Sunday, 14 August 2011


In response to recent disturbances;

"The events of April 1980 were characterised by the number of young people involved, both black and white, and the feelings of antagonism they have to the police. No serious assessment can be made unless these attitudes are examined.

The society in which we live rules on the basis of consent, it is clear that the authorities do not have this consent as far as large numbers of young people are concerned.

The differences in attitudes between young people and the older generation towards authority, are not so much the oft quoted generation gap, but more a question of the older people having accepted their lack of power, and adopting a mode of existence that does not bring them into conflict with the establishment, some are able to sublimate their lack of power by exerting authority in the family.

Young people experience factors that do not apply to the rest of the population, they first have no independent income and have to rely upon hand-outs from their parents. Inside the family they have no power and have to accept the decisions just or unjust of parents. During their leisure hours they are the objects of criticism and hostility if they fail to conform to the dress and behavioural patterns of the adult world, although they often see the older generation themselves ignorning these standards.

Some young people of course learn at an early age to adopt attitudes that are acceptable to the dominant ideology, they are described as co-operative, normal, well-behaved, decent, etc whereas others who have not learnt this trick are called slow learners, trouble makers, yobbos. The language which we use to describe people is of course very arbitrary, in a military situation the second group of youth would be called fearless, tough, hero, etc, in fact many of the factors which we criticise in the young we would applaud in the police force. Society tends to make judgments on people by the type of clothes they wear, the type of house they live in, the car you drive; it is not surprising that young people who in the main do not possess these status symbols see themselves as quite separate from the rest of the population. To counteract this feeling of separation young people have developed their own culture, their own fashions, their own entertainments and even their own language, in an attempt to establish an identity and hence some form of status, if only amongst their own peers. Part of this culture is the challenging of the status quo and those who protect it.

The police are composed of people who hold the same views as society as a whole on young people, and because of the nature and function of the police force, tend to hold these views in a much more comprehensive form, and deviation from the norm is a threat to law and order and the "standards" of society, the police force is of course able to enforce these concepts by legal force, and their attitudes to young people always commence from the assumption that the police are correct, and the young wrong, often expressed in the phrase "they need teaching a lesson".

The fact that the police force has such powers and wears a uniform makes them indentifiable to the young as a potential enemy.

Crime, of course, does exist, and the function of the police is to prevent and detect it. Young people feel they are more likely to be harassed than are the older generation, this feeling is of course based on experience, and if your skin happens to be black, this applies even more so.

It does not require many incidents of unjustified questioning, heavy handed attitudes, sarcasm, and superior behaviour, for there to be erected a fairly unified concept amongst many young people that such attitudes are universally held by all the police, as in fact they may well be.

It would have been useful to the enquiry to have examined how widespread such behaviour is amongst the police, but it is significant that those in charge of the force in Avon refused to co-operate with us and have not appeared to give evidence or answer questions.

For black youth all the foregoing is multiplied many times, for whatever denials and assurances are made, it is clear that the police hold deep, racist views, which are expressed when they harass black people, and can be clearly seen when a crime is being investigated in which a black person may have been involved. Anyone with a dark skin in such circumstances is fair game for questioning!"

NOTE; The above is a reproduction of Appendix 3 of the report from an enquiry with the following terms of reference "to enquire into the social and economic conditions prevailing in the St Paul's area and to make recommendations which might ensure a level of communal harmony and stability sufficient to minmise the risk of a repetition of anything like the events of April 2nd 1980"

The enquiry team was established with representatives from the Bristol Trade Union Council and members of the local community, and heard evidence at St Werburghs Community Centre from local residents, Bristol City councillors, and other interested parties. Despite two separate invitations the police refused to attend, stating that they had already given evidence to a House of Commons select committee. Avon County Council also declined to take part.


  1. The biggest difference between then and now is that in 1980 there was a functioning progressive civil society made up of black groups, voluntary sector and trade unions prepared to stand firm with rioters.

    This civil society has entirely disappeared and has been replaced by 'partnership working' through arms-length state organisations like the Safer Bristol Partnership based on police consensus.

  2. "a question of the older people having accepted their lack of power, and adopting a mode of existence that does not bring them into conflict with the establishment"

    Interesting observation.

    The Neighbourhood Management experiment seemed to be exactly that; an attempt at management of the population with, amongst others, a covert screening process to evaluate who in the local area is 'fit for partnership' and who is a troublemaker that needs to be marginalised.

    Ah, the halcyon days of NuLab, CP and the street-by-street obergruppenfuhrers, well they are trying!

    Not sure it works 100% though, as they may discover that too many of those who could lift their heads up from their plates are far too troublesome for their purposes.

    Never mind, at least it provides the illusion of participation eh.