30 Years since the Liverpool 8 Uprising

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It was July 1981 when the Liverpool 8 Uprising – or ‘Toxteth Riots’ as it became known – began. Following the typically aggressive and heavy-handed arrest of Leroy Cooper on Friday 3 July, anger erupted on the streets of one of Liverpool’s most deprived areas in one of the most voracious displays of collective rage seen in the 1980s. Such was the force of the insurrection that the Conservative Government at the time was forced to seriously rethink both their policing and urban planning strategies. But what were the wider undercurrents that lead to these nine nights of rebellion? And to what extent have the ‘new’ policing and urban planning strategies come to mirror their predecessors?

Working class and ethnic minority communities in the 1980s were suffering heavily under Thatcher’s restructuring of society. Deliberately dismantling British industry in order to make way for the neoliberal economic model, the government of the time caused mass unemployment and widespread poverty. This was felt most in the inner cities, where certain communities were designated ‘criminal’ by default by local policing strategies. These communities were all-too-often ethnic minorities and it was the forces of institutional racism that ruled the streets. Police harassment was endemic. If you lived in these areas it was near impossible to get work – there were no jobs within these communities and employers from outside these communities wouldn’t give you a second glance.

Most controversial was the widespread implementation of the ‘sus’ laws (find out more HERE). These laws meant routine stop-and-search, arrest and intimidation for people of Liverpool 8 and every other inner-city working class community throughout the UK. Free from any scrutiny whatsoever, the police acted with impunity on a remit that amounted to intensive harassment and containment of whole communities. The Liverpool 8 uprising and all those like it accross the UK, were the most articulate expressions of dissent against the socio-economic pressure cooker people found themselves in. Essentially, the big urban riots of the 1980s did more to shift the discourse on the role of the police and the language with which policing is framed than anything else since.

Subsequently, the ‘sus’ laws were repealed on 27 August 1981. Community policing emerged alongside traditional policing models in order to better manage the image and perception of the police by communities on a local level. Think of it as “good cop, bad cop” enshrined in strategy. This new model would employ more ethnic minorities, engage in community consultation processes and familiarise themselves with locals on a more informal and less hostile level. Or so they said.

Urban regeneration was introduced in order to restore the neglected urban landscapes of the inner cities. This infrastructural poverty was believed to be one of the main aggravating factors for the riots of ’81 by the establishment. It was also thought that over time, as the areas became more desireable places to live, that the class composition of such areas would become less singular. This attempt to dilute local demographics would make it fundamentally easier to police; solidarity is much less likely amongst people with differing social experiences and greater degrees of alienation from each other.

So, thirty years later, where have these strategies left us?

The Rise of Intelligence-led Policing and it’s Origins.

In the aftermath of the movement against the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, an enquiry was launched into how public order situations could be better managed by the Metropolitan Police. This led to an embryonic version of the FIT being established on a remit not dissimilar to that of the emergent community policing approaches of the 1980s. That is, to have a third party police unit engage with protest groups on an approachable level and to attempt to mediate between the police and protestors. To be the friendly face, the point of contact, the “good cop”.

Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with how, in reality, that ended up: a specialist unit of police officers who indiscriminately target protestors (amongst others) for surveillance, harassment and intimidation as a tool to crush dissent.

It was in 2008 that (then) Home Secretary Jacqui Smith announced that the Police would be rolling out these tactics to the estates to combat “anti-social behaviour”. Anti-social behaviour was Labour’s crime buzzword of the noughties – a term so nebulous it became used much in the same way as the ‘sus’ laws of the 1980s. Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (or ASBOs) were used to impose stringent conditions on the behaviour of individuals who were regarded, for whatever reason, undesireable. Breaking these conditions is a criminal offence and thus often criminalises essentially un-criminal behaviour. This particular FITwatcher remembers the tabloid shockers of the time: the suicidally depressed getting ASBOs preventing them from going near tall buildings, the woman who enjoyed sex too much and was told to keep it down or risk getting a record. Then there were the local police advertising campaigns: billboards and buses bearing the likenesses of supposed ‘offenders’ detailing their ASBO conditions and urging people to grass if the ‘offender’ is seen to break their conditions. In the midst of ASBO-mania, Jacqui Smith heralded the arrival of “Operation Leopard” – a pioneering scheme to introduce Forward Intelligence Team tactics to Essex. Coupled with the 2007 introduction of additional powers for Police to stop people on the street based entirely on suspicion (again, not a million miles away from the ‘sus’ laws), it wasn’t long before it was rolled out to police other areas – such as the estates around East London’s Brick Lane.

