On Tuesday 19th July 2016 the news cycle came to be dominated by the latest case of fevered panic over the social life of young black people in London. Front page headlines declared “the worst outbreak of youth violence since 2011 riots”. Online news feeds purported to show the moment when “mobs of youths” turned Hyde Park into a “warzone”. Since last Tuesday’s events, police officers across boroughs in London have been issuing hysterical warnings about “organised water fights in parks”.
In spite of the scant detail available about the events on the evening of Tuesday 19th, the consistent line to be pulled from the hyperbole of media reporting on the incident is that this was a peaceful gathering of young people who had organised a free event in an easily accessible public place. Again, these reports state that it was only when the police arrived in order to disperse the group that the disturbances began. We believe there is a direct causal link here. On one side the peaceful gathering of young people in order to enjoy a public park on the hottest day of the year at the start of their school holidays. On the other side the arrival of riot police to forcefully disperse this group, using their full array of weaponry.
Such actions on the part of the Metropolitan Police (MPS) are not without precedent, and in fact we would argue they are a structural feature of London policing. Historically the MPS have shown at best distrust – at worst open hostility – towards the convergence of young black people trying to take part in self-organised leisure activities. One example of this structural distrust from the past decade is Form 696, a piece of bar and nightclub licensing legislation which has been used to effectively remove the performance of Grime music from London’s nightlife. Whilst little to no evidence or accountability is given on the part of the MPS when putting Form 696 into action, it works on the lazy assumption that the music of young black working-class people presents an inherent threat to public order. Looking back even further, we can point to the case of the Mangrove Nine. The Mangrove was a Caribbean restaurant, bar and club designed to serve the needs of the local black community in Notting Hill during the 1960s. Consistently raided by the police for little reason other than its role as a social centre, a march by its patrons to protest against police harassment led to the arrest and charging of nine people.
We believe the incident at Hyde Park on Monday evening can be considered the latest in this pattern of institutionally racist behaviour when it comes to the policing of young black people in London. By extension, we fear that this police induced disturbance represents the latest manifestation of a renewed period of intensified brutality. London’s new mayor Sadiq Khan has signed off on 400 new armed police to patrol the streets, but the idea that this is intended to secure the ‘safety’ of Londoners is ludicrous. An increase of police guns on the streets clearly endangers the lives of working-class black, brown and immigrant communities who have to deal with abuse and harassment by the MPS and Immigration Enforcement officers on a daily basis.
According to the most recently available figures, black people are stopped and searched at just over three times the rate of white people across London and are three times more likely to be tasered by police officers. More black people are imprisoned in England and Wales as a proportion of the general population than in the U.S. However, the MPS time and again proves itself entirely incapable of providing avenues for black people to seek justice or accountability for this systemic violence: an investigation conducted by LCAPSV found that none of the 240 complaints of racial discrimination made against the MPS over a year were upheld. This is not the case of a few rotten apples, the MPS is institutionally racist and a danger to young black people in London.
Finally, we also note that during the disturbances sparked by the arrival of police in Hyde Park that people began chanting “Black Lives Matter”. This is no coincidence: recent weeks have seen the emergence of a BLM UK solidarity movement and demonstrations across the UK. This movement not only seeks to highlight police violence and murder in the U.S. but also speak to the 1561 people who have died in custody in the UK, or following other contact with police, since 1990, for which no police officer has ever been convicted. The dire consequences of this situation was made even more apparent following the recent death in police custody of Mzee Mohammed in Liverpool. As is often the case with the deaths of black and brown people at the hands of the police in this country, little to no information has been released on Mohammed’s death and no action has been taken against officers. For us the chants of “Black Lives Matter” during the altercations with police on Monday evening shows us that young black people are conscious, active and politicised in the U.K. They do not deserve the hysterical demonisation they have received in the media. Instead they deserve our solidarity, respect and support.