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Monday, 4 June, 2001, 07:29 GMT 08:29 UK
Oldham riots: How can trust be restored?
The violence in the northern England town of Oldham has sparked concern that the police are neglecting Asian communities.
Sunday's rioting came after more serious violence on Saturday, in which up to 500 Asian youths battled against lines of riot police.
Michael Meacher MP for Oldham West and Royton believes violence broke out after verbal abuse and a brawl had left parts of the Asian community feeling that police did not adequately protect Asian pupils.
How can trust be restored between the police and Asian communities? What can be done to calm the situation?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
I don't know if the police are neglecting the Asian community but my brother got drafted in on Sunday night to the riots on his day off and I don't care what anyone says, he doesn't get paid enough to have petrol bombs thrown at him. The police were there to control the situation not become a target.
The majority of the letters written here are about direct black and white racism. You're all wrong. Racism (if that's what it is) is just an excuse for those to let off steam who see the REAL problem in this country whether they be black,
white or sky blue pink with yellow dots on.
In the UK no matter what colour we are we will not get anywhere until someone puts a stop to the massive dividing line between rich and poor and the haves and have nots. I work and drive all over the UK every day and the differing levels of poverty I see in ALL areas is very, very upsetting. There are those in the city of London (black AND white) making tens of THOUSANDS per day while others (black AND white) are starving. This isn't right surely.
It is time that the authorities cracked down on racist organisations such as the National Front and the BNP. In Germany, the government make it extremely difficult for Nazi groups to operate. We need to take this sort of action in the UK.
John Murphy, Ireland
It is up to community leaders, government officials and the police to set the foundation for improved relations. These groups need to work on preventing this from happening again. The government must do more to monitor not only the far right political parties, but also hate groups and gangs from both sides. It wouldn't hurt to also increase the size of the police force. There is only so much they can do unless the government provides additional financial support.
Reshma, London, UK
Youths should get more incentives to go on community programmes. Oldham council should say what they have done to improve relations and housing in the past. The police should show care and respect to Oldham citizens and be fair to all races.
I'm an Indian doctor doing part of my postgraduate training in psychiatry in Edinburgh. I have been concerned by the events at Oldham. They bear a frightening resemblance to similar events in America, where race relations are now so polarised and vitiated. They also remind me of the problems we face in India with the caste system. Wherever politicians have brought in affirmative action, there has been resentment in the "majority", and further polarisation.
What is the point of looting and destroying your own town? Seems to be a pretty stupid response to a grievance to me. Maybe all these people that are so keen on hating their neighbour should come to Liverpool and take a drive (in their armoured car) through Toxteth. And then it would hit home that rioting and destroying their community ultimately hurts them.
The race relations in this country are appalling. We still do not integrate our whole population. This division of people into gender, racial and sexual preference stereotypes causes friction and competition. Until real integration takes place and while people who are not indigenous are treated as outsiders, the racists and bigots thrive. On the more positive side, the majority of ethnic Britons are NOT racists - the vote on June 7th will bear me out. We are English and proud of our diversity.
Terry Williams, UK
I have been going to England for 2 years in summer holidays but I was amazed when my friends warned me not to stay in Liverpool central after 5pm to avoid any racist event. I think racism in England in 21st century is only due to ignorance.
The problem is that people from poor neighbourhoods are being easily manipulated by demagogues who play a racial card for their personal advantages. There are no more saintly people like Mahatma Gandhi or Dr. King left, but shrewd and cynical politicians only...
Antonio d'agostino, Peterborough, UK
Every once in a while something like this occurs; reminding us all that race issues are here to stay and that education is the only remedy.
As a white married to a black African and having worked both here and in Africa, this is my take on how to stop this sort of thing: No ghettoes. No quotas. No special treatment for anyone. No affirmative action. If you live here as a citizen you are British, not Pakistani, Nigerian, Chinese, or whatever. Multi-culturalism just doesn't work, since all it does is reinforce differences. What we need to do is encourage people to see what they have in common, NOT what makes them different. To this extent, multiculturalism is not the answer to the problem - it actually is the problem.
It will take Oldham many, many years to restore the notion of trust, love and respect for one another. We need to look at factors such as investments, shopping and local tourist attractions - no longer will people from outside have trust in entering these areas. We need to work together as one team, communicate and collaborate and ensure that the Council and Police do not give up hope in supporting the community financially, because if this support weakens we may see a negative image from the general public.
