I am writing a longer and more reflective piece, but in the meantime here are five quick points about the riots in London and elsewhere:

This is not a rerun of the inner city riots that shook Britain in the late seventies and the eighties. Those riots were a direct challenge to oppressive policing and to mass unemployment. They threatened the social fabric of Britain’s inner cities and forced the government to rethink its mechanisms of social control.  Today’s riots may have made the Metropolitan police look inept, revealed politicians as out of touch and brought mayhem to some parts of London, Liverpool and Birmingham. But there is little sense that they pose a challenge to social order, in the way that the 80s riots did, or that they are in any sense ‘insurrectionary’, as Darcus Howe described those revolts. Rather today’s riots amounted to the trashing of some of the poorest areas in the city. On Friday night, when the riots began in Tottenham, there was some political content to the violence, an inchoate response to the shooting of Mark Duggan (whose death looks increasingly like a police killing rather than the outcome of an exchange of fire). By Saturday the riots had descended largely into arson and looting with little sense of political motive or cause.

The riots are not about race.  Many on the left have seen them as a response to racist policing. Many on the right have been pouring out racist bile against ‘immigrants’. In fact race has played little role in the violence. This is not to deny that young black men continue to be the primary target of police stop and search (an issue that has been shamefully ignored in recent years). Nor is it to deny that there is a legacy of bitterness about, and resentment of, police tactics in many inner city communities.  But the riots were not in any way defined by racial divisions, antagonisms or resentments.

The polarisation between the claim that ‘the riots are a response to unemployment and wasted lives’ and the insistence ‘the violence constitutes mere criminality’ makes little sense. There is clearly more to the riots than simple random hooliganism. But that does not mean that the riots, as many have claimed, are protests against disenfranchisement, social exclusion and wasted lives. In fact, it’s precisely because of disenfranchisement, social exclusion and wasted lives that these are not ‘protests’ in any meaningful sense, but a mixture of incoherent rage, gang thuggery and teenage mayhem.  Disengaged not just from the political process (largely because politicians, especially those on the left, have disengaged from them), but also from a sense of the community or the collective, there is a generation (in fact more than a generation) with no focus for their anger and resentment, no sense that they can change society and no reason to feel responsible for the consequences of their actions. That is very different from suggesting that the riots were caused by, a response to, or a protest against, unemployment, austerity and the cuts.

We should ignore anyone who talks about what ‘the community’ wants or needs.  So called ‘community leaders’ are very much part of the problem.

Mindless though the rioters may be, those who call for the army to be unleashed, curfews to be imposed, or ‘robust policing’ to be used, are more mindless still, and more dangerous.

(Apologies for a lack of links in the piece. I am off grid at the moment. I will update the piece with links later.)


  1. Magnus Andersson

    One rioter said he did what he did to see how the police would react. Is this the logical response after decades (?) of postmodernism — multiculturalism, and permissiveness with no personal responsibility within schools and authorities, also the police…?

    I know you’re against multiculturalism, but I also think that Melanie Phillips can continue to give her message…!

  2. Magnus Andersson

    …and, well, someone — i.e. the authoroties — has to start listen to Phillips too…

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  4. Russell

    Actually Kenan I don’t think the differences with the 80s are as stark as you say. When the first Brixton events broke out around Electric Avenue and in adjoining streets there was looting too. And I wouldn’t say that any sort of left – and that included people like Darcus Howe – had any sort of influence or cred with the youth who did the fighting. Yes, race was then a much bigger issue. The key difference now I suppose is the almost total absence (and I’m saying this from a distance) of a social layer at can be used by the state to move in and mediate the situation. There seems little prospect that the whole race relations industry approach can be repeated to take back control. It seems that people at ground level need to take seriously the need to build some sort of local structures that can take back their streets and impose some sort of order or this experience could become extremely destructive. The cops are not likely to do it without recourse to much more repressive measures. Isn’t it time that people stopped writing and talking about the situation as if they were mere spectators?

    • Good to hear from you Russell. Sure there was looting in Brixton – and in Tottenham, Handsworth, Toxteth etc – when has there ever been a riot without looting? – but such looting was incidental to the confrontation with the police / authorities. It’s true that the youths were not part of an organized political movement. But they had a sense of standing up for themselves, collectively, against racist police, a burning sense of social injustice and a desire for social change. There is little of that in today’s riots: no sense of being part of a collective or a community, no sense of a political protest, just an inchoate, nihilistic desire to cause mayhem.

