Toxteth 30 Years On
July 3, 2011 3:47 AM   Subscribe

30 years ago today, following the arrest of a motorcyclist, rioting erupted in Toxteth, Liverpool 8, fueled by the mistreatment of the black community by police. The Guardian looks at the causes and consequences of the riots.

The anniversary sees the opening of an exhibition at the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool, organised in part by the Merseyside Black History Month Group, whose website features interviews recording from July 1989 and video of the riots.

Somewhat previously.
posted by hoyland (23 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Things haven't really changed and it's only a matter of time before another race riot occurs.
posted by Renoroc at 4:21 AM on July 3, 2011

I'm surprised you say that Renoroc, as every time I've been to Liverpool recently I feel like it's changed beyond all recognition. That said, I'm an infrequent (and brief) visitor so I may well be just seeing a changed surface.

My main memory of the riots was the Chief Constable on TV blaming the riots on 'the lethal mixture of canabis and alcohol'. As someone who had, on ocassion, mixed the two in my youth, myself and my friends could all attest that after doing that rioting was the very last thing you'd feel like doing.
posted by ciderwoman at 4:51 AM on July 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm surprised you say that Renoroc, as every time I've been to Liverpool recently I feel like it's changed beyond all recognition.

I lived here then, I live here now. No question that it's changed beyond all recognition. Thirty years ago, you could walk around the city centre and not see a single black face employed in any capacity. Black youth would be prevented from entering the city centre, by a combination of racist bouncers and a racist police force.

At the time of the riots, I lived in Liverpool 8. I certainly thought the sentiment that provoked them was justified -- in fact, at the time, I thought the riots were justified -- particularly the running battles with the police force. (Some of the burning and looting, not so much, but even that was understandable -- it was largely targetted against businesses that had taken from and exploited that community for years.)

Liverpool police today are a very different organisation. I believe they even win prizes for their diversity work. I know that a friend who works for a GBLT health project has nothing but praise for the way they respond to complaints about hate crimes against that community, and there was a recent story about them sacking a guy who supported the BNP.

30 years ago, the views and actions of most Liverpool coppers were indistinguishable from those of the BNP.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:46 AM on July 3, 2011 [16 favorites]

Well, the last two paragraphs of the Guardian article make it seem like what came around 30 years ago is going to come around again. The disenfranchised are going to be heard again.
posted by Renoroc at 6:37 AM on July 3, 2011

I'll take the word of the guy who has lived in Liverpool for over 30 years.

I lived in London at the time. There were a lot of riots all over the UK back then.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:10 AM on July 3, 2011

The last two paragraphs are saying that there still is discrimination in the apprentice system - but also that white people are feeling the crunch from the loss of pensions too - he says "Welcome to our world" - the world of unemployment and low-paid jobs without pensions. So it isn't saying that things are the same, but that more change is needed -- and also that recession has brought non-black people to what blacks had to face all the time.
posted by jb at 7:37 AM on July 3, 2011

The wonders of modern technology will enable those so interested to take a wander down some of the streets mentioned in the article.
posted by robself at 7:41 AM on July 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Well, the last two paragraphs of the Guardian article make it seem like what came around 30 years ago is going to come around again. The disenfranchised are going to be heard again.

So basically what you're saying is that you have no idea what you're talking about, seeing as how you live in Houston and not Liverpool.
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 9:04 AM on July 3, 2011

I've only commented on what I've read; if that isn't factual, it is the problem of the post, not the commenter. I didn't know I had to live in Liverpool to have the right to comment on an article about Liverpool. I'm sincerely sorry to have disturbed you, Mr. wittyscreenname.
posted by Renoroc at 9:52 AM on July 3, 2011

the lethal mixture of canabis and alcohol

lethal mixture of unemployment and Thatcher, more like
posted by flabdablet at 10:04 AM on July 3, 2011 [5 favorites]

I'm not sure what the point the Guardian article is trying to make is, other than 30 years ago, Liverpool had high unemployment and was in economic freefall, and 30 years later, high unemployment and economic freefall are here again.

But while those things were part of the reason why people were unhappy here, I don't think they were the real catalyst. It all kicked off in Liverpool 8 because of a long history of institutional racism -- primarily on the part of the police, but also on the part of the city's major employers.

We've had high unemployment here since I left school in the early 1970's. We're a city built on maritime trade, but these days, the shipping is all done by flags of convenience using sailors from places like Korea and Panama, and our 19 miles of docks has been replaced by a half-mile long container base, in which robots do all the work.

As the article points out, Liverpool 8 is far from being the most deprived of our neighbourhoods. I grew up in Everton, and currently work in Bootle -- both of which make Liverpool 8 look like the home of the haute bourgeoisie, in terms of the physical infrastructure, the quality of the housing stock and the levels of social deprivation. Neither of those places experienced riots, because the communities in those areas is almost exclusively white, so they were never exposed to the additional stresses that people of colour in Liverpool 8 were subjected to on a regular basis.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:17 AM on July 3, 2011 [4 favorites]

Liverpudlian here. Lived there for my first 19 years. Shiny changes to the medium and high-end retail infrastructure in town. Still structural unemployment issues that are deep and wide, and an almost permanent underclass of state-dependent families.
It's a cliche, but there is amazing spirit & sense of black, black humor there*;also, amazing, senseless violence. I have a friend who works as a paramedic, and the stories he tells....shuddder.

* Example: I got in a sports-related accident in europe which left a huge, 1" wide gash across my neck from just past my adam's apple to just below my left ear. It really was quite gruesome.