If I was an alien looking down on this earth, I would feel that evolution needed to keep running for another thousand years or so, until we learnt to live side by side with our fellow man and respect nature, or until we managed to wipe ourselves out, whichever comes first.
As a proud young British Asian, I was horrified by the events in Oldham, but I can't help but feel a sense of double standards by the media and press. This trouble was stoked up by a recent mugging of a war veteran, which was a horrific attack. This was all over the papers, news etc, but when a similar attack occurs on a black/Asian person why does it not get the same attention? There have been numerous attacks in Wales, the Midlands and London but they haven't got any media coverage at all, why? Although this country is very welcoming towards other cultures, the other cultures feel they do not get a fair crack of the whip, because they are constantly made to feel different, by the media and politicians. Why do most Asians still support their homelands at cricket matches? Because they are always referred to as "Asian" and not "British". No matter how much we try and integrate we will never be "English" - the colour of our skin will always precede us.
The Oldham events were unfortunate and uncalled-for but the way the media is saying Oldham is overrun with Asians, is another untruth - they only number 13% of the population. The police need to be more effective in dealing with racial crimes on both sides. They also need to be more effective in dealing with the true racists who cause all of the problems - the National Front and the British National Party - these people are a blot on our society and have no place there. We can live happily together but there needs to be compassion and understanding on both sides, and there needs to be equal treatment from people in charge of our lives, police councils, media etc.
I live within 5 minutes walk of the centre of Glodwick and am appalled and frightened by the developments over the past few weeks. Events have taken a massive turn for the worse, but not an unexpected one. Local people have been aware of a gradual stoking of tensions for years now, communities feel that they are being unfairly treated (Asian and white, and others)and a general sense of fear has been building. A year ago now, I walked, alone, down Waterloo Street in Glodwick and was attacked by a group of Asian youths in a racially motivated attack - one of many assaults which have gone unreported - and rather than deliberately fanning the flames of hatred, local press and council officers have been playing it down, giving a false sense of security.
I have lived in this area for 30 years, but no longer feel safe and have not done so for some time now. Closer partnership and an honest appraisal of a very real problem are the only answer. Would Tony Blair live in the centre of Glodwick for one week without Special Branch protection? Would he send his kids to Breeze Hill school? If not, how is he going to help fix the problem and how can we have faith in anyone to act with an open heart and, above all, honesty? Social exclusion is a massive problem for all sections of the community - if indeed we still have one in Oldham any longer. Complacency in this matter cannot be allowed, evil agitators, whether from the BNP or from extremist Asian groups, should be rounded up and severely dealt with in an impartial manner. The world is watching, let's surprise them by actually doing something right!
I have no doubt that the underlying
causes of the riots in Oldham are
much more complex than it appears
on the surface. However, having
lived for some time in a country that
does everything possible to
encourage and ensure racial
harmony, I am convinced that
Britain is not doing enough. This
world of ours is a multi-racial, multi-
cultural one, and the countries that
will prosper in it will be those that
embrace racial and cultural diversity
the most positively. Racist
organisations, such as the National
Front, have absolutely no place and
should not be tolerated in any way
whatsoever. It is well past time
for the British people to end their
tolerance of such racist groups.
Jim , USA
I have been to England once a year ago and I remember that the first thing on my mind was "now this is a multicultural society". Therefore, it's sad to hear about the race problems. Race problems exist everywhere, even in India (in the form of castism). We too have had riots over caste problems. And our governments too have made bold comments of reforms which have led us to even more problems. I too was a part of those riots and looking back I can only conclude it was a sheer waste of my time and my soul. Rioting accomplishes nothing. My message to all the rioters of the world, GROW UP and THINK before you fall right into the hands of politicians.
I was shocked and saddened to hear about the riots in Oldham. I have no doubt that members of Oldham's ethnic minorities have indeed suffered prejudice and discrimination, and this kind of racism (indeed, any kind of racism) should certainly be met with "zero tolerance". But unfortunately, by turning to violence and lawlessness, the rioters have damaged their own cause, and their behaviour is sure to be regretted by the majority of law-abiding, peaceful Asians in the community whose reputation is tarnished simply by association. Right now, it is imperative that community leaders get together and work out a way to ensure that the recent problems act as a catalyst for positive change and not for heightened tension. Let Oldham be an example of a town in which racist prejudice is confined to the history books.
