After the Bradford riots, injustice persists

Submitted by AWL on 29 November, 2002 - 10:10

On the night of 7 July 2001 the Manningham area of Bradford experienced what has been described as the worst rioting in the city for 20 years. The riots were stoked up by the activities of the National Front and the BNP - an organisation which continues to win large votes in council elections, and recently won a council by-election in Blackburn. Tim Hales looks at the aftermath of the Bradford riot and argues that very little has been learnt
During eight hours of bitter confrontation between predominantly Pakistani youth and the police an estimated £25 million pounds of damage was done and 300 police officers were injured.

The riots erupted after weeks of tension fomented by the activities and threats of the National Front and the BNP, both assiduous in stoking the racial tensions that have developed in the economically deprived and politically neglected Northern cities of Bradford, Oldham and Burnley.

An NF march was threatened and so were counter demonstrations. Local Asian communities, who for years had expressed resentment at targeted policing and racism on the part of police officers were angry and frightened. When, that afternoon, an Asian youth was attacked by fascists leaving a pub and police apparently took no action, fear and anger gave way to violent rage and a bloody street battle that lasted through the night.

The behaviour of some of the rioters was undoubtedly vicious and dangerous. One pub (not a haunt of fascists) was set on fire with customers and the landlord's family inside. Citizens of Bradford were shocked and many in the Asian community deeply ashamed by the events that night.

It is not surprising that in the aftermath of the riots there have been reactions both of anger against the rioters and of concern that such a degree of segregation and polarisation has been allowed to develop in our inner cities.

What should worry us is that for our white political leaders in New Labour only the anger seems to have validity, while the warnings laid out in a report on the city's racial problems by Lord Herman Ouseley, former head of the Commission for Racial Equality, seem to have been studiously ignored.

In the months after the rioting, many of the young men who had participated in the disturbances gave themselves up to the police.
Some of them were persuaded by their families, some had been caught on surveillance cameras. They were advised by their lawyers and by community leaders to plead guilty to charges put to them. Most of these individuals had no previous involvement with crime and expressed remorse for their actions during that night.

This cooperation with the police and courts has cut no ice with the judges. They seem to have revelled in the opportunity to demonstrate hard-nosed "retributive justice", and for some two hundred men brought before the courts the average sentence has been four to five years with some as long as eight years.

Some of these sentences have been handed out for a single act of stone throwing. Bradford's senior judge, ex-public school boy Stephen Gullick, has commented that the charges include not only the actions of the individual defendants but also the unlawful conduct of those around them as well. A strange way to do justice?

Not according to David Blunkett and Tony Blair.
The Home Secretary has been quick to enhance his reputation for inflammatory statements on racial issues. In September 2002 he attacked The Bradford Fair Justice Campaign, telling them to stop "whining" about harsh sentences.

The Bradford campaign has been launched by families of the defendants, and now numbers over 3,000 supporters. They accept that there should be punishment for the acts of violence on 7 July, but they are devastated at the severity of sentencing and the lack of differentiation between levels of participation.

They also believe that these sentences have been disproportionate when compared to sentencing in other cities.

Many of them persuaded their own relatives to own up to offences in the belief that they would at least be fairly treated. Now they are embittered by what they see is a heavy handed racist response by the authorities.

It certainly seems as though New Labour have adopted the arrogant, ignorant Powellite attitudes that have contributed so much to poor race relations in this country.

By their unwillingness to deal with the problems of poverty in the inner cities Labour have allowed racists and fascists to gain support amongst poor deprived whites.

They have compounded this by aligning themselves in policies and statements with the reactionary right which have made the Asian and other deprived urban minority communities feel even more isolated, vulnerable and angry.

Add new comment

This website uses cookies, you can find out more and set your preferences here.
By continuing to use this website, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms & Conditions.