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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Monday, July 03, 2006
    All riot now
    Of course I thought they were great at the time, the Toxteth riots. I was young then and thought I was radical, giving thanks for an uprising from the streets against the forces of rotten law, the racist oppressors. What's to regret in the loss of a few buildings and the stock of a few shops by comparison with the majorly crucial point made by this (class?) action - that the black populace of Liverpool 8 would take Sus and all that went with it no more.

    I'm precisely 25 years older today and continue to kid myself that I'm radical, and I still think they were crucial, the Toxteth riots. That's not actually a radical opinion - even Michael Heseltine, in the title of his famous cabinet paper, declared that "It Took a Riot" to force the forces of law to re-evaluate their policing practices in Liverpool and other 1981 flashpoint cities.

    Today's anniversary is a good opportunity to take stock of how things have changed in the intervening years, and the most interesting local radio interview I heard was with a L8 community activist, then and now, who was keen to celebrate the achievements of ex-Liverpool police chief Norman Bettison who acknowledged institutionalised racism in the force and took steps to amend it on the streets of the city. The message from this interview was that things are much improved.

    It was noticeable that this same community activist did not once show any regret for the fearful and punishing events of July 1981. Clearly he too is of the opinion that "It Took a Riot". Today, he said, the main problem faced by black Liverpudlians is one which existed for decades prior to the riots and has hardly been acknowledged, and never addressed in the city - the institutionalised racism in Liverpool's employment market. If there were to be more riots today, or tomorrow, he said, then they wouldn't be focussed in L8 against the police, they'd be in the city's commercial centre against all those who keep our black citizens out of work.