Naeem Malik

The riots sparked by the death of Mark Duggan started in Tottenham and spread to Birmingham on Monday the 8th of August. By early morning the next day three young Asians were dead. The link was direct, if Mark Duggan had not been killed, if the protests outside the police station in Tottenham had not been mishandled, then perhaps all of what happened in the inner city areas of Britain last week would have not happened and in Birmingham three young Asian men would not have lost their lives.

But the West Midlands Police learnt no lessons either from their own past or from the mistakes their colleagues of the Metropolitan Police force made in London over the previous weekend.

For years the West Midlands Police Authority, particularly its Chairman have been held in very low esteem by the inner city communities of Birmingham. In 2010 the Police authority and  Birmingham Council installed a ring of cameras around the predominantly Muslim areas of inner city Birmingham. When these cameras and their link to a National Database administered by the Anti-Terror unit were discovered there was a huge public uproar resulting in the police force and the Police Authority having to publicly apologize to the community and remove the cameras. Three million pounds had been spent in the installation of the cameras and there were further costs involved in their subsequent de-commissioning.

Following the camera debacle the West Midlands Police promised to build bridges with the inner city communities in Birmingham. We were yet to see any progress in that respect when the riots happened.

Over the years tensions had also built up between communities in certain inner city areas. A few years ago, conflict spilled over into the streets of Birmingham between the African-Caribbean and Asian communities. Since then there has been an uneasy peace between them but the way the Police are handling the riots may well result in inter-communal tensions again coming to the fore – providing a diversion from their own racist actions and inactions.

The hasty Peace Rally held at the weekend seems to have been engineered by the Police, leaving many people unhappy. The dead had not even been buried when the rally was held and among Muslims, and in fact in most other faiths, no public activity is supposed to be engaged in until the dead are buried. Yet, despite all this, the Police Authority instigated a public Memorial Peace Rally at the weekend. The community was unease about this on several counts. Apart from the haste, with which the rally was arranged, musical instruments were played during the event again violating the tradition of the communities which had lost their sons. But perhaps even more dangerous was the fact that Unity rally looked as if it was uniting against those who had protested against the killing of Mark Duggan and particularly the disenfranchised Black youth. Among the 333 who died in Police custody since 1988 is Mikey Powell who died in the custody of the West Midlands Police in 2003. Mikey Powell family has yet to receive justice.

Birmingham cannot be an island isolated from the rest of the country. A great deal needs to be done to repair our so-called “broken communities” in the city but the repair can only begin by answering the anxieties that the riots exposed. First and foremost there has to be a credible answer to why is there so much suspicion about the law enforcing authorities nationally and in Birmingham. We need to learn why so many of the inner city youngsters feel so alienated from the society and feel they have nothing to lose. We know they are not stupid, therefore there has to be valid reasons that need addressing and addressing urgently. Dividing communities or bringing in draconian methods of policing or heavy sentencing is not going to be the answer.

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