The English rebellion: Let’s talk about the cause


by Natasha Reid

By now, everyone in the U.K. is aware of the rebellion that is taking place throughout England. Most of us have read about it or watched media coverage and have been encouraged to condemn the movement as emanating from a group of mindless, opportunistic, criminal rioters.

“It is nowhere near as simple as a bunch of young Black hooded males smashing and grabbing and making the most of a bad situation,” said one young British observer. “They have no respect for authority as they feel they do not receive a mutual respect.”

“Black people don’t really get an opportunity to speak out and we are outcast from the rest of the community, which is why people have started riots,” said a 13-year-old girl from Zimbabwe who lives in London. “Martin Luther King Jr. fought for equal rights but yet we are still being seen as inferior.”

A movement with a cause spreads like wildfire, enrapturing individuals who may not have developed the political consciousness to explain their plight but can no longer contain their outrage. These individuals, without fully comprehending their cause, do not overtake a country in a rampage of wanton violence. Sure, they join in when a political movement is birthed; but it is a mistake to assume that the looting, arson and destruction taking place in England have been instigated by these individuals.

The rebellion commenced with people who have genuine sources of anger, not with “opportunistic criminals.” And while there will be plenty of time to condemn the groups of rioters who are only interested in wanton destruction, there is limited time to talk about the original cause of the anger. England has the attention of the world at this very moment, and so this is the time to talk about what caused the retaliation. What were they retaliating against?

Haringey, the borough that Tottenham – the area where the rebellion began – belongs to, suffers the fourth highest child poverty rate in London with an unemployment rate of 8.8 percent – double the national average. For each job vacancy, there are 54 people seeking work.

Severe spending cuts ordered by the coalition government threaten to bleed dry the already impoverished people in the United Kingdom.

These are a people who are often forced into poverty and hence turn to non-traditional methods of staying financially afloat. They live according to their own interpretation of survival of the fittest. The lifestyles they develop, in turn, create even greater contempt towards them from the wider British population from which they are outcast.

It is a vicious cycle of hatred and distrust between the poor communities and their more affluent neighbours. The oppressed people, delving deeper into a life of oppression, become enraged with frustration and hopelessness.

Police harassment – the most recent example found in the killing of 29-year-old Mark Duggan – acts as a catalyst inducing outrage in the psyche of those already impoverished, frustrated and ultimately fed up.

And note that Mark Duggan was not an isolated incident. Three hundred and thirty-three victims have died in police custody since 1998 in the U.K. without a single conviction of any police officer.

This is the message that people within Britain’s poor communities are attempting to send out. Give them your ear.

Naomi Kerr is a 24-year-old woman of mixed race, residing in the city of Glasgow, Scotland, who had the following comments in regards to the rebellion:

“I think that the riots are sending out the wrong images to the rest of the world and even people in Britain. Having visited London on numerous occasions and personally having family who live there, I have great experiences of culture during my stay. While I understand both sides to the argument – the protests – I think that the news coverage of the rioting has done absolutely nothing for the morale of the Black communities in London and the rest of Britain.

“I think the message is being received exactly as the British media and government want it to be received. People always try to find a scapegoat and someone to blame the troubles on. It is unfortunate that this time it is the Black community in London, as they have so much to offer in music, culture and family values.

“It is nowhere near as simple as a bunch of young Black hooded males smashing and grabbing and making the most of a bad situation. To me this is much bigger. I think it is sending out the message that there is great unrest and distrust between the youth – Black and non-Black – in these areas affected in London. They have no respect for authority as they feel they do not receive a mutual respect.

“While I do not condone the looting or violence or arson we have witnessed on the news coverage, I think that instead of using these events to once again write off the youth of Britain, we should look deeper and try to understand why we are witnessing such discontentment and dissatisfaction in our communities.”

Being of mixed race, Naomi is able to relate to the plight of ethnic minorities living in Britain. Hear what she has to say about prejudice in the U.K.:

“In my experience of growing up in Glasgow, I have witnessed a few racial slurs and moments of racial prejudice either in a social environment or taking public transport, for example. I don’t know whether the fact that I am of mixed heritage made it somewhat easier for me to grow up in a predominately white area of Glasgow. For example, I was the only ‘brown’ kid in my primary school and only one of three teenagers belonging to an ethnic minority in my secondary school.

“I have definitely witnessed a huge transformation with regards to the population of those of ethnic minorities in Glasgow partly due to emigration, immigration and migration.”

“From working in the nightclub scene for almost three and a half years, I have witnessed fights or racial slurs possibly induced by alcohol but more likely stemming from ignorance.

“That isn’t to say that the racial tension in Glasgow occurs mainly between Blacks and whites; there are many underlying tensions which do not always receive as much coverage in the media. For example, there are often heated discussions which can often lead to aggression between the large Pakistani and Indian communities and also between the Middle Eastern and sometimes the Turkish communities.

“From working for a popular R’n’B nightclub which naturally attracts those of ethnic minorities, I have heard of people of all ethnicities being turned away from the club or thrown out of the club and then blaming those decisions on the fact they are of an ethnic minority.

“Also, having worked in retail for number of years, I have personally been asked by security to follow someone as a suspected shoplifter, and for some time we were asked to follow people of African or Pakistani or Indian descent. Of course I expressed my unease at this request and my opinion was respected.

“If I am being completely honest, the only time I have felt to be victimised due to racial prejudice is when I have been driving my own car. When I first passed my test I found myself being pulled over for ‘routine’ checks on a regular basis, during the day and late at night.

