In the aftermath of the riot in Tottenham, and with violence brewing on the Narrow Way, we call on the youth of Hackney to show restraint and urge you not to get caught up in rioting.
We ask this because a riot is not good for you and it is not good for our community.
We know your anger:
• at the lack of education, training or jobs in the borough;
• at the slim life chances that are afforded you;
• at the police who so often fail to protect young people, but who appear relentless in their determination to ensure that you ‘know your place’.
In a society that chooses not to respect you, participating in a riot can appear like an act of rebellion and a response to a complex series of problems: giving the police a hard time for once, and adopting the stereotypes of recklessness, criminality and brutality with which you are so often labelled.
However, a riot destroys what little we have in terms of our community assets, it also places the rioters, as well as bystanders at great risk.
The use of petrol bombs and the burning of buildings is not only devastatingly destructive to the institutions and businesses in our community. It puts peoples lives at risk. In Handsworth in 1985, two people died when trapped in their flat above a shop, in 2005 a similar tragedy occurred in the Lozells district of Birmingham. On Saturday night in Tottenham families with children had to flee through a burning building to escape.
Burning, destruction, and putting the lives of members of our community at risk is not the way to express your legitimate anger at being left behind in the boom years and expected to pay with your future when the economy crashed. You are capable of more imaginative and more effective ways of demanding economic and social justice.
You may feel that in the aftermath of a number of high profile deaths particularly from the black community in police custody, a riot is inevitable. But a riot is the response of those who have no alternative channel for their anger. In America, following the assassination of Martin Luther King, the black ghettos erupted. Yet, where the Black Panther Party organised, the most militant of black radical organisations, they called on the community not to riot, but to organise for justice. We urge you to do the same.
Finally, please consider the risks you are exposing yourself to. The police are sophisticated in tracking down rioters. CCTV cameras mean that you can be tracked; covering your face simply won’t protect you. The maximum prison terms for rioting is ten years and it is unusual for sentences for riot to be any less than five years. Even lesser offences of violent disorder receive very stiff penalties from the courts.
It is not just the risk of imprisonment: in 1981 during the Toxteth riot the police used vehicles driven at high speed into crowds to disperse them. One young man, not even involved in the disturbance, was killed when he did not move fast enough.
In this statement we have not joined the long list of politicians and police officers who race to condemn rioters, as if their own policies and failings were not a major ingredient in the toxic mix that creates the context in which riots occur. We have not pretended that you are ‘outsiders’ but have spoken to you as members of our community, who we want to remain in our community. Please do not let your anger blind you to the madness that is rioting.