The events that took place between the 4th and 11th August 2011 in England paint a dark picture of the mood of a nation, and have become a culturally significant part of modern English history. 


The Riots, which began in London before spreading to other cities like Birmingham and Manchester, resulted in widespread looting and property destruction and have been described as “the worst bout of civil unrest in a generation.” 


Now with the 10- year anniversary of the riots last Monday, it is important to look back at how circumstances reached the point of violence, and how government response affected a post-riot Britain. 


The riots began as a gathering of around 300 people outside Tottenham Police Station protesting the fatal shooting of the 29 year old, mixed race man Mark Duggan by police two days prior, with the crowd demanding “justice” for Duggan and his family. 


At the time The Guardian cited part of the reason for their protests as being down to the “alleged failure by the IPCC to provide Duggan’s family and the local community with reliable information in the aftermath of his death.” 


However, Duggan’s death was simply the spark that ignited a country already at a boiling point. 


Although anger at the death of Duggan was repeatedly mentioned, even outside of London, in the data driven study into the causes of the riots “Reading the Riotsthis anger was rooted in a more fundamental frustration at people’s discriminatory treatment at the hands of the police. 


The findings suggested that this troubled relationship was due to a perceived lack of respect from the police, resulting in actions such as excessive  use of stop and search which was “felt to be targeted and often undertaken in an aggressive and discourteous manner.” 


This study also identified a number of other factors including increased tuition fees and the scrapping of education maintenance allowance. 


Unfortunately, a decade later, only a “handful” of the 63 recommendations in the After the riots report have remained in place, according to The Guardian, meaning circumstances today reflect the same suffered by many of the rioters in 2011.   


It appears that the only concrete change has been a turn towards a more draconian approach to protest policing, beginning in direct response to the riots with harsher, longer sentences for those involved accumulating in over 2,000 people facing imprisonment four and a half times longer than usual.  


This authoritarian response to protesting has become particularly evident with the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill that was drafted in March 2021, giving the police the power to shut down and criminalise any protest deemed too “noisy” or causing too much of an  “annoyance.” 


There is no evidence to show that this will stop a riot from breaking out. 


As the events of 2011 proves, the social order as it stands is unstable, and it has become evident that another riot like this is not impossible if things remain as they are, all it would take is another “spark.” 

photo via St-Andrews

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