The following speech was delivered at the “Beyond the Unrest – Community Safety & Civil Society” seminar, promoted by the BME Leadership & Engagement project, on November 29th, 2011.
The subject I have been asked to address is vast and it is simply impossible to do justice to it in the time I have been given. For one thing, a ‘historical perspective’ raises the question: where does history begin?
I say that because there have been riots in England involving ethnic minorities since the 12 century, at least. At his coronation in Westminster Abbey on 3 September 1189, for example, Richard I barred all Jews and women from the ceremony, and when some Jewish leaders arrived to present gifts for the new king, his courtiers stripped and flogged them and ejected them from the Abbey. A rumour spread that Richard had ordered all Jews to be killed and the people of London began a massacre, robbing Jews, beating them to death or burning them alive. Many Jewish homes were burned down, and several Jews were forcibly baptised. Richard later punished those who were known to have been involved in the massacre.
To span the decades and centuries between 1189 and 2011 would be instructive if not deeply depressing. More to the point, though, it would keep us here till this time next year and I do not for one minute suppose you love me that much.
So what I want to do is say something briefly about the types of riots there have been that have involved black and ethnic minority people and to look in more detail at the riots thirty years ago, the riots in August this year and what they tell us about the society and how the nation should respond if they are not to become an even more regular occurrence in a society that remains decidedly ill at ease with itself. Read the rest of this entry →