if you observed them trying to dip into women’s handbags or something. That was abandoned and they passed an anti-terrorism law saying you don’t have to be reasonably suspicious of anybody… and there begins the life and death of Mark Duggan.
Why was Mark Duggan killed?
Because a man had a Glock pistol who couldn’t control himself and blew his chest away. All I know about Duggan is a photograph I see. He stares into the future. I know a lot about West Indians; I know the intonation in voice and the look of their faces. Duggan stares without any movement, his body is so still, he has that concentration. I think somewhere along the line he wasn’t able to compromise and they blew his chest away. They didn’t tell the commander of the area that they were there and had to start making up a story. They’re reduced in their corrupt souls to lie from the drop and everybody who knew him knew he wouldn’t do that. He’s not a bad man. The police have been caught lying. You know who they can’t confuse? The people of Broadwater Farm [the name of the North London estate where Duggan used to live, and where the riots kicked off on Saturday, August 6th].
Why do you think the kids rioted? Does unemployment have anything to do with it?
It began with stop and search, but the second thing was the looting. I know West Indian parents who have been hit by the job cuts. They go to Iceland market and buy food for the month and then lock the fridge. Some kids have one meal a day. As a teenager in Trinidad they would call you a saga boy, a pretty boy, if you had nice clothes. They want to have a girlfriend or a boyfriend and look cute and nice with shoes and a hat, but they can’t afford it. So they are attracted to all of this. They are not communists or part of a Communist party. A child was caught stealing a bottle of water in the riots. He must have seen this little water bottle all his life and wanted it because it’s not tap water and he wanted to see if it tasted different.
When Fiona Armstrong said you weren’t “a stranger to riots,” what was she getting at?
The explosion in New Cross took place in early 1981, because 13 black kids had a birthday party and some fascist bombed the place and killed them. The police were terrified and I was publishing pamphlets and we brought 20,000 people to the streets of this country. I was an organizer.
That was the Black People's Day of Action on March 2, 1981, right?
In 1981 we walked 17 miles from Deptford to Hyde Park. It was the largest demonstration that black people have had in this country. When a journalist asked me how it went, I said "it was a good day." That night, the Evening Standard, which I wrote for afterward, ran a photo of a police officer with blood running down his face and my quote from earlier. That photograph could not have been taken anywhere along the route. I was in my 30s and full of passion for the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. There was conflict at other demonstrations. Weeks later they charged me for inciting to riot and I won the case and was acquitted. So, I suppose that wretch Armstrong wasn’t briefed properly.
What is happening in Great Britain on a socio-political level that has lead to all the mayhem?
Cameron is frightened. He left the country for Sardinia with a tennis coach and they called him and said the shit had hit the fan. He had no idea that this was taking place. They knew nothing. They have no idea of Afro-Caribbean people and no idea of the white working classes. Politicians don’t know anything at all. White, right-wing totalitarians are now taking it out on these kids. The next time it will be blood and hellfire. They will see something in this country they have never seen before. It’s coming, it’s inevitable—not that I wish it to come. The only thing Assad in Syria is doing differently than Cameron is bringing out tanks. Cameron is shooting Libyan people and everybody knows it’s for oil. This is an oil-consuming nation.
Well, what would you change if you could?
I do not elevate myself in any form or fashion to tell people how I want things to change or what I want. Frantz Fanon says at some point people turn as they develop, turn that tempo on their real enemy and that’s what you’re seeing now everywhere. It has been a fight of slavery and old colonial life. W.E.B. Dubois was looking at all the sections of society; black, white, and the working class. He said we will enter into society on the basis of absolute equality with any white person or we will not enter at all. This is the last great battle of the West.
That's pretty heavy. Thanks for talking to me.
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