HC 1456 Home Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Stafford Scott

1. It is usual practice when someone is killed that their personal details are not made public until the next of kin has been informed. Mark Duggan’s family saw in headlines that he had been killed as a result of a “terrifying shoot-out”. Why such a difference in treatment? I was one of those who went to Tottenham police station on Saturday, with members of his family, to get an official acknowledgement that Mark had been killed. No official confirmation had been given to the family. As a community we were outraged they were being treated with such disregard by both the Met and the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).

2. Why, 10 years after the Macpherson inquiry reported on institutional racism in the Met, should it still occur? We are from Tottenham: we have seen Cynthia Jarrett, Joy Gardner and Roger Sylvester killed by the police and do not expect finite answers from an investigation that has barely begun. All we really wanted was an explanation of what was going on. We needed to hear directly from the police. We waited for hours outside the station for a senior officer to speak with the family, in a demonstration led by young women. A woman-only delegation went into the station, as we wanted to ensure that this did not become confrontational. It was when the young women, many with children, decided to call it a day that the atmosphere changed, and guys in the crowd started to voice and then act out their frustrations.

3. I am appalled, dismayed and horrified by the level of destruction that took place. I would not defend the indefensible; however I would like to provide an insight into the mindset of someone willing to burn down their own neighbourhood as I believe that on this point, little has changed since the disturbances on Broadwater Farm 26 years ago.

4. To behave in this manner young people have to believe they have no stake in the neighbourhood, and consequently no stake in wider society. This belief is compounded when it becomes a reality over generations, as it has done for some. If the riots at the weekend and the disturbances around London today have come as a surprise to the police and that wider society, the warning signs have long been there for those of us who engage with black youths.

5. First, looting comes from the belief that if you cannot get equality and cannot expect justice, then you better make sure that you “get paid”. “It’s all about the money!” is the motto of too many young black men, who have given up all hope of attainment in a white man’s world. This is an absolute belief for those looting at the weekend—born not only out of their experiences but their parents’, too. They want to follow the rappers and athletes who live ghetto-fabulous lifestyles based on natural talents, as opposed to learned skills. They cannot see that coming through education: those who live on estates generally survive from one wage packet to the next. Sadly this mindset also makes it easier to legitimise the selling of drugs, as that too “brings in the money”.

6. Another sign was when they allowed themselves to be referred to by the n-word. They weren’t simply seeking to reclaim a word. They were telling the world that they were the offspring of the “field negro”, not the trained “house negro” from slavery days. The field negro’s sole intent was to escape, and maybe even to cause a little damage to the master and his property.

7. A third obvious sign of major discontent was the creation of gangs and the start of the postcode wars. Yet all of these signs were largely unheeded by wider society: all perceived to be a black problem. It’s black kids killing black kids, so it’s our problem to address.

8. I believe that my past and my present gives me a unique understanding of this problem and the issues that the Select Committee seeks to investigate. As someone who was at both of Tottenham’s “riots”, that is on Broadwater Farm in 1985 and at the outset of the recent riot in Tottenham on 7 August I would like to provide a perspective on the recent events that took place following the shooting of Mark Duggan on 4 August.

9. I was born and raised in Tottenham. Tottenham is where I was educated, I was a child of the Windrush generation, and my generation were the first to enter into the education system en masse. They were not prepared for us, unable to handle difference they excluded and expelled us in disproportionate numbers.

10. When I was eventually expelled from school I continued my education on the streets of Tottenham, choosing to “hang out” with all the other black kids who had failed or been failed by the education system.

11. The first time that I was arrested was under the old Suspicious Persons Law, I was arrested for Sus. Six of us were arrested outside of Marlborough Magistrates court, by five Flying Squad officers. We were accused of having attempted to “dip” the handbags of three foreign looking women, none of whom were produced in court. Of course we were found guilty; it was our word against theirs. The four from our group who had previous were sent to Detention Centres. Two of us without previous were fined and given criminal records. The thing is we were not simply victims of mistaken identity, these crimes did not happen! The five police officers had been in the same courtroom that we had been in all through the morning session and into the afternoon.

