The Toxteth riots of July 1981 were a civil disturbance in inner-city Liverpool, which arose in part from long-standing tensions between the local police and the black community. They followed the Brixton riots earlier that year.
The Merseyside police force had, at the time, a poor reputation for stopping and searching young black men in the area, under the infamous "sus" laws, and the heavy-handed arrest of Leroy Alphonse Cooper on Friday 3 July, watched by an angry crowd, led to a disturbance in which three policemen were injured.
Over the weekend that followed, disturbance erupted into full-scale rioting, with pitched battles between police and youths in which petrol bombs and paving stones were thrown, and the police employed CS gas for the first time in the UK outside Northern Ireland. In all, the rioting lasted nine days, during which one person died after being struck by a police vehicle attempting to clear crowds, and (according to the police) there were 468 police officers injured, 500 people arrested, and at least 70 buildings demolished. Later estimates suggested the numbers of injured police officers and destroyed buildings were at least double those of the official figures.
The riots, like those around the same time in Brixton, Handsworth, and those in 1980 in Bristol, were generally seen as "race riots", but there are many reports of similarly frustrated white youths travelling in from other areas of Liverpool to fight alongside Toxteth residents against the police. Blaming "race problems" allowed many people - including then Merseyside Chief Constable Kenneth Oxford - to ignore the possibility of broader social origins for the violence.
The subsequent Scarman Report (although primarily directed at the Brixton Riot of 1981) recognised that the riots did represent the result of social problems such as poverty and deprivation. The Government responded by sending Michael Heseltine, as "Minister for Merseyside" to set up the Merseyside Task Force and launch a series of initiatives, including the Liverpool international garden festival and the Mersey Basin Campaign.
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