Brixton's Burnin'

This week sees the thirtieth anniversary of the 1981 Brixton riots. To some, this was an uprising. What sets this disorder from latter examples was that the police were the target as opposed to protecting some other institution. It can be argued that there was open drug dealing on the streets of Brixton that certain groups sought to protect from police intervention, however this was countered by overt racism. Young black men were routinely beaten and fitted up by an overwhelmingly white police force.

The legacy of the Brixton riots is that the police can no longer claim victim status with any degree of credence. The police cannot claim mistake or error without being accused of racism or violence. Mainstream broadsheet newspapers still run columns accusing the police service in general of horrendous bigotry and discrimination.  I would imagine that if such articles were presented to editors in the 1970s, the journalist would be laughed out of the newsroom. Without the Brixton riots, the Macpherson Report would never have come into existence with it's allegations of institutional racism within the Met Police. This conclusion was eagerly devoured by police leaders seeking promotion from their political masters, and the definition of a racist incident became 'if anyone says it is, it is.'

I am institutionalised. I will admit that. I recognise my influences. I have been in the police service for nearly twenty years, and understand that many of my views are shaped by this experience. I try hard to engage with the many different people I meet on a daily basis, to socialise with friends outside the police, and to read widely, often from sources I would normally avoid. We remain shaped by our environment. I am certain that the racism of the police force is in terminal decline, and has been since the riots. The police officers of today grew up in a multicultural society, they schooled alongside black and Asian children. It is hard to hate those you know personally.

Summary beatings have gone. People are no longer battered in cells and police vans. Whether this is a cultural change, or the result of increased CCTV and the fact that victims of police brutality are more likely to be believed is a moot point. Although Friday and Saturday nights are awash with violence across the country, general violence has lessened in the last 20 years throughout society. People no longer beat their children, nor do teachers.

The police will always be viewed in some quarters as violent racists. There are too many vested interests to allow for this situation to change, too many pressure groups, radical lawyers and crusading journalists to allow for their cash cow to be taken away.

I intend to leave the police in the next couple of years and go into teaching. I imagine my world view will change, and I may question some of my old viewpoints, but I still believe that the police service is in better shape than it was in 1981. It remains a political football, with senior managers who are not fit for purpose, but I believe that the majority of the general public support the police. If I didn't believe that, I'd leave tomorrow.


Blue Eyes said...

As a taxpaying citizen of Sarf London I would like to think that the world is a rather different place than in 1981. We still have massive social problems, but not due to accepted racism.

Say what you like about Thatch, but PACE 1984 is a great work of pluralism.

mitchell-images said...

Things have certainly changed since the 80s. Not many for the good it has to be said. I listened to B Paddick on radio 4 talking about his time in the Brixton riots. He was talking about how he was rushing to help officers in his mg sports car when he came upon a mob who were rioting. The traffic was at a standstill. He said he had to take his tunic off and slide as low in the car as he could. Incidently, the Justice for Smiley Culture campaign are marching to New Scotland Yard on Sat. Thousands are expected to march in the biggest protest by the black community for years. Organisers are appealing for calm from the marchers. However Lee Jasper is on record as saying the 'black community are at boiling point over this'.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a police officer, nor anything to do with the police, just a private individual. however, I wanted to respond to this. I grew up in a multicultural city, with black and asian classmates, during the 1970s - i remember riots happening down the road from me during that time. I've lectured my own mother on language when, as a teenager at school (in the '80s), she asked me who the "half-caste boy" i was talking to was. I now live in another multicultural city, surrounded by people of ethnic minorities every day, and I believe absolutely 100% that everyone, regardless of race, nationality, disability, gender, religion, sexuality, and so on. I've been a beneficiary of some of the great movements forward over the last 30 years with regard to some of these rights, and expect that to continue: I will be going to university in September, as a mature student, and 40 years ago, I simply would not have been allowed to do that, given the person I currently am.

