Katharine Birbalsingh is the teacher who exposed the failings of the comprehensive school system at the Conservative Party conference last year. Katharine has been teaching in inner London for over a decade and plans to set up a Free School in south London to help to serve underprivileged children. Her book, To Miss with Love, is out now. Follow @Miss_Snuffy on Twitter to see what Katharine’s doing now. Katharine’s personal website is www.katharinebirbalsingh.com.
These riots were about race. Why ignore the fact?
What colour is Mark Duggan? Mark Duggan is the man who was shot dead by the police on Thursday in Tottenham. The Tottenham riots last night were sparked when people protested his death. This morning, I first heard of the riots on the radio, then on the television. I read articles on the internet. But oddly, no one would say what colour Mark Duggan was. No one would say the unsayable, that the rioters were, I suspect on the whole, black. Then, finally, Toby Young’s Telegraph blog post on the riots was published. Is Toby Young the only journalist out there who will dare say that these riots are about race?
Still, one paper did carry a photo of Mr Duggan. When I saw the photo, it confirmed what I knew instinctively: black youths once again have set London alight.
Some of the black kids I used to teach will tell you that the riots are absolutely justified. A number of adults would agree with them. Everywhere I read that the protest was understandable because “people are very angry”.
I’d like to know what they’re angry about. Mark Duggan is dead. He was shot by the police in a shootout. Duggan was in a minicab and shots were fired from both the cab and the police elsewhere. A police officer was hurt in the incident and a bullet was found lodged in a police radio. Either Duggan was shooting at the police or the driver of the minicab was. Either Duggan was in the wrong place at the wrong time and his death is a terrible tragedy – he was caught in the crossfire – or he shot at the police and the police defended themselves. Whatever the explanation, the police did not kill this man in cold blood.
Yet, a friend of Duggan who gave her name as Niki, 53, said marchers had wanted “justice for the family” and “something had to be done”. She said some of them lay in the road to make their point. “They’re making their presence known because people are not happy. This guy was not violent. Yes, he was involved in things but he was not an aggressive person. He had never hurt anyone.”
I wonder what “involved in things” means? I also wonder whether the police officer who was hurt at the scene believes Mark Duggan never hurt anyone. “Something had to be done”? She makes it sound as if the police are killing black people every other weekend and finally someone decided to take a stand.
At school I remember watching a presentation given to the kids by Trident, the Metropolitan Police Service unit set up to investigate and inform communities of gun crime in London’s black community. I didn’t know what Trident was then, and it struck me that all of the photos of people shot (the idea was to scare the kids) were black. So at the end, I approached one of the policemen and asked him what percentage of those involved in gun crime were black. I kid you not, but my question made this thirty-something white man who was, after all, trained to deal with the black community and its issues, turn pink.
He explained that about 80 per cent of gun crime took place in the black community. I smiled uncomfortably. But no, he said, it was worse than that. Then he told me that 80 per cent was black on black gun crime, and that of the remaining 20 per cent about 75 per cent involved at least one black person: black shooting white, or white shooting black. I pushed to know more. While he kept saying his stats were crude and he didn’t have scientific numbers, on the whole the whites who were involved in these shootings tended to be from Eastern Europe.
Was any of this ever mentioned in their presentation? Of course not. Just like the news about the Tottenham riots doesn’t mention race either.
Problems cannot be addressed unless people are willing to tell the truth. As with so many other things in this country, we stick our heads in the sand and refuse to speak out about it.