On the 4th of August 2011, Mark Duggan was murdered by the police. Uprisings – labelled by many as ‘riots’ – ensued in protest at the injustice, first in Tottenham and then elsewhere in the UK. 9 years after his death, we say Rest in Power Mark Duggan.
When is an uprising not an uprising but a riot? The main distinction between which word is used is whether the goal for those who set the narrative is to delegitimise the actions of the people publicly communicating that something is wrong. The word ‘riot’ speaks of a chaotic violence – the kind of behaviour that has no justification, is unreasonable and purposeless. The function of the use of riot therefore is to obscure the conditions that produce the need for public demonstration in the first place. The word ‘riot’ explicitly directs our attention in one way only: “you who demonstrate are violent, while ‘we’, the state and other institutions, are civil and peaceful”. And through this linguistic sleight of hand, it renders invisibilise the actual violence of the state – through the police – that public demonstrators are seeking to visibilise in the murder of Mark Duggan, or other acts of injustice.
When we are able to detect the narratives into which we are being lured, such as through the linguistic sleight of hands we see above, we can better re-frame them. The question should always be: what are the root conditions that produce this outcome? That will almost always be more illuminating for those of us who wish to stand on the side of the marginalised.