The 1981 BRIXTON RIOT, or BRIXTON UPRISING, was a confrontation
Metropolitan Police and protesters in
* 1 Background * 2 10–11 April * 3 11–12 April
* 4 Aftermath
* 4.1 Scarman Report * 4.2 Other rioting
* 5 Cultural references * 6 See also * 7 References * 8 Further reading * 9 External links
Brixton in South London was an area with serious social and economic problems. The whole United Kingdom was affected by a recession by 1981, but the local African-Caribbean community was suffering particularly high unemployment, poor housing, and a higher than average crime rate.
In the preceding months there had been growing unease between the
police and the inhabitants of Lambeth. In January 1981 a number of
black youths died in a fire during a house party in
New Cross .
Although authorities have claimed it may have been accidental and that
the fire started from inside the house, it was widely suspected to
have been a racially motivated arson attack by someone outside the
property, and the police investigation was criticised as inadequate
for not exploring that possibility. Black activists, including Darcus
Howe , organised a march for the "Black People's Day of Action" on 2
March. Accounts of turnout vary from 5,000 to 20,000 to 25,000.
The marchers walked 17 miles from
In 1980 the number of crimes recorded in the
Public disfavour came to a head on Friday 10 April. At around 5:15 pm a police constable spotted a black youth named Michael Bailey running towards him, apparently away from three other black youths. Bailey was stopped and found to be badly bleeding, but broke away from the constable. Stopped again on Atlantic Road, Bailey was found to have a four-inch stab wound. Bailey ran into a flat and was helped by a family and the police constable there by putting kitchen roll on his wound. A crowd gathered and, as the police then tried to take the wounded boy to a waiting minicab on Railton Road , the crowd tried to intervene thinking the police did not appear to be providing or seeking the medical help Bailey needed quickly enough. As the minicab pulled away at speed a police car arrived and stopped the cab. When an officer from the police car realised Bailey was injured he moved him into the back of the police car to take him to hospital more quickly, and bound his wound more tightly to stop the bleeding. A group of 50 youths began to shout for Bailey's release thinking the police were arresting him. "Look, they’re killing him," claimed one. The crowd descended on the police car and pulled him out although the officers were trying to take him to hospital. The youths dispatched him to hospital and told officers: "Let us look after our own."
Rumours spread that a youth had been left to die by the police, or that the police looked on as the stabbed youth was lying on the street. Over 200 youths, black and white with predominantly Afro-Caribbean heritage reportedly turned on the police. In response the police decided to increase the number of police foot patrols in Railton Road, despite the tensions, and carry on with Operation Swamp 81 throughout the night and into the following day.
It was believed by the local community that the stabbed youth died as
a result of police brutality, fuelling tensions throughout the day as
crowds slowly gathered. Tensions first erupted around 4 pm, as two
police officers stopped and searched a mini cab in Railton Road. By
Brixton Road (
Brixton High Street) was reportedly filled
with angry people and police cars were pelted with bricks. At around 5
pm the tension escalated and spread, and the 9 pm
The police put out emergency calls to police officers across London, asking for assistance. They had no strategy, and only had inadequate helmets and non-fireproof plastic shields to protect themselves with while clearing the streets of rioters. The police reportedly also had difficulties in radio communication. The police proceeded in clearing the Atlantic-Railton-Mayall area by pushing the rioters down the road, forming deep shield walls. The rioters responded with bricks, bottles, and petrol bombs .
At 5.30 pm the violence further escalated. Non-rioting members of the public attempted to mediate between the police and the rioters, calling for a de-escalation by withdrawing police out of the area. The destructive efforts of the rioters peaked at around 8 pm, as those attempts at mediation failed. Two pubs , 26 businesses, schools and other structures were set alight as rioters went on a rampage. Hundreds of local residents were trapped in their houses, locked in by either police or rioters.
By 9.30 pm, over 1,000 police were dispatched into Brixton, squeezing out the rioters. By 1 am on 12 April 1981, the area was largely subdued, with no large groups – except the police – on the streets. The fire brigade refused to return until the following morning. Police numbers grew to over 2,500, and by the early hours of Sunday morning the rioting had fizzled out.
During the disturbances, 299 police were injured, along with at least 65 members of the public. 61 private vehicles and 56 police vehicles were destroyed. 28 premises were burned and another 117 damaged and looted. 82 arrests were made.
Between 3 and 11 July of that year, there was more unrest fuelled by
racial and social discord, at Handsworth in Birmingham,
London, Toxteth in Liverpool,
Hyson Green in
Main article: Scarman report
Scarman found unquestionable evidence of the disproportionate and indiscriminate use of 'stop and search' powers by the police against black people. As a consequence, a new code for police behaviour was put forward in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 ; and the act also created an independent Police Complaints Authority , established in 1985, to attempt to restore public confidence in the police. Scarman concluded that "complex political, social and economic factors disposition towards violent protest".
The 1999 Macpherson Report , an investigation into the murder of Stephen Lawrence and the failure of the police to establish sufficient evidence for the prosecution of the charged suspects, found that recommendations of the 1981 Scarman Report had been ignored. The report concluded that the police force was "institutionally racist ". This report, which did not cover the events of the Brixton Riots, disagreed with the conclusions made by Scarman.
On 25 March 2011, BBC Radio 4 broadcast reminiscences of participants including police and black Brixton residents.
On 13 April,
Small-scale disturbances continued to simmer throughout the summer.
After four nights of rioting in
The recommendations of the Scarman Report to tackle the problems of racial disadvantage and inner-city decline were not implemented and rioting would break out again in the 1985 and 1995 Brixton riots.
Linton Kwesi Johnson 's poem "Di Great Insoreckshan" was written
in response to the
* 1980s portal * Criminal justice portal * Discrimination portal * London portal
* ^ Grover, Chris (2013-09-13). Crime and Inequality. Routledge.
ISBN 9781134732999 .
* ^ "Britain: Bloody Saturday". Time . 20 April 1981. Retrieved 9
* ^ A B "Battle 4
Brixton pt6 of 6" . YouTube. 22 April 2008.
Retrieved 29 May 2009.
* ^ "How smouldering tension erupted to set
Brixton aflame". The
Guardian . London. 13 April 1981. Retrieved 10 January 2016.
* ^ Brain 2010 , p. 65.
* ^ Kettle Weinreb, Matthew; Hibbert, Christopher; Keay, Julia;
Keay, John (2008). The London Encyclopaedia. Pan Macmillan . p. 99.
ISBN 978-1-405-04924-5 .
* ^ Cornish, Winsome-Grace. "Honouring talent: The Black People\'s
Day of Action". Operation Black Vote: News,18 Feb 2011. Retrieved 3
* ^ Anim-Addo, Joan (1995). Longest Journey: A History of Black
* Brain, Timothy (2010). A History of Policing in England and Wales
from 1974. Oxford:
Oxford University Press