      I agree with you that ‘people at ground level need to take seriously the need to build some sort of local structures that can take back their streets’. But to say that is to accept that what’s happening now is very different from what was happening in the 80s. And while you’re right about this, building such structures is, of course, even more difficult at a time when disengagement from one’s communities and erosion of the idea of collective action leads to the kind of arbitrary violence we have seen.

  5. Bryan Tookey

    Interesting – I look forward your longer piece. Please try to find some statistical evidence to back up growth of disenfranchised youth (e.g., proporiton of young people voting at elections, youth unemployment, number below poverty line, etc). Otherwise this could just be the same number of disenfranchised youth being better co-ordinated through social media. (If it is, then the problem is still the same – disenfranchised youth – but it is less obvious that anyone has done anything wrong

  6. Shirley Lawes

    I agree with you Kenan, but wonder what can be done now, given the situation as it stands. Following a ‘community clean-up’, should there be ‘community’ vigilante groups?

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  8. Your post brilliantly sums it up. I too would like to see some statistics on the disenfranchised youth. This is not, was not, a racially motivated crime, as much as the media seemed to have portrayed it to be with their images, it was a cry from the disenfranchised as a result of the downward spiral that this country is facing with the cuts.

    It is unfortunate that, for example, an unnamed girl who was filmed claimed she was looting to ‘take back our taxes’; it is a shame that the disillusioned youth of today have been raised to look up to hi-tech gadgets, trainers, and resort to looting and criminality to fulfill their materialistic satisfactions. All the meanwhile, the media, politicians and the ‘higher-ups’ of the law enforcement starts pointing fingers at each other for beginning / fueling the riots with social media etc. in the first place. A lot of factors from different aspects contributed towards this riot, not a single factor, so the ministers need to stop with the scapegoat search and chatter, roll our sleeves up and try, at least, to redeem ourselves a little ahead of the Olympics.

    If one has not watched this yet, this West Indian woman pretty much summed up what the majority of Londoners felt about the riots:

  9. Most of these comment are valid to a point …. but this is simple post-mortem, not a plan to resolve and more forward or more importantly stop this ! … it’s easy to criticisze, and i don’t agree with your No.5 point, and i notice no solution stated in there … when i hear a action point that can help finish this then i will concur till then .. those that propose sterner measures are the only ones that i can see getting a handle on this …..

    • Alex, it’s true I did not discuss solutions. It was a quick response to the riots, not a deep, reflective piece. Proper solutions, almost by definition, are not best formulated in a couple of lines. As for sending in the army, or imposing ‘robust’ policing – do we really want to normalize repressive tactics? After all, what does ‘robust policing’ entail? The use of water cannons? Rubber bullets? A more violent police response against the rioters? And what happens next time there is a anti-cuts demo or a strike that spills over into violence– once we normalize repression how do we stop the use of ‘robust policing’ to curtail political protests, too?

  10. I agree with alex Bogda. This is the type of situation where Cameron needs to show he is made of sterner stuff… having a mothers meeting with your parliment mates is not gonna do a thing. So what else is there?

  11. Joycelyn

    Such a well written piece and I totally agree with you on point four. The rhetoric from community ‘leaders’ seems to be more about their sense of injustice than anything else.

    I live off Mare Street in Hackney and when I arrived to see the area cordoned off, it felt as if we’d been dislocated from reality. An odd sensation of feeling barricaded in one’s own backyard. And for what?

    What we saw last night was aggravated bravado masking a deep insecurity. Yes some young people DO feel inferior and excluded – that the government must do more is a given.

    But the genuine protesters – not the arsonists or piss-takers – who want to play a part in society need to meet the government halfway.

    My fella told me last night how some ignorant woman was captured on camera singing a lame song about ‘babylon’ which is an old skool backwards term for the police.

    If that attitude is fed down to young people who already feel that the authorities and indeed their country is against them, you can see how toxic resentment will build.

    So yes community leaders, ignorant people, parents AND the government have a huge task – as do we all.

