Riot, rage and rebellion

Mark Duggan

This is the picture the media is using to remember the man who unawarely, post-mortem, instigated the UK riots.
Some see what is intended – a dangerous black man making gun gestures.
To others, this is a picture of another ‘cheap’ black life taken unjustly and irreplacably. A man with a defiant look in his eyes, an embodiment of a social system that nourishes difference. In a fragment of that type of society, a rebel.
Duggan’s family say, “We don’t want Mark portrayed as some kind of gangster. He was a good man, a family man.”

For sake of clarification – I’m aware that the vast amount of the looters are opportunistic criminals. This article is not discussing that group, UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, and other politicians seem in fact to be addressing only those people.
However, I’m quite interested in discussing those young men and women that have that same lost look of defiance in their eyes that Duggan has in this picture. Those that set buildings on fire for the sake of it, those that fought the police, those that literally went to war against society.

Life’s cycles sees adolescence as the stage of life when we unprecedentedly are susceptible to injustice because we are coming to see the world with independent eyes for the first time. Adolescence is also a time when we don’t always know how to deal with pain internally.
We have much to learn from the youth therefore. If we are the conscience, they are the shadow of our conscience. And right now, a considerable amount are reflecting something foul, a recurrent rotting wound.
These youth are a reminder that you cannot dress up in bubble wrap, protecting yourself from the sharp edges of reality. Pop the bubbles, it will make you feel lighter. Metaphorically speaking, our adolescent shadow does not harbour this much anger for no reason. It is lazy to see the animosity as detached from our own actions.

A mature society would be able to deal with issues like the difference placed in the value of life. Or with non-inclusive gentrification. And with people seeing crime in their community through racially segregated lenses, as I wrote in Hackney Citizen last year.

Personally, I feel rebellious too, why is a black life still worth less than a white life. Why did the police kill a young man who did not deserve to die? Why were people who peacefully demanded answers treated so unjustly?
I certainly don’t want to destroy anyone else’s life to prove my rebellion. Yet I don’t wish to crush the rebellion in some of these youth either, not even as they stand at my doorstep in all their threatening rage. What I wish is that we could discuss the needs behind the rioters’ actions with integrity.

Okay, address criminality with the “muscular” language so familiar to the establishment. Maybe there is room for that draconian, military approach. But who will address that so many kids have been let down by a systemic failure to address inequality? Who will explain that the roots of rebellion is freedom, is love?

It won’t be the same politicians or police who’ve been sleeping with media as recent scandals revealed. It won’t be those who don’t want to disturb a comfortable reality, one where injustice is not something to be destroyed nor rebuilt at anyone’s inconvenience. Yet as history repeats, we must ask ourselves the questions, for how long can we blind to our own shadows?

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  • Mbeng Ngassa

    We must teach them.

    We know how we got here. we must figure out how we guide them through the maze that is life and the added complexity that is this society.

    We show them a million things they can have. Create a generation of people who feel entitled to their piece of the pie but not the means or direction to realise it.

    There are a million more people every week on this earth, all our jobs seem to be based on some thing we took from the earth and something else to sell it with. Those resources are not infinite, our economy seems to be based on that assumption. People benefiting from the system are in control of the system it seems. These seems like mere cracks in that system.

    Sounds dim but there’s light somewhere in there.

    • remy

      beautifully and truthfully and heartfully said. Teaching one another is so right on. Knowledge us the ultimate power. If you’re in the UK, you need to raise your voice up higher. It is a voice of reason and one not represented by the mainstream, sadly. If there’s any hope of repair and any hope of rescuing the work done by our parents and grandparents of establishing communities for us in the UK, then it’s going to have to be grassroots. We need to get real and realize that the solution won’t come from the establishment.