Which may make it all the more surprising that I actually have a deep seated dislike of black people and black culture that seems to be worsening as I get older. I'm deeply ashamed of it, but I find myself thinking horrible thoughts. I find myself being angry, when I'm at a bus stop, surrounded by black people, and I'm one of the only white people there. I find myself disliking, intensely, certain elements of black culture, the whole "yo" gangster type culture, and edging away from people who present themselves in that way. I have a black neighbour, who is of the god fearing persuasion, and who has tried several times to convert me, who doesn't speak english very well, and who isn't overly smart (in other words, as completely different from me as it is possible to get) and I now make a concentrated effort to avoid her, although I will be polite and neighbourly. I feel these emotions, knowing that they're wrong, that its wrong to judge people on the basis of the colour of their skin, the medallion around their neck, the language they choose to use, the way they choose to put themselves across. And i try very hard not to stop my feelings from getting to know people, from prejudging them.

but just as i accept responsibility for my own thoughts and my own actions, this brings up a larger picture. people need to be aware of how they may be received by other people. For example, I live near an old people's home, with some nearby flats with older people living in them, so there are often older people walking around the area. I walk my dog, and I have seen them shy away from me, *until* I smile, meet their eyes, and say "hello". I can see them visibly relaxing, that I am not going to attack them, sad as it may seem - it says volumes about the kind of neighbourhood in which we live. And I consciously make myself do that now, to hold that awareness of how i might be seen by someone much more vulnerable than me, and try to reassure them.

[continued on next comment...]

Anonymous said...

[.... continued from previous comment]

People need to have, and develop, a similar awareness. young black men and women, while, yes, they have the right to dress and behave as they wish (as long as they obey the law of course), should be aware of how their actions appear to other people. That if they choose to dress as a gangster, pull their hoods over their heads, and not meet people's eyes with their own, to stand there, shiftily chewing gum, listening to music on their headphones... they often have no idea (or perhaps they do, sadly) how intimidating they can appear, especially in groups, to someone more vulnerable - someone older, someone alone. If i am near a group of youngsters like that, yes, I cross the road, and I don't care if that's racism, because, sadly, experience has taught me that it is dangerous to try to pass through such a group. If people want to not be treated badly, then they need to be aware of how they appear to others, just as much as taking responsibility for their own actions, they need to be aware of how their choices make them look to others.. and what they can do to alleviate those problems. In the example above, simply meeting someone's eye and smiling, stepping aside, does much to reduce tension. Both sides, so to speak, must work on this.

I know this is a rather rambling comment and I apologise. But this is the first time I've really been able to say how i feel about a lot of this stuff, so deeply has the whole anti-racist ideology permeated society today. Quite rightly so, but at the same time, it makes it difficult for someone like me, who feels the way they do, and who while knowing that those feelings are completely wrong on an intellectual basis, and tries not to let those feelings guide them, also still feels them and can't talk about them. In some ways, its more difficult now, than it was 30 years ago - then, it was - forgive the pun - black and white. Racism is wrong. end of. Today.. there are shades of grey. perhaps that is a better way to be, but certainly more troubling. and certainly more thought provoking.

Blue Eyes said...

Did you know that NOT making eye contact is taught as deferential in Jamaica? I.e. if you are a young person you don't make eye contact with the older, more respected person.

That tiny nugget holds so much within it, for me.

Anonymous said...

(same anonymous as above) hmm. no. i didn't know that. and yes. that does explain an awful lot. but at the risk of sounding like someone from the BNP or worse.. they're not in Jamaica any more, and my argument still holds: that everyone should take responsibility for not just how they act, but how they may appear to other people, and if they don't wish to be seen as threatening, to act accordingly.

Its a bit like, as a woman, no one would deny me the right to dress how i wish and not be raped, right? on the other hand, if you dress in a very short skirt and low cut top in heels and are out in a largely deserted area at 3am in the morning, alone, then you have to accept that that puts you at higher risk than if you were dressed conservatively, in a busy area at 3pm in the afternoon. That doesn't make it so that she deserves to be raped, because no one does. it makes it higher risk, and the person choosing to do that must accept that risk, its part of being an adult human being.

Same thing with this: if you don't wish to be harrassed, if you wish to go through life easily, then understand the manners and ways of the vast majority of people around you, meet their gaze and SMILE, then people are generally a lot more relaxed around YOU, and willing to meet you half way.

Carla said...

let's not brush over any comment made here....that woman out at 3am is committing no crime....she should not HAVE to consider how she dresses or where she goes.....RAPE is the crime....sadly it happens even in the safest environment....does that make the crime better or worse?

Anonymous said...

I think the other Anon makes a good point.
About 5 years ago I moved from a comfy village where I knew everybody to a town where I could actually afford the rent. The area I moved into was a "bad" area, I was told that white people were mugged and spat on just because of their skin colour.
None of this was true.
From the beginning I made an effort to get to know my neighbors, to always stop and chat, even to to say morning to the people I pass every day in the street. [although I am the only Englishman in my street]