Graham Taylor, UK
To solve any issues you have to go to the root of the problem. We must give more powers to the police to deal with extremist parties as well as controlling law and order. People in ethnic minorities must be able to trust the police, which at present is clearly lacking.
Having been brought up in Oldham but now living and working in London, I was surprised to see how helpful the London Metropolitan Police was compared to the hostility and intimidation which a person feels from the Oldham Police. If peace and calm is to be restored then the local police force in Oldham needs to change in order to gain respect from the local ethnic population and stop treating them in a hostile manner.
Sharon Kasbia, UK
We've been living in la la land for a long while, multicultural this and that.
The reality is not the same as the myths. The older generation of immigrants were racially abused for years, but they kept quite and ignored all the assaults.
I myself remember the abuse, the attacks and the bricks through the windows when I was growing up and I was born in the 70's!
This generation, who were born and bred here will not be treated like 'foreigners'.
The fact that the 'establishment' still uses labels like 'Asians', 'Caribbeans', 'Africans' for people who were born here is proof that nothing has really changed.
The press is as guilty as the yobs like the National Front.
How about compulsory race education? Everyone in Oldham should receive education on the history and background of the "other side's" culture. Objections could then be aired and debated.
When I looked at the news on Saturday night, I just couldn't believe that those scenes were taking place in England. On way forward is to listen to the concerns of the disadvantaged communities AND validate those concerns. Listen also to the many people who live in the same community that their grandparents grew up in and are scared of the changes that 'newcomers' will bring to an area. Multi-agency groups should not be used only in times of crisis, they should be an integral part of every diversified community. It's time that we teach our children that diverse doesn't have to mean divided.
Maxim Bouev, UK and Russia
I think while the riot must be ended and BOTH parties must be calmed, it is important to assess the reasons behind this. Certain Tory MPs, such as John Townend, and the British National Party have stirred up the 'race card' to gain political advantage. While we saw first generation Asians like my parents silently tolerate racism, the second generation Asians are not prepared to take insults. If this issue is not analysed with care, we may see many Oldhams and gang warfares in the future!
The racism highlighted in Oldham is NOT typical of that across the UK! I live 10 minutes from Glodwick in Oldham and have never experienced problems with my white counterparts. Therefore I suggest that all those that think Britain is not a multi-cultural society, due to this isolated but of course serious incident, need to RE-THINK!
Alistair Wheate, Nottingham, England
I recall the words of a black professor that I had in college. He said there are two kinds of people in this world, the educated and the uneducated. These are not teachers and doctors rioting in the streets, they are the uneducated. No one can force someone to become educated but they can provide the means to become educated. Colleges should be open to everyone no matter what their financial status. Then again, would they come if it was? I really see no end to this problem until we solve all our other problems. The youth today are misguided with no purpose or sense of direction and no hope.
It is indeed unfortunate that things got as bad as they did in Oldham. The tension had been brewing for a long time and nothing concrete was done to address the problems. Well, it's never to late to start, I think. The leaders of the Asian community should try to calm the youths, and at the same time have the courage to come up with workable solutions. There are better ways to demand your rights than setting light to cars and beating up innocent people.
Mark Payne, England
The statistics for "racial" attacks are meaningless. I suppose the definition of a racist attack is one race attacking another. However, I would guess that many more violent acts occurring in Oldham are indiscriminate of race. Oldham is a violent town with many problems, not least high unemployment, poor housing, and high numbers of teenage pregnancies. It is typical of many other towns in the north of the UK - former industrial centres which have been neglected by the government for many years. I'm almost relieved that Oldham's issues have been brought to the front of politicians' consciousness. Hopefully, Oldham council will now admit that there is a problem and get some money for regeneration of the area.
KH, Manchester, UK
This situation has been building in Oldham for a while now. There have been no-go areas for white people for quite a long time, and there have been sporadic racist attacks both ways over the last couple of years, especially more recently. The police should have done more ages ago, and community leaders and the church should be doing more also. I find it shocking that it has got this far.
Regardless of who is at fault for the violence, it is very sad that whole sections of the community feel excluded. I feel the events in Oldham are the fruits of years of under-investment in education.
Personally I am all for free speech, but I think for a multi-racial country, such as Britain, to tolerate elements advocating
racism is not on. Those people identified as having sympathies with the National Front should be placed in re-education facilities.