“However, last year while parked in the Govanhill area of Glasgow, I was issued three points on my license and given a £60 fine for being parked at 12:30 a.m. on a pedestrian crossing. I completely understand I was parked on a pedestrian crossing; however, it was for a maximum of five minutes and a local man said they often target people outside of a particular restaurant selling traditional Indian food and sweets.

“He said they always target the customers and sometimes even the owner of the restaurant. I personally felt I wasn’t given the chance to explain myself and felt targeted by two white policemen while in an area of Glasgow, which is populated predominantly by people of ethnic minorities.”

Thirteen-year-old Samu from Harare, Zimbabwe, who was reluctant to give her second name, lives in the London area of Sidcup. She had the following comments:

“Well, Black people don’t really get an opportunity to speak out and we are outcast from the rest of the community, which is why people have started riots. Martin Luther King Jr. fought for equal rights but yet we are still being seen as inferior.”

“I dunno if it was meant to be racist but this girl spat on the floor when she saw me and said, ‘Where is Martin Luther King when you need him,’” added 13-year-old Henrietta from Hackney.

Samu further commented: “I believe that the police are mainly targeting young Black boys when they are carrying out their stop and search system. And if the youth tries to resist, they will try and arrest him. It also occurs with other ethnic minorities as well.”

Naomi and Samu are able to touch on racial anger, part of the cause of the rebellion, in the U.K. I extend an invitation to anyone who has personal commentary on the causes of the rebellion taking place in England, whether it be about racial tension, police harassment or the economic struggle, to contact myself or Mary Ratcliff, the editor of the San Francisco Bay View, to raise awareness of our plight in the U.K.

Natasha Reid is a writer of Zimbabwean and Scottish descent. She holds an honors law degree, though her real passion lies in journalism and political awareness. You can contact Natasha at



  1. This was not a rebellion. A rebellion suggests that there is a cause, some objective, and some organisation. It was a riot where the only objective was to destroy, loot and burn.

    Mark Duggan, the black guy who was shot by the police last week, was described by his family as a loving family but by many of those who posted tributes on his Facbook page he was described as a 'soldier' i.e. one of the gang members. The circumstances of this death have yet to be fully explained.

    The fact is that most young black men in London are more likely to be stabbed or shot by other young black men than anyone else.

    Why don't you write about the damaging effect of gangster culture throughout the USA and UK?

  2. Sure, I'll write about that. Along with the cause of the gangster culture and why its a necessity in the UK and US. Its necessity of course, is the real issue.

    As for the rebellion not being a rebellion. I contend that it began with the cause of raising awareness of the political plight of these communities in the UK.

  3. Tash,

    You're trying to twist the facts to suit your opinions but it isn't working. The 'rebellion' didn't start at all. There was a small protest about the shooting by Mark Duggan, then a riot, and then more riots across London and other cities in England.

    Most of those taking part had never heard of Mark Duggan. Many of those taking part are employed or are students i.e. they are not socially deprived and have little to complain about. What they lack is self displine and respect.

    BTW, recent reports in the UK press reveal Duggan's connection with gangs and how the investigation that lead to his eventual death was part of a long investigation into the black on black shootings in London.

  4. “while parked in the Govanhill area of Glasgow, I was issued three points on my license and given a £60 fine for being parked at 12:30 a.m. on a pedestrian crossing.”

    Pitiful, Naomi. You parked illegally with no consideration and you got a ticket. Nothing to do with your colour or the nature of the business. Anyone of any colour gets a ticket for that. I know a few who have in Glasgow, both white and Pakistani, but they don’t pretend they were persecuted – they accept they were wrong.

    There is no rebellion in England (which doesn’t include Govanhill). There has been opportunistic looting.

    When people understandably kicked off in Brixton, Toxteth etc. in the the 80’s they were opposing the police.

    Looters don’t do that. They smash and grab – and run away at the first sight of more cops than they can intimidate. That’s not a protest.

    The people involved in last week’s mini-crimewave want stuff they can’t afford. That’s a serious underlying issue for people of all ethnic groups (and, increasingly, classes.)

    Let’s not pretend we have a rebellion. We don’t – just a mixture of greed and, to a far lesser extent, frustration.

  5. The small protest was a catalyst for the later riots. The mistreatment of the protesters by the police and the later "rioting" were not two isolated events. The killing of Mark Duggan was the straw that broke the camels back in a society deprived of employment opportunities, decent education and housing. That caused the eruption that was felt by the youth in their masses. Whether they knew about Duggan or not, they identified with the feeling of anger against the establishment. Riots are the voice of the unheard, as Dr. King said.

    Perhaps most of those involved that the media have broadcasted to the world were employed or students. But it isn't difficult to imagine why the media might want to highlight the involvement of these types of individuals and hide the involvement of anyone who is suffering a genuine struggle. The media is able to get a whole country behind an episode of rioting or rebellion at its will (Libya or Egypt, for example) by showing undying support and it keeps its nose out of rebellions that do not serve the corporate elitism that the media are art and part in (Bahrain, for example). They do not want the country to be behind a rebellion against the establishment, so they colour it as a riot involving nothing more than opportunist criminals. They have done a little bit of back-tracking since the riots originally erupted in addressing some of the concerns that sparked the rebellion, but they already have the country on their side.

    I don't think Duggan's being involved in gangs justifies his shooting. Street gangs are formed as a result of basic human instincts in the world of the underclass. One cannot condemn another for being involved in gang culture. If the prime minister was shot, would you dismiss that because of his gang involvement – the coporate elitist gang, that is, which has killed millions of civilians in wars dreamt up purely for material gain?

    And how an investigation into black on black shootings in London leads to the police shooting a Black male, I don't know.

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