12. I can let you have the rest of my CV but nothing has helped to mould and shape me as much as the incidents I mention. I went so far off of the rails that I didn’t think I could ever find my way back. But, I did! I was a community worker on Broadwater Farm in the 1980’s. I became the spokesperson for the Broadwater Farm Defence Campaign after the disturbances in 1985. I was a friend of Roger Sylvester and Cynthia Jarrett. I spent three years as the Director of the Bernie Grant Trust’s Community Leadership Programme. I have been an advisor to the Mets Trident Unit for four years, and established a black advisory group to engage with the Met locally in Tottenham, BIAG. In addition, I work freelance as a specialist in providing support to the public sector to meet the statutory requirements originally set out in the Race Relations Amendment Act. I am the author of A Dialogue of Equals, which I wrote to support the NHS improve its engagement with minority groups, whilst at the Department of Health.

13. I am also one of those people who all too often are dismissed as being an unelected representative of the Black community. It is true that I am unelected, having never stood in a formal electoral process. However, on 4 August the day of Mark Duggan’s death, my phones went ballistic. Members of Tottenham’s black community, including Mark Duggan’s family, asked me for help, to come and give my support, and to share my experience with them.

14. Many spectators and commentators have drawn comparisons between the August Riots 2011 and the riots of Brixton, Toxteth, Manchester, Bristol, and Broadwater Farm of the eighties. The majority of them seem to agree that Britain is a far more tolerant country today than it was 30 years ago.

15. For example, on one of the BBC News programmes last month, Edwina Curry rebuffed Darcus Howe for linking the August riots 2011 with the riots and disturbances of the 1980’s by stating “You cannot link what we are seeing today with the 1980’s, racism was almost respectable back then!”

16. Herein lies the problem! British society, white British society that is, tends to accept allegations of racism retrospectively, but never in real time! Edwina Curry’s Conservative Government of the 80’s steadfastly refused to accept that racism was the root cause of the riots. Her Government chose instead to dismiss it as “wanton criminality”. And, just like the Government of today, their response was to demand that the judiciary gave exemplary sentences to those convicted of participating in the riots.

17. Today, however, it is widely accepted that racism and oppressive policing were the key ingredients that ignited the inner city riots of the 1980’s. Whilst it is a good thing that our experiences are finally being acknowledged by those who were in power at the time, to do so now is not helpful. Acknowledging a wrong twenty years down the line means that you can no longer engage with the “victims” of that wrongdoing to assess the impact that it has had on them.

18. The failure to acknowledge these wrongdoings in “real time” has helped to create a sense of powerlessness, isolation and marginalisation that many in grass roots black communities have been unable to overcome in later life.

19. Racism, especially institutional racism, is not a victimless crime. Its impact can be devastating and life changing. That’s why, as a community, we welcomed the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, and the defining and public acceptance of the term “institutional racism”.

20. However, accepting that institutional racism is a reality is not the end of the road, in terms of race relations in the UK, far from it. The acceptance that institutions may unwittingly be perpetrating racism through their policies, practices or procedures should have bought us to a crossroads in race relations. It should have created an opportunity for us all to learn from each other.

21. It should have provided an opportunity for those in power, and those leading these institutions, to develop a meaningful understanding of the impact of institutional racism on communities such as mine, in Tottenham or Hackney, Lewisham, Lambeth, Enfield, Wood Green and all the other localities where rioting occurred in August 2011.

22. Instead, the public sector has turned the legislative requirements into a bureaucratic tick box exercise, and those groups whose experiences demanded such legislation have been terribly let down.

23. We seem reluctant to talk about the impact of institutional racism on black communities, because some White people, especially those in authority, appear to feel uncomfortable talking about race on any level. And, there are too many black community leaders who, in wanting to keep on the good side of those in power, seek to placate their sensitivities by trying not to bring it up at all.

24. Unfortunately we cannot dismiss the impacts of the past this easily as it is what is fuelling the present. If we continue to do so then we do this at our, and your, children’s peril.

25. For far too many people in authority the coining of the phrase “institutional racism” and the strengthening of the Race Relations Act, was seen as being the panacea to institutional racism.

26. But, in seeking to adopt this approach the Government and public sector has sent out an almost subliminal message to the black community that institutional racism is a victimless crime, which is all about processes and not about people. For too many black people nothing could be further from the truth!

