Brixton Riots 1981 and 1985

Brixton Riots 1981 and 1985

April 1981

The battle between police and residents in Brixton in April 1981 was the most significant outbreak of civil disorder in 20th century London.

In 1981, Brixton's Afro-Caribbean community comprised roughly 25% of its population. It was an area of high unemployment, particularly for Black men, where rates were as high as 50%.

Brixton was also an area of high crime, and in April 1981 the Metropolitan Police initiated 'Operation Swamp'. Within six days, a massive police presence on the streets had led to almost 1,000 people - mostly young Black men - being stopped and searched.

Police were operating under the 'sus' law. In order to stop someone, police needed only 'sus', or suspicion, that they might be intending to commit a crime. The police were exempt from the Race Relations Act, and seemed to some to be operating the 'sus' laws on the basis of racial prejudice.

On 13 April 1981, Police tried to assist a young Black man who had been stabbed in the back. A rumour circulated that the police were trying to arrest the injured man, rather than take him to hospital. Tensions rose. The following day, the arrest of another man outside a minicab office sparked violence. Within hours, the streets had become a battle zone. People threw petrol bombs and set light to police cars. Police in riot gear arrived, as did firefighters.

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