    This nonsense was bought to my doorstep last night – a lot of my mates (mid-30s) who are uber-liberal are calling for water cannons and the army.

    These are the after-effects of last night’s stupidity.

    Some young people may have a grievance but we cannot mollycoddle them. We can support and encourage, help and inspire but we can’t treat them as over-grown toddlers.

    The rioters last night need to wake up and fix up.

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  13. Simon

    I think you’re missing something. The past couple of years have seen an assault on these communities or sections within, by large sections of the media and the present government. We may not have mass unemployment on the scale of the 80’s, what we have seen is a relentless campaign against the poor, especially those on benefits. It’s not just the cuts, but the unrelenting and divisive propaganda put forward to justify them. The poor, those on benefits have been painted as the enemy within, as scroungers and wastrels. A them and us situation exists where many are alienated, feel under attack and unsurprisingly feel little attachment to a wider society that appears to despise them.

    • We do dispise them. You earn respect not the other way round. Just a bunch of wasters. Why do people stick up for these scum, their brain’s do not operate (process data) like decent people, yet the do gooder logic seems to think they do

  14. Meg

    everyone is entitled to their opinion, I dont always agree with other people. whilst you put your point of view across eloquently, you offer no arguement, solution, any real cause. If these riots have little sense that they pose a challenge to social order, what does? There is a real reason why this is happening. Even if it is thuggery and criminality, that is a problem for us as a society. What have we been teaching our kids? These young people are our future. These young people are the ones who are going to get us out of the economic mess we find ourselves in – this repsonsibility has been given to them, forced upon them, despite what little chance of economic success having been erased from their future.
    No, I do not agree with what is going on. No, I dont think there is any excuse nor reason for it. But lets not kid ourselves that it doesnt pose a threat to society. Its not just the burning embers and thwon bricks that will need to be cleaned up at the end.

    • Abigail Prentice

      I agree Meg, whatever the reason behind these “riots” it still has to be dealt with. Even if its just criminality and not social injustice, as a society we need to deal with it in a well thought out and evidence based way – no knee jerk reactions from anywhere

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  16. “In fact, it’s precisely because of disenfranchisement, social exclusion and wasted lives that these are not ‘protests’ in any meaningful sense, but a mixture of incoherent rage, gang thuggery and teenage mayhem.”

    It is interesting that before the age of 20 people who could be increasing their skill set have become so disenfranchised by policy or unemployment that they have chosen to resort to looting to make a statement. At what point do people take responsibility? Values can be taught in any economic situation, in fact some might say they should be stronger in tough times. The kids looting are simply doing what they have been taught to do, whether through inept parenting, socioeconomic situation or community complacency towards football gangs.

    Social safety nets are a privilege not a right, earn t and paid for by yesterdays workers, and given as a loan to the workers of tomorrow to ensure the progress of society. Are the looters ready to work if work is available, are they trained and skilled? or will the pay be too low and conditions too bad?

    Life is not what you get given, its what you make with it.

  17. ioi

    I just do not understand why is the police not breaking the skulls and beat the shit out of the rioters and instead defending themselves.That is poor policing.

  18. “Mindless though the rioters may be, those who call for the army to be unleashed, curfews to be imposed, or ‘robust policing’ to be used, are more mindless still, and more dangerous.”

    earlier in the piece you said “Today’s riots may have made the Metropolitan police look inept, revealed politicians as out of touch” yet i can only assume that you suggest, as no other suggestion is given, that you would have the looters continue till they run out of interest while the “inept” policing fails to protect the rest of the community from this “I me mine” mentality of the looters, under the dubious veil of disenfranchisement and unemployment.

    If you choose to endanger the community in which you live then you choose to surrender the privileges of that community and at some point, enough is enough, and that point has been reached and breached long ago. This is not a protest it is a mindless riot and looting. Enough.

    lock it down and send the offenders to community work and vocational training.

    • There is a difference between enforcing the law and repressive policing. As I wrote earlier in response to Alex, the normalisation of repressive policing will rebound most upon those fighting for progressive political change.

  19. Somewhere someone said that until you offer a solution, then what’s the point of an article (or words to that effect). You do this:

    then once the slate has a clean slate you start considering that everyone that breathes should be considered of value and put money back into helping at the ground level.

    you can posture all you want, you can say X, Y and Z should get off their arses and make something of themselves, you can whine that it isn’t (y)our problem sorting out lazy/stupid/wasteful [delete as desired] people’s lives out, but each time you do you show yourself up to be the blinkered, greedy, self-serving twat that you are and that you are possibly sociopathic.