27. For my community institutional racism meant that thousands of black children were sent to Educationally Sub Normal schools, ESN, without having any special needs. Numerous ILEA reports and the seminal Rampton reports clearly confirm this to have been the case. As those writing the reports could not be ignored those in authority responded by admitting that this was a shameful practice that should never be repeated in future. This was great news for those coming into the education system but what did this mean for those who been wrongly sent to ESN schools? Absolutely nothing!

28. People thought that such recognition, even in retrospect, would have a significant impact on the life chances of the excluded child. That’s what we used to think, that’s why we “rebelled” against it. For us the riots were never solely about policing. We now know that if you mess up the education of a few children, with the right support they can develop other useful skills or be helped to catch up. But if you mess up the education of thousands of kids from the same community, then, you mess up the future of that community for generations to come.

29. Then there were the use of Stop and Search and the abuse of the Sus laws (see Lord Scarman’s report). The Sus laws were eventually repealed, but once again as a society we chose not to examine the impact that having young people criminalised, in such large numbers, would have had on the black community.

30. I cannot find the words to explain the anger and resentment that I felt at being arrested and criminalised for a crime that I had not committed. But, I wasn’t the only one; there was an army of black kids out there, who had also been through the same experiences.

31. Some, like me, have endured them all; that is exclusion, expulsion, and criminalisation. Imagine what this could do to an individual, then multiply it a thousand times over to begin to have an understanding of the impact it will have on any one community.

32. The full implications of this needs to be properly understood before we can speak of solutions, as the residue of this impact still festers away, in some parts of our community, today, like an untreated sore. This is the source of the poison that inflicts parts of the grass roots black community and, as a direct, or indirect, consequence still infects our young ones today. I am not trying to say that all black people experienced this, but enough of us did to make it an all too common occurrence. At its most basic it led to a deep rooted cynicism and mistrust of some of the UK’s most symbolic institutions, eg schools, the police and the judiciary, and a reluctance to engage with or to use them. Our sense of marginalisation was then further compounded when these institutions made no attempt to address our concerns. Instead they chose to dismiss us as being “hard to reach” when in reality we had made ourselves easy to ignore.

33. We tried our hardest to turn our backs on these institutions thinking that if we ignored them we could somehow make them less relevant and therefore less likely to cause us pain. We were wrong as these institutions are the very bedrock of any civilised society; we should have tried harder to change them.

34. It is critical that we understand this: the young people who took the streets in August 2011 didn’t start this; they were born into it! They are the children and grand children of the “easy to ignore”, whether they be black brown or white!

35. There is an additional layer that needs to be understood before we can move on to the current situation. This is the issue of leadership. As a young child you look to your parents for guidance and leadership. Many of our parents were unable to provide that leadership for us as they themselves were experiencing racism for the first time too. As our parents were unable to fulfil the leadership role, we began to come together to provide support and protection to each other. Somewhere along the line it seems that we made a decision that was going to impact on us for decades and generations to come. We took to the streets!

36. The facts are that as far as we were concerned the racists controlled the institutions; and our parents controlled our homes, with a rod of iron. So we took the streets and created the “frontlines”. The frontlines were where most of the local self help initiatives were developed, but it also became the spot where most of the “hustlers” congregated, and where the flash points with the police occurred. All of the riots of the 80’s took place on or around the frontlines, and as a result those who took part were often referred to as the community’s soldiers.

37. In 1985 I vehemently defended the rights of my community, the black community of Broadwater Farm, to defend itself against racist attacks by the police. I still think that that at the time this was an appropriate course of action as no one else sought to defend us. However, it is clear that the establishment of the frontlines was a misguided and regressive act. It’s an act that our young are still playing out and paying for.

38. Ironically, those young kids who can so easily pick up a blade and push it into the bodies of other kids who look like just them, think of themselves as soldiers too, as they see themselves as defending their Endz.

39. The Endz only came about as a result of the breaking down of the frontlines. It became impractical to have such large gatherings of black men without them coming under the close scrutiny by the police, so when cocaine became a commodity those who chose to peddle it recognised the need for smaller less conspicuous spots to hang out and do their thing. This spawned the birth of the Endz, local territory for local crews.

40. The key point nowadays is that these youngsters have grown into and grown up in a time when the ethos has been around defending their Endz, for obvious reasons, so it has become a principle. It is no longer about making money, so it’s not always about drugs, it’s just a principle.

