London Riots: A Missed Opportunity For Real Change

A man choked by police during riots in London
A man choked by police during riots in London

Anniversaries force us to reflect on moments of tragedy or triumph, and these memories are often framed around questions of change: has anything changed since the London riots and, if so, how?

With the first anniversary of the London riots upon us, the question of change is already on the lips. But attempts to revisit the biggest civil disorder in a generation will only raise more questions than it gives answers.

Unlike most memorable dates, which are spoken of then promptly forgotten until the following year, the riots have, quite rightly, dominated public debate for the past 12 months. Reports from various different bodies have been published at regular intervals all regurgitating common narratives of inequality, policing and disaffected young people.

What is problematic about the elusive search for the story of change, is that the riots did not mark a shift in government policy or thinking despite being the perfect moment for a wider debate on justice, policing and inequality in Britain.

We had the reports ­­– but where was the judge-led inquiry like the Scarman inquiry that followed the 1981 Brixton riots?

This absence allowed the Government maintain its commitment to austerity, dismiss any politics behind the riots and the Mayor of London was able to maintain the status quo with regard to policing. They all failed to consider the effect of disproportional policing of Black communities.

Some of the major changes to policing are happening in London with centralisation of police powers under City Hall and cuts to Community and Police Consultative Groups (CPCGs). The worry is that power, rather than being devolved to communities, is been locked away.

High roads have dusted themselves off and businesses have reopened, yet life in riot-affected areas has become harder when you factor in knock-on effects such as soaring insurance premiums. Some are still waiting for full compensation from insurance firms.

London riots
The Police murder of Mark Duggan triggered th riots

Perhaps the most significant anniversary of the disturbances, as local authorities prefer to call them, is not August 6 but August 4 when Mark Duggan was murdered in Tottenham by police.

A year has passed, and the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has failed to conclude its investigation into his death; an investigation marred by a lack of transparency, the resignations of key members of the community reference group, such as activist Stafford Scott and Rev Nims Obunge, who claimed the process was flawed and heading towards a ‘whitewash’.

It is this very expectation of injustice that led to the march on Tottenham police station and triggered the riots. A year later, the same sentiment pervades.

If the search continues to uncover ‘what has changed’, commentators and journalists will find that, actually, not much has changed at all; just the same old story and a crisis of trust in the police that has existed for generations.

Across the country, a generation of young people has been introduced to the prison system, which no doubt will have damaging long-term consequences.

Families are being pushed into the nearest bed and breakfast as councils act on promises to evict parents whose children were involved in the riots. Yet no banker involved in the Libor scandal is facing a charge for fraud, highlighting the extent to which injustice has peaked.

So here come the journalists scouring inner city streets for the opinion of young Black boys which will be back in vogue, but those looking for a story will find only cosmetic developments rather than the structural reform that should have taken place.

They might also notice the faint trace of gasoline on the floor. Without real change, it only takes one match to light it.


By; Symeon Brown