As a former resident of Oldham, I am disgusted, but not surprised at the events of the weekend. I am angered by people politicising the situation, and local councillors trying to make out that there have been no problems in the past. There is a beautiful park (Alexandra Park) in Glodwick, that has been a no-go area for some years now (at least 7) due to gangs of youths of Asian origin who roam the area attacking people (whites) on a regular basis. There has also been an air of intimidation around the town centre for some years due to gangs of Asian youths loitering. Whilst I no way condone the BNP and NF stirring up matters, the ethnic communities in Oldham cannot wholly claim to be blameless victims.
I went to school in Oldham and still have friends in Glodwick. Sad as the recent events are, they come as no surprise. Oldham has been a dreadfully racist town for many years, I know from experience. Anyone who says different is either lying or deluding themselves. What we witnessed last weekend was the straw finally breaking the camel's back. The Asian community in Oldham has put up with a hell of a lot over the years in terms of discrimination. The police have totally failed them and it's no wonder that, when their women were attacked, they justifiably did everything they could to defend themselves. People don't want to riot, they are forced to.
Many youths fall into this trap of racism but then get older. I've known one youth who was constantly picked on by Asians - one day he got a very good battering - now he's best mates with Asians. We have to defend ourselves like the black people. We cannot tolerate it any more. At the same time, police should recruit more Asians.
Town planners have been blamed for making separate communities - it was not the planners but the people of these communities who chose to live near each other and segregate themselves. This also answers the poor housing and social exclusion. These people have not even tried to integrate into society they have excluded themselves. If the finger of blame is to be pointed at any one, it is the elders of the Asian community who do not want to know the English culture. As the saying goes, "when in Rome.."
How can the English cricket captain Nasser Hussain say that the Asians should support the country they live in and not their motherland ? So, Nasser, does that also include the ex-pats that have moved to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, USA etc etc ?
Patrick Mcfadyen, Belgium (Ex-pat - Scot)
A multi-cultural society is an illusion. What's important is that we create common cultural values on the bedrock of basic human rights.
I recall a transmission of Question Time one evening on BBC Television about three years ago. Racism was the subject being discussed by the panel and audience. A white, working class lady in the audience, looking quite distressed asserted that there were 'No-Go' areas for whites in Oldham. She was immediately barracked by the bourgeois - the girl seated in the row in front of her could be heard tutting and saying 'You can't say things like that'. More recently, when the Greater Manchester police published figures indicating that the majority of racial attacks are perpetrated on white people, once again the sentiment expressed was 'You can't say things like that'. Well, one can and one should. Perhaps we should have listened to the lady from Oldham and the GM police sooner. Does saying this make me a racist? Should I be forced to sign a petition now to declare my non-racist credentials?
Edwina Ramsay, Norway (ex UK)
Racism is an easy trap for the feeble-minded. Humans have a natural tendency to categorise and pigeonhole the world around them. Skin colour is just too obvious a difference for most people to ignore. A multicultural society is a good thing, separate communities for races (cultures) is not. In some areas Asians have gathered together in large numbers and imported their entire culture lock, stock and two smoking kebabs. Who can blame them or any immigrants? If I emigrated to another country which had a very different culture from mine, I would go looking for my fellow countrymen and probably move in next door. Chip shops and pubs would be sure to follow, as I'm sure any Spaniard living on the "Costa del Salford" will testify.
Racial integration takes time because nobody wants to lose their cultural identity. About four or five centuries should do it for Britain (if you exclude the English, Irish, Scots and Welsh enclaves).
Richard Avison, London
I was talking to a friend of mine on the phone Sunday night when it seemed the second wave was about to kick off. Both her and her husband were terrified, this was very close to home. Neither of these people are racists and neither were the majority of people whose property was trashed. Rioting does not win favour from the masses for any race, if anything it breeds more hatred. Peaceful negotiation and working towards changing the things that are wrong in your area will gain you much more respect. As for the police, my friends were extremely happy they were out on the streets in force recently and I applaud their bravery.
Why are there Asian, Black, White, etc communities? I thought it was supposed to be the United Kingdom! Housing people together by their race or colour is a breeding ground for racial tensions. Perhaps Britain should review its housing policies, and start treating every one, not by the colour of their skin, but by their true race - human!