41. The majority of them are unaware how it all started, they probably don’t even care as it has become a way of life. It is all that they know, it is ingrained in them and unless we can help these kids and the adults who reinforce this mentality in them, ain’t nothing ever gonna change!

42. This is where the “hood mentality” has evolved from. There are hundreds of “invisible” leaders in the “hood” And, as some of the proponents of this lifestyle appear to be living well, that is they are blinging, it has a seriously seductive pull for many of our young people so these guys then become their role models.

43. If you add to this the fact that policy makers keep on making the same old mistakes, when responding to the issues that all of this throws up, eg the use of exemplary and punitive sentences which simply reinforces the cynicism of this group of black people you will begin to understand why there is an everlasting supply of new soldiers for the Endz to utilise.

44. I do not want to create an unnecessary link with suicide bombers but that’s the same kind of thing that’s happening in the “hood” on a daily basis. Some young black people see themselves as martyrs to “the cause”. They are imploding instead of exploding, but the process is the similar as it is one borne out of a sense of frustration, disaffection and marginalisation.

45. Added to this there is also a growing sense of fatalism that means that no amount of punitive responses will ever stop them. Telling these kids that you are going to lock them up for even longer is akin to telling someone strapped with a bomb “Stop or I’ll shoot!”

46. The solution is not to have a war on young people or even on gangs. The war has to be on the mindset that too many young people have adopted. You cannot imprison a mindset you have to undermine it and prove it wrong.

47. Nowadays it’s not just the black kids who are buying into this, it’s all of them. The Endz is an area it is not a gang, there might be any number of different groups of kids who live in the same locality. They are now expected to come together to defend their turf as it belongs to them all, but this does not make them a gang, although, it can all too often make them a target of other crews. This is why it has become so widespread. It is true that some black kids are at the fore of this but this is only because of the experiences from the frontlines, but if you locked up every single one of them the situation will not have been addressed, as other groups will simply take their place. You only have to look to America for the evidence to substantiate this.

48. Policy and law makers have to understand this properly as there is a cancer in our community and it has to either be treated or be cut out. It is in all of our interests that this is done sooner rather than later. However, the level of debate that I am witnessing focuses on the symptoms and not on the causes. It is focussing on the very tip of the iceberg not the whole mass. If you were weeding your garden you wouldn’t expect to kill the weeds by cutting off their tops, you know you have to deal with the roots. And, you’d know that if you did not clear them effectively they will simply re-grow, more resistant than the time before.

49. In many ways, weeding out the bad youths is similar to weeding the garden; you can take those kids and do what you want with them. But, if you return them to their Endz they will get re infected and become ever more resilient to change. To change them you have to engender a cultural shift that involves and includes the whole community.

50. This cultural shift works both ways: grass roots communities will have to accept that the situation that we find ourselves in today is as much about how we responded to the racism that we faced as it is about the racism our young still face. It is now undeniable that some of us took a path that has directly contributed to the situation that we face today.

51. It follows, then, that in accepting that we have to shoulder some of the blame, we also have to accept that we have a responsibility to be a part of the solution. In fact it’s even deeper than that, it actually means that there can be no solution without our full involvement.

52. For those that make policy and pass laws achieving the cultural shift will require that you will have to recognise that you will also need to learn some new tricks. The first thing you will need to learn is that you have a lot to learn.

53. We are all learning, and what we gain from this experience can be used to help other communities to integrate without having to go through the same disruptive cycle that my community has had to.

54. To enable this to happen we need to have a wider debate than that which is currently taking place. Critically, those that are involved as community representatives and leaders must be there with the consent of their communities.

55. They cannot be self selected or appointed by those in authority. My old friend and mentor Bernie Grant used to say that “White leaders were following a corrupt practice by hand picking black community representatives, which meant that they were not listening to the authentic voices of the community and as a consequence they have no idea of the true level of dissatisfaction, cynicism and disaffection that is simmering within black communities up and down the country”.

56. I hope that you will not think that what I have written is self gratuitous, it is not it is written in the hope that we can begin a new dialogue, one that is built on honesty and a willingness to learn.

57. If invited to give evidence I can, as a result of my past and my present, not only tell you why and how the riots on 7 August happened. But, I can also tell you how to bring hope and the notion of personal responsibility back to these most marginalised of communities.

September 2011

Prepared 22nd December 2011