  • Lara

    And now the news start playing cut & paste, churning the same modicum of information, so I turn my attention to history. There’s no much money left for investigative journalism anyway – the likes of Murdoch destroyed the Sunday Times and broke the unions a long time ago, and only now the chickens come home to roost (or do they?) – and you rightly point out that politicians sided with such systematic destruction of freedom of speech, so even these riots – or rebellion maybe – are becoming a sensationalistic montage.
    Looking back at the 1992 LA riots I could not help but noticing the striking similarities with the present day: not much of a race riot but ‘a class rebellion, a rising by the poor of Los Angeles against the ills and injustices inflected on them in the Reagan-Bush era’ [A. T. Callinicos]. Here in the UK our own ‘ills and injustices’ are 30 years of virulent Lasseize-fair capitalism which has managed to even engulf the ideals of Labour, to an extent that it is thanks to Gordon Brown – under Blair – that we witnessed (personally in despair) the exacerbation of Margaret Thatcher’s financial deregulation, which ultimately led us to 2007. And now, after the ‘bankers’ have literally looted our lives, got rich in the process, were saved by bailouts paid with our money and didn’t face the Police not even once – they should be ALL at least facing trials, they the true lawless ones in ethical terms – here we are again, in the incapable hands of the Right (Reagan, Cameron, two sides of the same coin), a Right that delivers the same ‘cure’ filled with classist and elitist ideology: we the people pay with the bailouts and on top of that we are forced to pay with Welfare cuts, taking away ‘in the middle of a recession, the last little things that gave people hope, the benefits, the jobs, the possibility of higher education, the support structures’ [Laurie Penny]. We, the people, treated like slaves, like servants.
    In a nutshell Minna, the many young people with ‘a sorrowful, defiant look in their eyes’ living in ‘a social system that nourishes difference’; who are given no hope, no mental or spiritual paradigm to emancipate themselves from the abject lack of self-esteem this classist society enforces on them; a society shaped by a winner-take-all wretched culture and where the true ideals of a healthy society – love, empathy, peace and resources for all, dignity for all, horizontal collaboration, community – have fallen apart a long time ago, starting from the Thatcher years, where communities where destroyed and the concept of ‘the enemy within’ was forged, a concept that today’s media is so quick to exploit; these many young people you refer to did face and will end up facing water cannons.
    And they are Black, White, Asian: they tick all the boxes in an Equal Opportunity Form. What they have in common is their hopelessness and sense of social disempowerment.
    People like Symeon Brown, whose project Haringey Young People Empowered was so successful in restoring social inclusion and hope, making sure that social mobility was possible even among the disenfranchised and not confined to the privileged few, saw a vertical cut in budget thanks to Cameron’s hammer: ‘Young people feel their representatives do not care about them. The council’s youth services have been cut by 75%, which is astronomical. It is a real assault on social democracy and public services’ [Symeon Brown].
    I am enraged because, like in 1992 LA, we are back to square one. Because when a black man dies his family is not told by the police, they have to hear it from the news: ‘It’s usual practice when someone is killed that their personal details are not made public until the next of kin has been informed. Mark Duggan’s family saw in headlines that he had been killed as a result of a terrifying shoot-out’ [Stafford Scott]
    But for our rulers, loosely quoting George Orwell, ‘All humans are equal but some humans are more equal than others’.
    Almost 20 years since LA, and 30 almost to the day since the Brixton Riots, NOTHING has changed, absolutely nothing. Not the media, with their gatekeepers still mostly belonging to the upper classes, too often incapable to relate outside their class boundaries; the British ruling class, which still hasn’t honestly come to terms with Slavery let alone with the implementation of social inclusion policies, basking under an ideology of inequality and Lasseiz-faire.
    So exasperated, Minna.

  • Ankhesen Mié

    Yet I don’t wish to crush the rebellion in some of these youth either, not even as they stand at my doorstep in all their threatening rage.

    Of course not. As I’ve said on my own blog, let the youth rage on.

    This will sound callous, but what you said made me think….These people who are complaining about the violence and the destruction – where were they when the lives of these kids were being destroyed? When the police are harassing and killing people “over there”, what do these complainers do over here? When Duggan and those like him are being shot and killed without reason, and these complainers sit in their comfortable flats on the on the other side of town, how is it any different from when whites bowed their heads and went along with lynchings in the Southern US?

    In an unequal world like ours, every comfort and privilege we have comes at someone else’s expense. This is the part of Western individualism which always conveniently gets left out, which is precisely why its societies keep getting caught off guard by events like these.

    As members of a society, we are supposed to work together to everyone’s benefit. That means we cannot sit back when some people are being shafted, and if we do sit back, then when those people retaliate, we cannot complain.

    • Osyman Dias

      ‘They’ are not the ones suffering from the riots. The big companies will absorb the costs and carry on, its the small business and property owners who are characteristic of inner city town centre who suffer, who have at best basic insurance, who are one man shows depending on family members for help. These are the people who suffer not ‘other people’. We insult ourselves if we keep making excuses for violence and thuggery. These riots are exactly the same as what groups of teens do each day and each weekend to people and each other. Duggan and his ilk are the biggest danger to black people and young black males, people who will shoot you or stab you without compunction for any slight imagined or real. A man was shot in Croydon on Tuesday, no one seems that bothered by him, is life only important when it’s taken by the police?
      Dozens have been shot and stabbed, education is derided, instant gratification is applauded and now outright selfish criminality is dressed up as a protest. If this was a genuine protest then they would have been on the streets 16,000 police or no 16,000 police. The people of Soweto, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Greece or Zimbabwe didnt back down in the face of infinitely tougher reaction, possibly because they actually had something worth fighting for. We need to stop making excuses. Stop making education ‘an option’. Start rebuilding the concept of personal ability and responsibility. Stop glorifying the easy money concept and emphasise pride and hard work.
      When I see the photo of Mark Duggan I don’t see sad defiance, I see one less person who will make my life hell and one less person who will make me have to justify my existence to the ignorant every day

  • teachermrw

    My Dear Brother and I were discussing the riots recently. Reminded him of the riots that took place in the United States during the 1960s, which were ignited under very similar circumstances. My fear is that the scenario that is currently playing itself out in England will repeat in other countries, including the United States. However, the 1960s riots in the United States were undergirded by the Civil Rights Movement. What sort of movement is undergirding the riots in England?

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