August 2011, Week 3


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Thu, 18 Aug 2011 20:36:32 -0400
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Riots Were Political. They Were Looting, Not Shoplifting;
Black Journalists Condemn UK Riot Coverage

1. These Riots Were Political. They Were Looting, Not
Shoplifting (Gary Younge in the Guardian (UK))

2. Black Journalists Condemn UK Riot Coverage by BBC
(National Association of Black Journalists)


These Riots Were Political. They Were Looting, Not

    The riots cannot be explained by criminality or
    deprivation alone. But they were unwise and failed to
    advance any cause

By Gary Younge
Guardian (UK)
August 4, 2011


I remember his face. I was on the Boulevard St Michel on a
student demonstration. A posh-looking man sitting in a
restaurant near the window looked up at the protestors and
sneered. I'd seen that look before. I'd been studying in
Paris for a few months by then. I'd seen it on the faces of
the cops who had beaten me up in the metro and those who
stopped and questioned me almost daily, or the landlords
whose available flats disappeared when I showed up. It was a
look that told me I didn't matter and couldn't do a thing
about it.

On the Boulevard St Michel a young black kid also saw the
sneer, walked coolly up to the window, and kicked it in. And
between the shards, the face of the man at the table
contorted in fear as the thin film that separated him from
chaos collapsed. The kid walked off laughing.

I can't tell you why he did it. You could not justify it
strategically or morally. What I can tell you is, at that
precise moment, given the few options available, it felt
like an appropriate response. Sometimes, even when it is not
possible to fathom the direct cause of an event, the context
in which it took place offers many clues.

So it is with the recent riots. Attempts to establish a
definitive reason for what happened last week inevitably
implode under the weight of their own dogma. With unrest
sprawling over various nights in various cities with
different targets and intensity, the situation is too
complex for any one template.

True, the initial riots in London's Tottenham did have a
direct cause - the fatal shooting of Mark Duggan by the
police, who then refused to engage with his family and
supporters about the circumstances of his death. It's
unlikely the other riots would have followed without this
one. And yet even as the fires burned in neighbouring
Hackney a few days later, no one chanted his name or made
demands on his behalf. And so it was that a political
demonstration which ended in violent disorder triggered a
series of unrelated violent disorders devoid of any
political coherence.

But while the precise cause may be elusive, the general
context is clear. Last week's calamities unravelled as
though on a split screen. On one half the contagion of the
street, as the rioting spread, on the other the contagion of
the markets as stocks plunged.

Long before it became clear that we were heading for a
double-dip recession, the notion that a single dip on this
scale would cause social unrest was not just predictable but
predicted - not just by the left but by, among others, the
guardians of global capital.

Warnings came from the new head of the International
Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde; the police; the ratings
agency Moody's and the UN's International Labour
Organisation. As the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg,
pointed out before the last election, the likelihood of
unrest would be exacerbated under conditions of economic
austerity: "Imagine the Conservatives go home and get an
absolute majority, on 25% of the eligible votes," Clegg
said. "They then turn around in the next week or two and say
we're going to chuck up VAT to 20%, we're going to start
cutting teachers, cutting police and the wage bill in the
public sector. I think if you're not careful in that
situation . you'd get Greek-style unrest." The Tories got
23% of the eligible vote. Despite not winning an absolute
majority, it all happened anyway.

Despite historian David Starkey's best efforts, the
epicentre of Britain's moral panic moved from culture to
class. The primary challenge of integration, it transpires,
is convincing a sizeable section of British youth, of all
races, that they can be integrated into a society that won't
educate or employ them.

Insisting on the criminality of those involved, as though
that alone explains their motivations and the context is
irrelevant, is fatuous. To stress criminality does not deny
the political nature of what took place, it simply chooses
to only partially describe it. They were looting, not shop-
lifting, and challenging the police for control of the
streets, not stealing coppers' hubcaps. When a group of
people join forces to flout both law and social convention,
they are acting politically. (The question, as yet
unanswered, is to what purpose.)

In any case, far from being strange bedfellows, criminality
and politics have always cohabited quite happily. Less than
a month ago, some of those now bellowing for more law and
order (the Murdoch press), the people who are supposed to
enforce law and order (the police), and the people who make
the laws (politicians) were caught red-handed either
committing or colluding in a range of systematic criminal
acts during the phone-hacking scandal.