Regeneration Exposed: Gentrification and Social Exclusion.

Brick Lane (and the London Boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Hackney as a whole) offer a prime example of how urban ‘regeneration’ is used to justify extensive gentrification of the inner cities. Rather than investing in maintenance and repair of, for instance, social housing whole estates are left to go to rack and ruin. This, in turn,  is used to justify their demolition and the relocation of their tenants to estates in the suburbs of London (and beyond) to make way for those who will invest in the private housing market. Essentially, this further decimates working class communities and creates new ghettos away from the inner cities even more socially excluded, infrastructurally deprived and more vulnerable to abusive policing. Whoever has the dubious good fortune to remain in the inner city faces extreme social exclusion as municipal planning schemes revolve entirely on transient communities of young professionals and students. Conversely, local policing strategies treat the established communities of such areas as criminal. For example, the surveillance operation on Brick Lane focuses entirely on the harassment and intimidation of local Asian youth, whereas the predominantly white, middle-class party goers of the area’s booming nightlife scene go uninterrupted. Another glaring example of such discrimination exists in the policing of the London Fields area of Hackney. Police initiatives target young, predominantly black “gang culture” yet totally ignore the summertime use of the park as a trendy hangout for again, predominantly white middle-class young professionals. In the summer the park resembles a music festival with literally hundreds of people there partying, drink and drug use is commonplace. Note: this FITwatcher is not arguing for Police intervention in such use of the park, but rather pointing out that if it was used in such a way by the established Black community there would be stop-and-searches, anti-social behaviour orders and camera teams everywhere.

Where do we go from here?

We have seen how concentrated police harassment affects not only our own social movements, but also the communities of the past and the present. We also have an idea of the forces at work behind policing – how it is always used selectively by the government as a tool of social control whether in our communities or on protests. Some of us may know better than others how this feels; we have all experienced repressive policing in different ways. Some of us in our communities, some of us on protests, at football matches and so on. Some of us may never have directly experienced such harassment, but are rightly disgusted by it. It is important that we respect the differences in our experiences, whilst focussing on the one thing that we all share; a determination to assert ourselves and fight back against repressive policing. We may also choose to fight back differently – we must not make moralistic value judgements on the different ways people resist these repressive policing strategies. We must not allow ourselves to be divided by an insistence on non-violence or violence either way. A tactically diverse movement acting in solidarity with each other is one of the most resillient enemies of the status quo.

3 thoughts on “30 Years since the Liverpool 8 Uprising

  1. Love Life ! Love Liverpool ! …
    Loverpool Loves YOU !

    Leroy Cooper’s photography, paintings, written articles and related art work, should be being included in the LIVERPOOL BIENNIAL 2014.
    If its not… then the people who decide what is included should ask themselves some searcing questions regarding the festivals core
    principals. Leroy Cooper represents life in Liverpool from the outsiders perspective.
    His photography speaks for itself.
    If you look without…
    the images will speak to you !

    He is a cultural ambassador AND an artist of rare quality.
    In 100 years time his social documentative photographic legacy will be a testament to the power of positive thinking, in the face of social barriers, blind ignorance and of the blatant indifference of a racist, ruling elite !

    Leroy Cooper is one of Liverpool’s best kept, iconic and creative secrets but his time for greater recognition is NOW !

    John Connor Branch
    17 09 2012

  2. Leroy Cooper FusionMESIA33

    30 years on : A Life Lived Through The Chaos Theory .

    Leroy Cooper …. 2012
    Photographer, Journalist, Poet, Painter,
    Multi-Media Artist,DJ and Musician,

    Screenplay writer and Film Director..

    Liverpool, Toxteth, July 3rd 1981…

    An innocent motor cyclist.

    An insensitive, ignorant, right wing, racist police force.