I was in Manchester in my early student days in 1976. I felt very sad one day when a bunch of young adults coming out of a pub and one of them started shouting abuse at me and hurling stones at me. However, one member of the group tried to stop it, and I walked away from the scene. I felt hurt, but It also left me with a sign of hope that not all of them thought and acted in the same aggressive way.
One point I thought at that time was why children are not taught how racism hurts, and about the consequence of racism. How do we expect to teach our future adults to behave responsibly and create a healthy and prosperous country.
I personally settled in Canada and have two grown up children, who I am proud to say they had a healthy upbringing and should be able to contribute to the wellbeing of the society in general and the prosperity of the Canada.
Mahatma Gandhi taught non-violence and achieved his goal only by non-violence. He did this in far more severe conditions than that of Oldham. Non-violent means to achieve results is the best way. The media plays a big part in stirring as well. Please media be honest and only report things that will not stir up trouble. Especially when it comes to colour.
Dr Shaaz Mahboob, Nottingham, UK
The Police were very light-handed. Regardless of race, why were the 500 thugs not arrested? I don't think the cops in the US would let them get away so easily!
After watching and reading about the events in Oldham, as a Brit, I was horrified and saddened. Britain is 'hailed' as one of the few Western countries that has gone through the multicultural experience quite well, so far. But the riots have proved we still have a long way to go.
Alister Forbes, UK
I think the main problem for all races in Oldham is unemployment. However, Asians have had to live in appalling housing conditions and suffer discrimination. I hope the attention that Oldham is at last getting leads to more investment in the town by the government and more understanding of the reasons for the violence. Both sides should realise that only a minority of each community is racist, violence is just alienating themselves.
The riots in Oldham have to stop and racism has to be dealt with swiftly. But this will never happen as Asian people will never trust the police due to the fact that time and time again we hear that the police are institutional racists ...need I say more?
Those do not believe Britain is a tolerant and multi-cultural society need to live abroad for a while. Britain in the new millennium offers, by and large, equal opportunities for all. The Asian communities have come so far in 40 yrs, Asian youngsters need to remind themselves of the sacrifices of elders and empower themselves to do something constructive - rather than let themselves follow a brainless yob culture.
Part of the problem stems from the fact that the rioters are youths, i.e. young men, who have always done rash and foolish things - like attacking a police force that is trying to protect them. Where is the leadership of wiser, cooler, older heads in the community?
I live in Oldham and know that race relations here have been deteriorating over the last few years. Also, we have Bangladesh, Pakistani and Indian communities living, on the whole, at separate parts of the town which will increase tensions even more after the violence we have endured over the weekend. This is yet more evidence that most people do not want a multicultural society and these so-called liberals are doing more harm to this country than good.
Khalid Mahmud, England
Both sides are as bad as each other... Racism is apparent in white Europeans but also in our non white neighbours. It is about time we stop blaming each other for something that minority of all are guilty of.
In the first place there should not be separate communities at all for races. The planners have to ensure people do not live in areas based on the race or religion. Race mixed with religion is a deadly cocktail. I think there a lesson for everybody here for community leaders, politicians and police.
Rioting solves nothing.
If the Asian communities feel the police in Oldham were being heavy-handed then they should be grateful that they are not treated with the same ferocity that greets Irish protestors in Belfast or Derry. Where were the plastic bullets at the weekend? Or would using them on the "mainland" imply a country on the edge of disintegration?
Outlawing the Nationalist parties is definitely NOT the right thing to do. We are all entitled to free speech, but when it ends up stirring racial hatred, then some type of legal powers ought to be implemented. I agree with the PM, Oldham is not typical of race relations in the UK. In London, the majority of whites and non-whites get along wonderfully. It's a pity to see such small-minded racists in Manchester. But what can the Asians do if the police don't protect them?
Paul Mercer, Saudi Arabia
The police must be seen to take a hard line against racism perpetrated by whites. The politicians should outlaw organisations like the British National Party who openly encourage racism and should aim to make the Asians feel secure. At the same time the Asians must try to improve their lot and break the cycle of poverty and lack of education. The leaders should get together with the local agencies to try and create more opportunities and outlets for the Asian youth to further themselves.
Robert Whitehouse, UK
While white people are responsible for 'white on black' racism; and black people are responsible for acts of 'black on white' racism; we're all responsible for good race relations.
28 May 01 | UK
Oldham hit by fresh violence
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