    Britain Inc. has been blinding for a minority, tolerable for the middle classes and shat on the poorer and underclasses so much that the last 3 days finally happened. it definitely was opportunism and vandalism from many of them, but the anger and hatred wasn’t born from living a comfortable life with opportunity and a belief that this country gives a shit about them, was it?

    Britain Inc. is going down the toilet. The kids last night are a symptom, not a cause. You want to make this a better country, you grow up and address the hypocrisy and self-serving greed that is now institutionalised in our mentality.

    It really is that simple.

    • there is merit in the tax suggestion, minimum number of people inconvenienced for maximum result, political impossibility aside. It is how to “put money back into helping at the ground level.” that causes the problems.

      Community programs? Parks? Education? Welfare payments? Subsidies for manufacturing? Only one of these options is teaching the man to fish so to speak, which is education but this doesn’t address jobs and opportunities (subsidies does but we know it also reduces competition, big no no, and doomed to fail). Market conditions need to encourage the entrepreneur, small to medium size business needs to be encouraged (through tax breaks, low interest rates and simplified start up process) and programs run encouraging and educating people on small business set up. Competition laws strengthened to protect big business from creating Monopolies. These are but a few possible methods on the supply end of business.

      The question remains, but should not be a barrier to implementation, how many of these looters would take these opportunities?

    • Sen

      I agree with you both, but following on from EyeSeeSound’s reply, the real way to build community (or successfully implement anything) is to get buy in.

      If members of the community worked to create infrastructure to directly reduce their cost of living and build a better quality of life, it would take away the motivation to destroy it.

      With the advent of urban food growing solutions, low cost home base 3D “printing” and small wind/solar energy solutions, individuals could work to reduce their ongoing food, energy and even gadget/toy/other item costs going forward.

      Self sufficiency = lower costs = less desperation & a ‘constructive’ model for disillusioned individuals to follow.

      I work in the education and entrepreneurship sectors so know the real life limitations of the target audience – what we need is a simple framework, not encouragement to go out on a limb.

  20. Mike Anderson

    The key questions is why now and why in this way? There is certainly a sense of rage behind some of the protestors but a big part of this is crass opportunism. Simple as that. Some other thoughts though as to why this has exploded in the way that it has:

    1. Its school holidays and many of the people involved in this are kids. They are idiots – getting a criminal record will hugely damage their futures / job prospects
    2. This has spread like wildfire because of social media. The old days of phoning individuals is long gone. You can now e mail hundreds of people – so actions can snowball very quickly.
    3. There is a belief that the police / authorities cannot handle this which creates more opportunism.
    4. Are there individuals / groups fanning the flames eg by saying the police are too stretched? If so – who are they?
    5. Is this the first manifestation of a new social threat. Will it roll beyond our shores?
    6. Will a different social / justice / political approach need to be undertaken to nip this in the bud? If so, gulp – watch out. Whatever it will be will be tough.

    Let’s hope this subsides as quickly as it started….

  21. Amir

    I disagree with much of what you say but appreciate your articulation of what you believe are the core reasons behind recent events. As someone who struggles to align themselves with any specific political group I feel somewhat an political atheist. I wholeheartedly agree this is not an issue of race and certainly not a reaction to austerity measures. What I find heard to accept is your apparent sentiment. I am guessing where your political allegiances lie and I would ask why you and your fellow commentators continually neglect to comment upon the damage done by the previous government regardless of their best intentions. The current government appear to have opted for tough economic measures. America did not and now their credit rating has been downgraded. In less than a year many British citizens have proved themselves incapable of more frugal living. Indeed it is alarming how so many people feel that it s their right to live beyond their means, a feeling perpetuated by a media driven celebrity culture.
    I also believe that all the good will in the world is hopeless unless we are able to redress the current imbalance of rehabilitation and punishment. Sometimes a mistake can cause such irreparable damage that I find it questionable whether it is in the interest of society to see what we can to do to address the aggressor and ultimately ignore the victim.
    Finally, those in fortunate positions of power and income namely the financial world must also look inward at their contribution to the world’s mess. Just because you are legally entitled to incomprehensible monetary gestures from your companies does not mean you should accept them. Whilst the work involved is incredibly complex with far reaching effects you are so far removed from the ordinary citizens of this world and their daily struggles that you cannot even begin to empathise their situation. A loss on your part is a loss of your status and the luxuries you have become accustomed to receiving. A loss on their part is life-destroying.