    A city and a community suffering the full brunt of
    Margaret Hilda Thatcher’s right wing conservative policies…i.e.

    High unemployment leading to :

    Cultural, Economic and Social exclusion.
    This was the volatile and inflammable atmosphere that only required a spark to ignite centuries of racial aggression and repression in the former… “ Slave Trading ” Port of Liverpool.

    That Spark manifested in the person and personality… of Leroy Cooper.

    His arrest, in the multi cultural neighbourhood of Granby Street, Toxteth, that fateful summers evening was to have earth shattering political,
    social, cultural and economic consequences for a city and a country in the last decaying death throes of post empire and of the colonial urban imperialism ”of its own multi cultural communities”.

    Even H.R.H Queen Elizabeth II was aware of the notorious name of…
    THE 1981 TOXTETH RIOTS… if only because it was the first time C.S gas was deployed in a crowd control situation on her British mainland.

    One can imagine a royal flunky informing …

    “Her Royal Highness” …

    “ Ma’am the natives are restless up North…

    A bit of a kick off by all accounts … ”

    After 4 days of confrontation between thousands of balaclava wearing urban warriors and the combined police forces of several regional divisions the score was …

    A young man, run over and crushed to death by police landrover,…

    David Moore………..

    (No police officer ever investigated, held accountable or prosecuted.

    Still no plaque on the ghetto wall to commerate David’s fall….. )

    Over 750 police officers receive hospital treatment. That no police officer was killed was remarkable.

    However in the Bridgewater Farm Riots in
    Tottenham, North London 1985 a police officer did loose his life P.C. Keith Blakelock. For which Winston Silcott was wrongly imprisoned.

    CS gas used on British mainland for the first time.

    Millions of pounds of damage due to burning and looting.

    A nation in shock, a city’s racist police force exposed and a community
    torn apart.

    The names of Toxteth, Liverpool along with Brixton, London go around the world focusing attention on the new Britain Margaret Thatcher was creating.



    At the centre of this social and political implosion a young black man hung out to dry, the scapegoat, the sacrificial lamb… Leroy Cooper.

    Sent to HMP Hindley (Borstal) where he had to overcome a bungled attempt to plant drugs in his cell (30 valium tablets) by a racist and corrupt prison officer.

    The prison governor had smelt a rat and not wanting media attention brought to an already over stretched and incompetent prison regime dismissed the trumped up charges against Leroy Cooper.

    Leroy Cooper returned to his community with a new found political awareness, an exercise book full of poetry and a burning desire to educate and up lift himself and those around him.

    The hand of fate had dealt him a colossal social millstone.

    “ Who wants to employ the man blamed for starting a riot, a social uprising, a political and cultural revolution.”


    No one could have predicted the inner strength, the creativity and
    integrity of Leroy Cooper.

    It would have been easy for him to have become another“ cocky ” thug….

    It would have been easy for him to have become

    a hooligan fooligan.

    But against the backdrop of all the… “social environmental hazards” … associated with life in a ghetto….

    e.g. unemployment, alcohol and drug abuse, police harassment, economic and social exclusion, institutional racism,

    Leroy Cooper chose to walk a different path.

    Out of the chaos, that was his post 1981 life, in the fractured and divided Liverpool of 1981, Leroy Cooper was inspired to pursue a career in the Arts.

    Armed with his talent and ability for writing insightful and perceptive poetry, he embarked on a journey of self development, self discovery and self promotion.


    The path Leroy Cooper chose covered the broad spectrum of “THE ARTS”

    As Performance Poet appearing in several 80’s documentaries including :

    Liverpool Black Media Groups documentary …


    BBC 1’s flagship current affairs programme
    “ PANORAMA ”

    Granada’s “ WORLD IN ACTION ”


    Leroy Cooper is an authentic…. Voice of Britain.

    The Voice of The Marginalised…

    The Voice of The Oppressed
    The Voice of The Inner City
    And yet also…A VOICE OF HOPE…


    As a graffiti artist he painted the street signs of Toxteth, the red, yellow and green of Rastafarian Culture and called it an Urban Installation. Well before Banksy turned up…

    A simple yet effective way of making a statement about self determination and celebrating, a community, an identity, a culture and Liverpool’s hidden heritage.