A couple of days later I went back to London, unshaven and scar still very evident; I'm not an intimidating bloke, but when I got on the tube, some people actually moved to the other end of the car, with a slight glimpse of fear in their eyes. This did wonders for my ego, as I had delusions of hard-man status.

This all ended abruptly, when I boarded a bus in Liverpool the following day. As I was paying my fare, the driver looked me up and down, and said, laconically, "So.... who hung you mate?".
posted by lalochezia at 11:02 AM on July 3, 2011 [4 favorites]

Also, the article talks deeply about the origins of the unusual racial mixes and social structures that evolved in liverpool, great interiviews with characters, including the sage Jimmy McGovern, highly recommended that you read the whole thing.
posted by lalochezia at 11:20 AM on July 3, 2011

You learn new things about your own city every day:e.g. one of the largest overhead railways in the world was in Liverpool.
posted by lalochezia at 11:26 AM on July 3, 2011

From the comments on the guardian site, apropos for cities beyond livepool:

I was raised within spitting distance of the Boundary pub from 1942-1964. It was a thriving working class neighborhood that had it's heart ripped out by town planners, politicians and speculators long before the events of 1981. I experienced more violence in the decade leading up to the uprising than anything I witnessed in the streets of Liverpool 8 (and 7) thirty years ago. It was a violence against people rather than property. It took the form of premature death and decline of older people forced to quit perfectly good houses, some of which had been in their families since they were built, in order to make way for high-rise flats that have since been pulled down and bigger motorways that were never constructed. The rest were left to live on desolation row, until the younger ones made their defiant stand. My mum and dad long since left this planet and my brother and I no longer live in Liverpool, but old Toxteth still haunts my dreams. It was destroyed not by those of us who lived there but by intruders who armed with a vision of 'Liverpool as a City of Change and Challenge' thought they knew better. Idiots!
posted by lalochezia at 11:35 AM on July 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

And that was just 1981.
Two years later, another furor erupted when a BBC reporter went undercover as an officer-in-training to investigate racism in one of the training academies.
The resulting documentary gained national attention, leading to the resignation of five officers.
posted by Smart Dalek at 11:51 AM on July 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Some fantastic old photographs of the city here
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:09 PM on July 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

From the comments on the guardian site, apropos for cities beyond Liverpool:

Speaking of which, I haven't been to Liverpool since Pathfinder was defunded by the coalition, what's the fallout like?
posted by Jehan at 12:09 PM on July 3, 2011

PeterMcDermott, and other Liverpudlians- Do you have any sense of the condition of the boarded-up housing stock? Are they liable to be beyond repair, or could they be refurbished? Do you have a sense of the age of the buildings in robself's link? Does that area carry a stigma that would deter people from moving into newly refurbished, and reopened, blocks of housing?

Apples and oranges, but in my Brooklyn neighborhood, those buildings would be called "prewar single-family homes," and would sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more. It's somewhat maddening to see them boarded up like that.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 1:36 PM on July 3, 2011

I live in Toxteth, not far from where it all happened. I'm somewhat ashamed to say that I know very little about the context, so that article was a worthwhile read, thanks.

I did however think it could do with a little more "colour", so I went out and took a few photos of how things look 30 years on.

I like it here. It's not a bad area, but it's not great either. Some streets are still hanging on, whilst others are completely empty. There's large empty spaces, presumably where terraces were demolished but never replaced. One "development" was adorned with posters echoing the concerns Jimmy McGovern mentions in the article.

Whilst walking around, I got approached by a 40-odd year old black guy called Moussa. He was incredibly friendly, but wouldn't let me take his picture. He asked if I was "from the Government". Some time later, a bunch of kids thought I was taking photos of them, and tried to rob my camera, so I decided to call it a day.

In conclusion: Toxteth is a land of contrast.
posted by Acey at 2:22 PM on July 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

PeterMcDermott, and other Liverpudlians- Do you have any sense of the condition of the boarded-up housing stock?

Most of the property in the area is Victorian and Edwardian stock. Some Georgian terraces in Liverpool 8 as well. I believe those houses were boarded up because they were part of a planned demolition and redevelopment -- against the wishes of the local community, who'd prefer that they were renovated and the local community kept intact.

Regardless of how poor their condition, renovating them would almost certainly be cheaper than demolishing, and there's no stigma associated with living in such properties.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:46 PM on July 3, 2011

Those are some nice pics, Acey. It's been a while since I've been inside that triangle of land between Upper Parliament Street, Lodge Lane and Princes Road, so I wasn't aware of just how far gone those properties are now.

That said, just a fortnight ago, I was visiting somebody in those streets on the other side of Smithdown Road, at the Parliament Street end, and was struck by how affluent the street appeared compared with thirty years ago. The people who lived in the house (which was built about the same time, but wasn't nearly as nice a property originally as most of those in the streets in your photographs -- a standard three bed terrace) were a Clinical Psychologist and a film maker. However, the street is a mix of privately owned, privately rented and housing association owned properties.

As you say, the area is characterised by dramatic contrasts.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:54 PM on July 3, 2011

Thanks Peter. I often think the same thing walking past those massive Georgian houses near the cathedral. If it's possible for those to be turned around, I see no reason why the same can't be done for Victorian terraces elsewhere.

But I suppose there's less money to be made repairing a community, when instead you can just drive people out and build premium flats on worthless land. *sigh*
posted by Acey at 2:52 AM on July 4, 2011

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