Another black man assassinated on the streets of America.
Another black man’s spilt blood fuels the anger raging within African Americans like a wildfire.
From this rage, a riot emerges. Buildings burn. Placards are raised. Shops are looted. People attack. The police attack back.
As we watch several parts of America burn to the ground following the death, no sorry, the murder of George Floyd, we are once again reminded of what happens when black people have had enough of the brutality they are subjected to by racist police officers. They swore to protect lives but treat black lives as not worth protecting but destroying.
Rioting is not just a physical manifestation of hurt, angry and disenfranchised black people but a catharsis – a release of decades of oppression by those who have more power than them and abuse it to inflict suffering upon African Americans.
Thankfully, Britain is a much more tolerant country than its cousin across the Atlantic. I am proud to be Black British, and I do love being part of British society.
That being said, Britain is no black utopia. Sadly, nowhere really is. Not even Africa.
As much as the British try to bury it, history shows us that the English have not always been tolerant or even accepting of its black population. It is easy for us millennial black Britons to forget the struggle the previous generation went through when the first set of black immigrants from Jamaica arrived in the U.K. on the HMT Empire Windrush.
We've had black riots in the U.K. over several decades. As the British black community shows its solidarity with it African American counterparts, we should also look back on the black riots that have happened in the U.K. and reflect on how far Britain has come, and how long America still has to go.
1958 Notting Hill race riots
The Notting Hill race riots were the first type of riots specifically targeted towards Britain's then-burgeoning black community. Working-class white boys who wanted to keep Britain white carried out a series of attacks against West Indian families living in Notting Hill.
The riot erupted when a white Swedish woman named Majbritt Morrison, who was dating a Jamaican man in the area, was assaulted by a couple of white youths. Later that night, a mob of white people, around 400, began attacking West Indian houses for over a week until the police finally decided to intervene and arrest the perpetrators.
1977 Battle of Lewisham
Although Lewisham has a visible and thriving black community today, 43 years ago, it was an entirely different story. In the 70s, New Cross and the surrounding areas in South London was a hotbed for the National Front, a British political group who were mainly against multiculturalism, and neo-Nazis.
On Saturday 13th August on 1977, hundreds of National Front members marched through Lewisham. A counter-protest group, a mixture of anti-racist and anti-fascist groups and local black residents, confronted the National Front. Soon these factions were fighting amongst each other, and the police were brought to calm the clashes but only made the situation worse as they began attacking those demonstrating against the National Front.
1981 English Riots (Brixton, Chapeltown, Toxteth, Moss Side and Handsworth)
As I explore in my first novel, A Prophet Who Loved Her, the 80s was a challenging and alienating period for black Britons at the time. The introduction of the Sus laws, which gave police the power to stop, search and potentially arrest anyone they felt had committed a crime, was disproportionately targeted towards black youth.
The introduction and the subsequent abuse of the Sus laws by the police was the catalyst for several riots across the U.K. during this period. High unemployment and boredom among the black youth at the time were also contributing factors. The first wave of riots began in Brixton in April. A series of riots then happened in Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, and Birmingham, but to a much lesser extent).
1985 English Riots (Handsworth, Brixton, Broadwater Farm)
High unemployment rates among black Britons and the continued hostility between the police and the black community fed the fire of the riots that erupted across England during the Autumn of 1985.
Firstly, there was the riot in Birmingham which took place in Handsworth just like it had in 1981. Soon after that, Brixton experienced it second rioting when the police accidentally shot an old black woman named Cherry Groce during a botched arrest, an incident which plays a significant role in my novel.
With tension between the police and the black community at boiling point, the Broadwater Farm experienced its second riot due to another botched police raid which resulted in a black woman dying. The Broadwater Farm riot is notable in that it resulted in the brutal death of a police officer, PC Keith Blakelock.
1987 Chapeltown Riots
Following the violent arrest and assault of a young black man, around 70 youths began rioting in the Chapeltown area of Leeds. Again, high unemployment among the black youth and a fully realised and deep-rooted malice towards police were both significant, contributing factors.
1995 Brixton Riots
Ten years after its second riot, Brixton experienced its third one in 1995. Unsurprisingly, the uproar began following the death of a black armed robber who died while in police custody. What started as a peaceful protest outside Brixton police station quickly descended into a full-scale riot across the area.
For five hours, black and white youths turned Brixton into a warzone, just like it had become in the 80s. Missiles were thrown at police officers, cars were turned over, and buildings were vandalised. According to eyewitnesses at the time, the police behaved very aggressively towards the youth.
2011 England Riots
Anyone over the age of 20 who was living in London during this period would remember the 2011 England riots. I was 21 at the time and a recent graduate. Mark Duggan, a local man from Tottenham and a suspected gang member, was shot dead by the Metropolitan police when they stopped the minicab where he was a passenger.
News of his death quickly spread through London via Facebook, BBM (Blackberry Messenger for those of you who remember) and WhatsApp. I always refer to these riots as the 'social media' riots because social media apps played such a crucial role in the organisation of the rioting.
What angered people was that Mark Duggan had been killed when he possessed no handgun even though initial reports from the police said he had pulled out one on the police before being shot. For many of the older generation, Mark Duggan's death reignited the black community's scorn for the police.
Mark Duggan's death, as well as the high unemployment among the youth, were factors which, in my opinion, caused the 2011 England riots. I remember my BlackBerry going off constantly with people I knew asking me to participate in the looting in my local area. All I am going to say is I was young, but I was not dumb.
From the 6th-11th of August, various parts of England were subjected to these riots. First, it started in Tottenham and spread to other areas of London. Soon other cities such as Manchester and Liverpool, to name a few, had copycat riots which were organised by young people using social media and messaging apps.
Can the U.S. learn from the U.K.?
The 2011 England riots were the last in England with a racial element involving some form of police brutality against the black community. While I cannot say, hand to heart, that racism is well and truly gone from the U.K. (one word: Brexit), it's no longer as damaging as it used to be. Relations between the police and the black community is at least lukewarm, even if the mistrust still lingers quietly.
America is such a different animal compared to Britain that the improved police relations between the Metropolitan Police and the black community primarily comes down to British culture. The British did not want that level of smoke (literally and figuratively speaking) anymore. America, on the other hand, just seems to be escalating the violence as the latest reports on what's unfolding has shown the world.
In my opinion, the officer who killed George Floyd needs to be made an example of for this callous act. He needs to be punished with the full severity of the law, so police officers are deterred from killing another black man.
But on a deeper level, the police need to build bridges with the African American community, and this is no easy feat. Deep-rooted racism is too institutionalised within the American police and legal system. For the situation to improve, this racism needs to be eradicated like the cancer that it is to American society. More good police officers need to stand up to and call out those white police officers within their ranks who abuse the power and responsibility that the badge provides them.
If America does not deal with the racism that blights African Americans, then a riot will only be the start. England managed to avoid a race war. I am praying America will do the right thing before it finds itself in a full-scale one.