  22. Jack Mackey

    I can see what it is you are saying, the rioters are only kids in there teens (and younger) and young adults. the police can not tell the kids from the adults, this ties their hands. There would be uproar if they were to hurt or injure a child. All the police can really do is wait it out.

    • Magnus Andersson

      Are all rioters kids?

      Don’t you think one can set in water cannon to stop these boys even if they are e g 16 years old? I don’t believe in very soft power here. (Also, isn’t some crimes begin at a lower age nowadays? Maybe a slight adjustments in punishment is needed, of course not in a hurry now, but later by parliament? I guess that’s sort of “anti-Malik”…)

  23. This seems to be spreading more rapidly. Word has come to me that Manchester city centre might now erupt into violence and mayhem as looters take to various mobile phone stores and what not.

  24. Patricia Kayden

    “Mindless though the rioters may be, those who call for the army to be unleashed, curfews to be imposed, or ‘robust policing’ to be used, are more mindless still, and more dangerous”

    How are curfews, robust policing or the use of the army mindless and more dangerous? Those are exactly the things that are needed.

    And as a Black female, I really don’t care about the race of the rioters — they’re criminals and should be dealt with harshly regardless of race. Punish them harshly so that they don’t engage in similar misconduct in the future.

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  28. Ragne

    I agree with your first three points and you’ve hit the nail on the head with point 3.

    In terms of finding a solution, Russell is right that we lack any sort of intermediary here. If parents had control over these kids, the rioting would have stopped by now. If ‘community leaders’, local MPs, community businesses, policiticans or the police had any influence over, or held the respect of, the rioters, the rioting would have stopped by now. How do we construct the sort of mediating social layer that can connect with these kids and bring them some dignity and respect for and empathy with those around them? It’s hard to see that a top-down, State-driven approach can be right. But will something really emerge organically?

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  31. M

    1 = Social commentary
    2 = Factual commentary
    3 = Socio-politico commentary
    4 = Very much wide of the mark and lacks knowledge of the thugs’ organisation via Blackberrys etc.
    5 = Egregious and impotent pseudo statements

    Overall marks 5/10. Content is interesting at times but occasionally factually incorrect. Problem focused rather than solution focused rendering the overall point of piece is less than obvious.

  32. > We should ignore anyone who talks about what ‘the community’ ..

    It’s the ‘the’ that’s wrong. Pretty sure the rioters were all parts of one or more community – no single individual, or one not confident of their role in their community, would venture out with police, dogs and rioters on the streets.
    Also I would expect them to be locals – either on their own ground, or close to it.
    And a big, big factor is their hatred of the police.
    And the damage caused is trifling compared with that caused by the banks – to whom the establishment and party-political/press/police complex has done nothing.


    And why do we only have riots under Tory governments? Any ideas?


  33. QFE

    “The polarisation between the claim that ‘the riots are a response to unemployment and wasted lives’ and the insistence ‘the violence constitutes mere criminality’ makes little sense. There is clearly more to the riots than simple random hooliganism. But that does not mean that the riots, as many have claimed, are protests against disenfranchisement, social exclusion and wasted lives. In fact, it’s precisely because of disenfranchisement, social exclusion and wasted lives that these are not ‘protests’ in any meaningful sense, but a mixture of incoherent rage, gang thuggery and teenage mayhem. ”

    It has been ridiculous to watch the polarised views developing that you must choose between hating what they are doing and understanding the cause(s). As if it were impossible to grasp both concepts at once.

    As for the rioters themselves, a more rational person of course can make their feelings felt in better ways, but a more rational person wouldn’t and haven’t been looting in this way.

    ‘Mindless thugs’ they might be, but why? How would a section of society who had missed moral lessons as basic as this make a clear intellectual argument about the situation they find themselves in? Would we be any different born into their situation?

