With expectations for the end of the six-week lockdown rising there are is a huge amount of hope focussed on the 25th May as the date at which restrictions will start to be relaxed. As we have seen in other countries, frustrations have sometimes been allowed to boil over and end in violence. Is it possible that we have a return to the bad old days in the 1980’s when riots were relatively frequent “another Brixton”, “Toxteth” or “Handsworth” becoming comparators for all sorts of local disturbances.

The UK, having got off to a late start, hampered by a decapitated government without an identifiable leader, seemingly has got back on track with dramatic reductions in deaths caused by the disease whichever way they are counted. But once partial relaxation is made, some will try and push the boundaries of the new freedoms and any heavy-handedness on the part of the police could result in a backlash, possibly with violence as a consequence. In some circumstances, the wrong or simply insensitive move by emergency services can lead to widescale disruption and damage.

The Handsworth riots in September 1981 have been attributed to a range of events, some more plausible than others. Handsworth in 1981 was a declining post industrial area with extensive deprivation, unemployment and high levels of crime including drug use and dealing. A raid on a pub heightened community tensions in May but it was the issuing of parking tickets to owners of cars on a main road that led to the riots (an alternative cause was suggested: a Station Officer in charge of one of the pumps attending a car that had been set on fire, hit a youth who was attempting to cut a hose line! This was never proved.).

The lesson is for us all, in these uncertain times to be mindful of the way we deal with others and when the possibility of conflict arises, we should turn around and walk away. The last thing we need now is a series of civil disturbance.

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