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Daily View: Comparing Saturday's riot to 1985

Clare Spencer | 09:53 UK time, Monday, 8 August 2011

Tottenham after the 1985 riot

Commentators ask if anything can be learned from comparing Saturday's riots in Tottenham to the nearby Broadwater Farm riot in 1985.

Chairperson of Operation Trident and a board member of London Crimestoppers, Claudia Webbe asks in the Guardian if the root causes of the 1980s uprisings were ever addressed:

"Think back, too, to 1985 and the Broadwater Farm uprising. Are we still talking about an area so fractured, steeped in inequality and disadvantage that a significant minority have no pride in their community and don't want to protect it? Those mindless thugs that destroyed people's businesses and livelihoods clearly had no sense of valuing their own surroundings - unless it was just a mob coming from elsewhere to cause destruction. But you have to ask the questions today: did we address the root causes or just paint over the cracks? Too many in Tottenham still face poverty, unemployment, and overcrowded housing. The haves and have-nots live side by side in London: there are wealthy areas in Haringey, yet the parts destroyed were at the heart of the ordinary community."

But Andrew Gilligan argues in the Telegraph that Tottenham has changed dramatically for the better since 1985:

"Then, the force's racism was unashamed and routine. Now, a single racist remark can end an officer's career. Then, the Met had 180 ethnic minority officers. Now, it has about 3,000. Relations between black people and the force have got better, and conditions in many parts of Tottenham have improved dramatically. In the third quarter of 1985, Broadwater Farm alone had 875 burglaries. In the same quarter of 2010, there were little more than 30 - in its entire ward - and fewer than 10 on the estate itself. Tottenham's unemployment rate is just over half what it was in 1985.
"Far from being a 'murder', the shooting of Mark Duggan does not, on the face of it, even seem comparable to the shooting of Cherry Groce and the death of Cynthia Jarrett. Mr Duggan was known to the police - they were trying to arrest him at the time."

The MP for the constituency David Lammy argues in the Times the relationship with police isn't the same as 1985:

"We still have our problems, but the relationship between the police officers on Broadwater Farm and the young people of the 2011 Farm would have been unrecognisable to their 1985 brothers and sisters.
"This trust has taken years to build, out of the spotlight. It has taken root in meetings and discussions and in the chance conversations when police officers and residents both realise that each is treating the other with respect. As I walked up Tottenham High Road yesterday morning, I spoke with a youth worker who was there in 1985 and was still there in 2011. Looking at the burnt-out wreck of the post office, he simply shook his head: 'This is worse than '85; five, six times worse.'"

Elizabeth Pears says in the Huffington Post that one thing that hasn't changed since she started her career reporting in the area is the anger:

"No matter how many steps the police believe they have taken to rebuild the relationship with the community, police cars still got booed when they drive through Farm, as Broadwater Farm is known. A dislike of the police is embedded in some Tottenham sub-cultures...
"Young people in Tottenham were angry in 1985 and they are still angry now. This is what needs to be addressed. It is young people with whom the powers that be need to reconnect with."

Local resident and English teacher Bansi Kara says in her blog New Stateswoman that she isn't 100% sure about the idea that the riots were part of a collective memory:

"These children don't know anything about Broadwater Farm. They don't even remember the Stephen Lawrence case. Mention 'institutionalised racism' and they look at you blankly. But, regardless of this, the culture of mistrust and suspicion against the police is endemic."

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