But likewise, insisting on economic deprivation, as though
that is the sole context and alone explains their
motivations, is only marginally less fatuous. While it was
the young who took to the streets, this was not a Greek-
style uprising, let alone a distant cousin to the Arab
spring. Riots can produce tangible, progressive results. But
beyond Tottenham, those who took to the streets last week
failed to advance any cause, embrace any ideal or articulate
any agenda.

This places them firmly in the context of a weak an
ineffectual left that has failed to reinvent and
reinvigorate itself in the face of a deep economic crisis.
It marks a generational failure. In the absence of any
community leadership, viable social movements or memory of
collective struggle, the most these political orphans could
hope to achieve was private acquisition and social chaos.

The fact that their actions were political does not
therefore make them wise. The primary consequences will be
greater authoritarianism, more police powers and an
emboldened far right.

While in Spain in March, I asked Ignacio Escolar, the author
of the country's most popular political blog, why there had
been no demonstrations when the youth unemployment rate was
43%. "It's like there is oil on the streets," he said. "All
it needs is a small spark and it could blow." Nobody knows
where the next spark in Britain will come from. But last
week we saw that our streets too are highly flammable

[Gary Younge is a Guardian columnist and feature writer
based in the US. He was formerly the paper's New York
correspondent. His most recent book is Stranger in a Strange
Land: Encounters in the Disunited States; he is also the
author of No Place Like Home, published in 1999.]


Black Journalists Condemn UK Riot Coverage by BBC

Minority News
August 17, 2011



After several incidents at the BBC related to their handling
of race and the recent London riots , the National
Association of Black Journalists has issued an open letter
of concern scolding the news organization.

The letter begins by saying that the NABJ "is disappointed
to learn that the BBC, an organization long known for
accuracy and impartiality, is failing to adhere to its own

The group's anger with the world's largest broadcaster stems
from what they feel is the BBC's "inflammatory treatment of
race in light of London's recent riots." The letter cites
several incidents that display a "stunning lack of
sensitivity" and ask whether they display "shocking
incompetence or racism."

One particular incident of concern took place during a
phone-in session on the BBC's radio program World Have Your
Say. Listeners were asked "Is there a problem with young
black men?"  Implying that the rioting was only done by
young black men.

The full text of the letter follows.

Dear BBC:

The National Association of Black Journalists, the oldest
and largest organization of black journalists, is
disappointed to learn that the BBC, an organization long
known for accuracy and impartiality, is failing to adhere to
its own values.

In the height of recent riots in Britain, the BBC
simplistically asked on the global phone-in program World
Have Your Say, "Is there a problem with young black men?"

In asking such a question, the BBC offended many in its
global audience. The question infers that young black men
were the only ones rioting and looting, which we find to be
inflammatory. If that's the case, we call on the BBC to
provide the proof. We are struggling to understand this
stunning lack of sensitivity because the BBC has a
longstanding reputation of integrity, accuracy and
impartiality with very clear editorial guidelines.

In another incident, the BBC allowed historian David
Starkey, a guest on the Newsnight television program, to say
that "whites have become blacks" in reference to the race of
rioters. Even more disturbing, the Newsnight presenter did
not challenge that bizarre assertion - on a program that
regularly holds people accountable for their views. By
allowing the comment to go unchallenged, was the BBC
agreeing with the inference that becoming black is
monolithically synonymous with being violent?

All of this in a week when a BBC presenter inaccurately said
that veteran civil rights campaigner and broadcaster Darcus
Howe had been involved in previous riots when in fact he was
not and had to correct the presenter on-air.

Is this just a case of shocking incompetence or racism -- as
others have said? Why have black people in Britain not been
afforded the same respect given to others? Why is the
assumption that if something is negative pertaining to black
people it is deemed acceptable by the BBC? What happened to
the BBC's duty to provide accurate and balance reporting?
This raises the question of whether the BBC's senior
editorial ranks need better racial and philosophical
diversity to avoid being blind to such insensitive

NABJ represents black journalists worldwide. We call on the
BBC to return to practicing the type of journalism that has
won it international acclaim. We will continue to monitor
the BBC to ensure that its reporting about blacks lives up
to its own values.


Gregory H. Lee Jr. 
NABJ President



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