HEAVY handed policing and the use of the stop-and-search laws – reintroduced under the Blair government as an anti-terrorism measure – against young black people fuelled much of the anger and rioting that flared suddenly last August.
This was the conclusion of a lengthy study by the London School of Economics and the Guardian newspaper that interviewed 270 rioters.
Of those interviewed, 85 per cent cited anger at policing practices as a key factor in why the violence happened.
Many cited repeatedly being stopped and searched whenever they went outside their homes, seeing close friends and relatives treated with brutality and groups being rounded up who just happened to be in the same place but did not know each other and being treated as a gang.
The complaints were remarkably similar from rioters all around Britain – and very similar to those made 30 years ago to the Scarman inquiry into the Brixton riots of the early 1980s: police taking advantage of their powers to make life hell for people they just did not like – mainly because they were black.
The Association of Chief Police Officers said it was not surprised such a study saw police cited as a factor. “But August also showed the ability of our police to restore order using robust, common sense policing in the British way," it said.
The former Metropolitan Police Chief Sir Ian Blair and a Tory spokesperson made similar comments on the BBC’s Newsnight programme during a discussion of the report.
They were saying the reason why these rioters hated the police is because criminals always hate the police – completely missing the point that it is their approach that is criminalising a whole community.
One measure particularly irked many of the rioters. Previously police who stopped and searched youths were obliged to give them a written note with an account of what had happened and details of how and where to complain about inappropriate treatment.
The Con-Dem Coalition has done away with this as part of its “war on red tape”. But it leaves police unaccountable for the way they pick on people to stop and search and their victims with no redress.
The riots began on Tottenham two days after the police shot and killed Mark Duggan, a young black man, who turned out to be unarmed, contrary to police claims.
His family and friends staged a small demonstration to the police station, demanding to speak with senior officers for an explanation. The police ignored them for three hours until anger boiled over and the rioting began with the burning of a police car.
One rioter was on holiday when he heard about the riots but returned to take part. He said: “As soon as I saw that, I was happy, like. For some reason I just wanted to be there. I actually wanted to burn the cars," he said.
"What I've been through my whole life, police have caused hell for me... now was my opportunity to get revenge."
Interviewed on the BBC's Newsnight, he said the Government had made it hard to get jobs, cut people's benefits, and made university unaffordable.
"We thought, 'Okay, you want to financially hurt us?' We'll financially hurt you by burning down buildings. "That was the best three days of my life."
Meanwhile former Met Police Chief Lord Stevens has said he believes public disorder will be one of the major problems facing police over the next 18 months.
Launching a commission into policing in England and Wales set up by Labour, he said his feeling was that the coming months would be "very difficult".
He said he was worried about unemployment and rising crime – police would have to be "match fit" to cope.
Crossbencher Lord Stevens also stressed the commission would be non-political.