Excessive policing in Europe and the United States shows that governments are resorting to ever more coercive measures in order to save their neoliberal project, writes Dan Poulton.

Britain is becoming an increasingly unequal place. The pay gap is fast approaching Victorian levels and social mobility has been declining since the 1950s. Neoliberalism has only deepened a growing social crisis over the last 30 years. Its legacy was a global financial system which exploded so catastrophically in 2007-8. And the ruling class response to this? Austerity for the people, not for the real culprits – the bankers and big business. The story has been the same across Europe and in the United States, which are plunging into the biggest crisis since the 2008 recession.

We have to see the Tottenham riots in the context of historic levels of social marginalisation and mounting anger from below – and not take these events out of context, like the bulk of the mainstream media have done.

Reports are still emerging about the exact sequence of events, but the Met Police have controlled the dominant message so far, with the media struggling to keep up with events and appearing reluctant to investigate the riots themselves.

Official story

The official line is that an arrest attempt was made on Mark Duggan, 29 year old father of four, who was suspected of planning a revenge attack after his cousin was stabbed to death in a club in Mile End in April this year. The arrest ended in a shoot-out during which Duggan, having fired at the police, was shot in the face by a submachine gun. The marksman in question was knocked to the ground when a bullet fired by Duggan hit his radio, possibly saving his life. This official story framed the whole media portrayal of the riots and helped put the rioters in an unsympathetic light – the victim, by this account, was in fact just another aggressor.

Contested account

Following claims (all second hand) that Duggan had in fact been wrestled to the ground and shot in the face at point blank range, the Guardian reported that the bullet lodged in the officer’s radio was a police issue, raising the possibility that both shots were fired by the police.

They predicted a riot

Some saw Saturday’s events coming. Following the closure of a Tottenham youth club some young residents claimed that the loss of the facility would lead to riots. The idea that public services prevent disorder has never seemed more intuitive than in the wake of £41m worth of cuts to Haringey Council’s budget, driven of course by the ConDem cuts agenda.

Global police corruption

This comes in the wake of news broken on the morning of Saturday’s riot that police in the US were convicted of “covering up the killing of two people – including a mentally disabled man – and the wounding of four others,” as residents in New Orleans attempted to escape the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The cover-up involved police “creating fake witnesses, falsifying police reports and statements, and planting a gun as evidence.”

Systemic coercion and austerity

All governments are kept in power by a combination of coercion and consent. The welfare state, though it only came about because of mass struggle from below, has given capitalist governments a veneer of legitimacy, as well as acting as a counterbalance to the corrosive effects of free market economics. Now that neoliberalism is sacrificing public facilities to save international finance and the banks, governments are resorting to ever more coercive measures.

Excessive force in Europe

Accusations of excessive force have also been levelled at the Greek police in their handling of anti-austerity riots in June this year. It’s a similar story in Spain, where there were protests on Saturday against police brutality against rioters on Thursday 4 August.

A Youtube video from Italy shows police trampling a protester during a demonstration against Silvio Berlusconi in 2010, and the carabinieri (military police) were accused of using excessive force against anti-globalisation protesters in Genoa in 2001.

Unjust Kingdom

Just looking at the response to the student revolt reveals that Britain fits this pattern of global police violence. Add in the unlawful killing of Ian Tomlinson during the G20 protests, the death in police custody of Smiley Culture, punitive sentences handed out to Muslim protesters following the siege of Gaza and the actions of the thuggish Territorial Support Group – the ‘TSG’ had over 5,000 complaints made against them as of 2009, only 0.18 percent of which were upheld – and a picture emerges of excessive police force combined with growing social deprivation.

As the cuts kick in more forcefully we can expect more explosions of anger on the streets. They won’t all be predictable or follow the same pattern as the Tottenham riots, which have their own internal dynamics, but they will all be responses to one of the biggest assaults on working people in generations.

International response from below

The events of recent days drive home the need for an international response to austerity from below. The Coalition of Resistance ‘Europe Against Austerity’ conference is the logical next step in the struggle to build a united movement against the neoliberal cuts agenda. Book your places, tell your contacts, arrange transportation- get to this conference on 1 October. There’s a movement to build.

Dan Poulton is a writer and producer and will be introducing a Counterforum discussion on the shape of the working class on Thursday 25 August, 6.30pm at the Theatre Bookshop, 51 The Cut, Southwark, SE1 8LF.

Dan Poulton

Dan is a writer, broadcaster and campaigner.  His most recent documentary was The New Scramble For Africa and his documentaries have appeared regularly on the Islam Channel. He is an organiser for Counterfire and a regular contributor to Counterfire site.