  34. INja

    nice to see there is someone left in this country that still knows how to talk sense. between the politicians, the right winger, the rioters and corrupt media it’s hard to find anyone worth listening to these days.

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  36. jane a

    Look up Crown Heights. Kind of like this but it was an anti-Jewish hate crime. 3 days of assaulting, looting, and 2 murders while the cops did nothing to defend the victims. Issac Bitton and his child were pelted with bricks by a black mob for being Jewish while the cops stood by and did nothing to avoid angering the black mob more. Today it is referred to as a “dispute between communities”. Strangly enough, when whites did it to blacks it was called “hate crime”. That too was committed by predominently Afro-carribean and West Indies immigrants who to this day side with the lynch mob. The black lobby has made it taboo to fight back against violence when the people who are doing it are of darker complexion then yourself. Yankel Rosenbaum is to the 90’s what Emit Till was to the 50’s, except that no one will try to blame blacks for what happened to Emit.

    • As I have argued many times, what we now think of ‘communities’ have often been created by state policy, and by the imposition of identities upon people, and so-called ‘community leaders’ have been largely created by the state, owe their power to their relationship with the state, and whose views more often than not distort the diversity of opinion that exists within all communities.

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  38. Chris

    To start the water cannons would also give the police the belief that that is the right way to tackle these problems. People HATE the British police, and this wouldn’t help. That’s all, gotta go to bed

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  40. Malcolm

    I agree with Ms Bloom that it is not necessary to fall into the trap of false dichotomies.She says “it has been ridiculous to watch the polarised views developing that you must choose between hating what they are doing and understanding the cause(s). As if it were impossible to grasp both concepts at once”. I hope she would maybe agree after reflection that even ‘polarised views’ may only seem that way because of a need for brevity? After more prolonged discussion with people who apparently hold a polarised view one often finds they can well see other points of view but, because issues are complex, in order to make any kind of contribution to the debate, they must needs confine themselves to making a point succinctly but at a cost of being labelled ‘polarised’.

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  42. Well said. Point three is the most interesting to me. I’m not completely convinced that it is an issue of changing times or just a generational schism when it comes to “incoherent rage” versus “politicised action”. I’d bet that many rioters (particularly the young) as far back as Roman times were in to wanton destruction for ‘the kicks’ more than any ideological reasons. That said, the seeming absence of any coherent ‘point’ to the anger is profoundly disturbing.

  43. Interesting, number three seems to be saying that the two points of view are actually the same. It IS a reaction to unemployment, poverty and the good ol’ urban alienation, but that reaction has no goal, no shape, and no leadership, just an explosion of youthful energy, a sort of emotional fission.

    I’ve tried to argue this view elsewhere, a good deal less concisely before I read this excellent post, but unfortunately, that is generally pissing into the wind, as is usual with any “political” discussion. The lines are pretty clearly divided between those who see this as an attempt to institute social change (a dictatorship of the proletariat?) and those want the authorities to clamp down on these lazy wastrels (or, here the US, claiming they’d take care of it themselves). Like someone lost in an abusive relationship, no words can get them to see things otherwise.

  44. limbic

    Hi Kenan,

    In your second point, you say, and I agree, that the riots are not about race.

    But you seem to imply that police stop and search of young black men is motivated by racism and not good policing. When one looks at the facts of street crime in London at least, the overwhelming majority of street crimes are committed by young black males. They are massively overrepresented at offenders and there is, of course, a commensurate over representation in the stop and search figures. Stop and search is the chief weapon against mugging and other street crime (including knife crime).

    Since the vast majority of those murdered in street crimes are black, I would argue that Stop and Search saves black lives. This is something I think The Voice editor Mike best acknowledged years ago.

    For the street crimes info I was referencing, see .

    • I agree that disproportionality in the figures is not necessarily evidence of discrimination. I’ve made this point myself. Equally, of course, as that essay points out, the fact that disproportionate numbers of black people are arrested or imprisoned is not evidence of ‘black criminality’. What is striking about stop and search figures is that the over-representation of blacks has barely changed over the past two decades; that is, it has barely changed from the days when the police were openly racist, and stop and search quite clearly a means of harassing young black men. This, together with the testimony of many of those who get constantly stopped and search, suggests to me that, in this case, disproportionailty does mean discrimination.

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