    As an actor in 1990, he made his feature film debut in an Independent film called…

    THE FRONTLINE : Directed by PAUL HILLS : available via Amozon.com

    A music career that covers creating along with close friend Marcus Gallagher.. the internationally respected Sound System… COSMIC AMBASSADOR HI FI.

    Club Dj and M.C. Frontman for notorious House and Dance Music Producers…THE PORN KINGSon their European tours.

    Recording artist with NEW ATLANTIC.



    Leroy Cooper is a film director and documentary maker and has directed and filmed for BBC VIDEO NATION.

    He is a published poet, writer, photographer and journalist.

    His widely acclaimed articles…

    Life in Liverpool…Thru The Lens… of Leroy Cooper… in http://www.diversemag.co.uk … Establishing him, clearly, as the leading social commentator on Liverpool’s attempts to address 500 years of racial and working class exploitation…

    If your having trouble reading between the lines of past, present or future… local, national and international politics, them ask Leroy Cooper for his opinions. He jokingly claims…

    “ Its everyones human right and entitlement to MY opinions “

    No denying he possesses an ego… but he never steps over into naked arrogance…

    Leroy Cooper is a playwright, a writer of short stories and screenplays for films and animation.

    He jointly co-ordinated a community publishing project with Dorothy Thomas to publish an illustrated anthology of Liverpool based poets, photographers and illustrators…UNDERCURRENTS: available from Liverpool Central Library


    Leroy Cooper : The Photographer and Painter

    Ultimately it is as photographer and painter that he found his vocation and a twenty year something photographic (still on going) and painting project, was born.

    Leroy Cooper has consistently taken photographs of Liverpool as well as photographic missions to other cities.
    His collection numbers over 150,000 images and presents a glimpse into his perception of…


    A Liverpool that is only now coming to terms with its unsavoury past and seeking POSITIVE new directions for its Post Millennium Future.
    Leroy Coopers reputation and confidence allowed him to approach his subjects and to engage them in a
    “ magical moment of creativity ”…

    When the notoriously famous man takes
    your picture a little bit of REALITY stardust is sprinkled over you too.

    “Get your 15 seconds of frameFAME” …..


    In a ” Leroy Cooper ” photograph.
    Leroy Cooper’s dedication, persistence and positive attitude are to be commended and celebrated.

    He brings his life experience to his work which
    is informative, educational and at the same time entertaining BUT QUESTIONING.

    Leroy Cooper knows about life at the shitty end of the stick but has gone on to achieve great things despite the negative hurdles he has had to surmount.

    The quality of his images has to be seen to be truly appreciated.

    The work speaks for itself, of the passion,of the struggle, of the anger, of the joy, of the pain, of the frustration and of the sense of overcoming
    Leroy coopers work speaks about the ugliness of urban poverty and decay.

    The work speaks about the inner beauty of the people who are psychologically trapped by the racism of the wider, white society in the inner city of Liverpool.


    Ultimately Leroy Coopers work speaks about the celebration and regeneration of life itself. As Liverpool and Toxteth, move forward, together, towards the future with more genuine confidence.

    Leroy Cooper

    The Cosmic Painter : The New Skool Kool !

    The contrast between the black and white gritty images screams out sharply, with the vivid cosmic colours, of his paintings…

    The inner world of Leroy Cooper is one full of light a vibrating, resonating kaleidoscope of abstract forms and intense colours…

    The paintings are far more about the inner workings of person who has been forced to look inside themselves to find their inner connection to the beauty of the world inside and outside of the world of ghettoes.

    Someone seeing beyond police harassment, exclusion from the work place and the rat race of paying the mortgage and keeping up with the materiality of the Jones’s.


    In recent times he has been celebrated at TATE LIVERPOOL in 2007. He specifically avoided being involved in he called the 2008…


    Not wishing to give undeserved credit
    to what he calls… ” money grabbing vultures and exploiters ” of Liverpool s Working Class Roots and Culture…

    If life is about the relationships between… peoples, their environments and their inner selves, then Leroy Cooper has been granted access to…

    “The Secret Life of Liverpool”.

