Thursday, March 29, 2012

London riots: A nation still waits for answers

Hindustan Times
Dipankar De Sarkar

Eight months on, we know a lot about the riots that swept parts of London and other cities across England. We know much about the social and economic background of the looters and arsonists. We know of family breakdown and disaffection.

We know what sparked it — the police killing of alleged black drug dealer Mark Duggan. But we don’t know why police killed him (his family calls it an execution). The police are stopped from telling us.

This month England has been debating and discussing the riots of the summer of 2011. At least two major studies have shed light on the over-3,000 people who were arrested on charges of rioting.

According to a joint study by The Guardian (a great example of media responsibility) and the London School of Economics, based on interviews with 270 rioters, they were mainly young unemployed men. Half were black but they didn’t consider the disturbances to be ‘race riots.’

A report by an independent panel set up by the government says there are 5,000,000 ‘forgotten families’ in England who “bump along the bottom of society.” It paints a grim picture of this ‘bottom’: broken communities with young jobless who crave the designer goods they see advertised all around but cannot afford to buy.

“When people don’t feel they have a reason to stay out of trouble, the consequences for communities can be devastating – as we saw last August,” said Darra Singh, chair of the panel. But the nub of the matter is this: why did police kill Duggan, the act that lit the fuse?

We don’t know because a law — the only one of its kind in the world apparently — stops police from revealing evidence gathered from phone tapping. This week calls grew for amending it — led by none other than the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

As a result of the provision, an inquest cannot be held. “We’re in the dark now as we were in the beginning,” said Carole Duggan, Mark’s aunt. One compromise – because there are security implications – is for judges to be given the power to rule on individual cases.

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