    Not for him the negative images peddled by a National Media (apparently) hell bent on crucifying Liverpool through 80′s and 90′s.
    Leroy Coopers work is perceptive and full of a unique insights into everyday life that challenges the status quo and asks the reader or viewer to look at life from different angles, to open their minds and come out of their comfort zones and discover new truths that might set them free, to be truly, themselves, with no apologies.



    The cliche states…


    In a city that is still gripped by, social and economical instability for the poor and marginalised communities.

    Leroy Cooper stands out as an inspirational figure.

    In a city where the “GANGSTER” is still the most common role model for impressionable and vulnerable inner city youth, Leroy Cooper picked up the
    pen and not the knife. He picked up, canvasses, paint brushes and spray cans not chains, knives and knuckle dusters.

    In a time where any ” wanna be… bad boy” can get hold of a…”sawn off shot gun or 9mm hand gun for hire”…to sort out any of “LIFES PROBLEMS”…

    Leroy Cooper picked up a 35mm SLR camera to disprove once and for all, media myths perpetrated about…

    “His Liverpool” and in so doing clear up…

    A 30 year character assassination, against his own character and that of his Toxteth Community.

    For nearly two years now Leroy has had a very successful exhibition of his paintings and photography at Keiths Wine Bar on Lark Lane L17, that has become the talk of the town and has been viewed by thousands of customers while enjoying good food, good wine and good company. His work is fresh, colourful, vibrant and thought provoking with such titles as, CHRIST AS FEMALE, YOUR SOUL, SON FLOWERS WITH CAT, FAULTY TOWERS and the magnificent Picasso like, THE LOVERS. If you have not been and seen, get there while they can still be seen for free OR http://www.youtube leroy cooper revealed and Google, Leroy Cooper, Liverpool artist and view the online promotional highlights.

    Recently Leroy has been meeting some of the “movers and shakers in the city” to forward his ambitions of starting his own gallery and multi-media company in Hope Street, these include Keith Blundell, Head of Tourism at Liverpool City Council, Kevin McManus, Director of MERSEYSIDEacme, Cheryl McGowan from Liverpool Galleries and Museums, Robin Ellis from George Downings Property Company. Things are all moving in the right direction for Leroy for at last the quality of his work is doing the talking for him and it is gathering positive support from whoever sees the work.

    It’s not too far fetched to say Liverpool has a true creative genuis lurking in its artistic underground that is ready to blossom and take off to Olympian heights and proportions during 2012 and 2013. As Leroy himself says…

    “The time is right to create a Black, Multi-Cultural, Diverse Arts and Multi-Media Company and Organisation that can truly represent the massive amount of talent that Liverpool has but never promotes or invests in. I am an example of that myself. It’s been 30 years that my name has been known in this city by other photographers, painters and artists, musicians, DJs and producers, writers and film makers and ordinary, everyday people from Liverpool’s social scene and street culture.

    No one can deny that my “talent, hard work and perseverance” in the face of the massive discriminational hurdles that I have had to overcome because of The 1981 Toxteth Uprising and my accidental involvement, in “the sparking out” assault of “3 police officers incident” that led to “The Riots”, is something to be proud of.

    When my career moves up a couple of notches (which it will do) and the whole city can share in my success and be genuinely appreciative of all the talented people I intend to bring through with my Multi-Media Company “FusionMEDIA33″, then we will be able to see that a change for the better has has taken place in Liverpool and Merseyside.

    Only those uneducated, ignorant racists would not wish for a better future for our city where its most talented prosper and in so doing lift Liverpool to new heights of social, cultural and economic inclusivity and excellence. For a city that has been dogged for years for being racist and backward in its attitude to race, cultural diversity. and gender issue. This would be the true beginning of the healing of very a painful past, where the place that represented the gateway into bondage and slavery becomes the gateway to creativity, freedom and equality on the global stage, setting an example and a blueprint that others will follow”




    Liverpool has something to say to the whole world and Leroy Cooper is one of those who can articulate it.

    So look without prejudice , feel without fear and get to know the hidden beauty of Liverpool.

    Thank you for your time, forward this document to those you think may appreciate Liverpool’s hidden inner beauty …




    They must not be reproduced any where

    else without the signed permission of…











    Leroy Cooper M.D.


    J.C. Branch

    20 04 2012

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