Tuesday, 9 August 2011

On the London riots.

I was going to try and spend today writing a balanced piece about the riots on Saturday but instead I have been watching BBC News 24 and following the Twittersphere as the riots and disorder spread across London and now as far as Birmingham and are threatening to spread around the country. I'm even taking precautions in my own home and Medway is not a likely place for the disorder and I am hoping we are far enough out of the city centre that if it does kick off we will be shot of it. Also if any would be looter is thinking about hitting my house, fair warning; You will get a bat to the face.

The streets of London have very rapidly descended into  mob rule. Police cars have been burnt, residences and businesses have been burnt down, 215 arrests have been made, railway stations closed and everyday citizens are losing their livelihoods and homes. What are the causes of this and what are the solutions?
The initial trigger to the initial disturbance in Tottenham was a peaceful protest over the shooting by Police officers of Mark Duggan, 29, on Thursday. Currently the information in the public sector is that police acted on information from Operation Trident and stopped a minicab. Three shots were fired, two by police, the one by Mr Duggan struck a police officer's radio. Members of the community and family of Mr Duggan organised a protest and request for information at the local police station. As time went by tempers freyed and a small minority torched a couple of parked squad cars and then it all flowed from there. There were arguments that this was caused by elements who felt that they are victimised by the Police and even on the basis of race and frustrations just boiled over. Who could say?
Now... Enfield and Brixton were struck last night now Hackney and Peckham, even Bromley, Croydon and I received a text from a very good friend in Lambeth has text me that riot police have just moved into Elephant and Castle. Now violence is opening up in Birmingham and there are unconfirmed rumours of things happening in Leeds. I have been forced to ask;
What the hell is going on in this country?

I've been trying to wrack my brain for reasons why this is happening and how things have got this bad and I've listed them below. What I can say is this...
Now is not the time to be partisan about this and look for who is to blame, be it the Coalition for their cuts, Labour for causing the financial situation, the Liberals for backing down over EMA and tuition... none of this matters. What matters is that society has obviously failed a whole generation who are so detached from what society and community should be that they think that what is going on is completely acceptable and THIS has to be tackled across parties and by all parts of society.

So what has caused this?

Lets talk about the cuts first. Now I know the Austerity measures are tough, I suffer them and I know many who do.Communities across Britain have been asked to give up vast amounts of money and time and it is hard. It isn't a task that any Government wants to undertake but it needed to be done. The problem rises from the fact that Westminster seems so removed from the city streets and households, most of the cabinet are millionaires and don't have to suffer the privations of the everyday citizen... How can they understand what we are going through?
Others find Politics so impenetrable and dull that they feel it has no relevance to their lives, something Charles Kennedy warned us about in his book; The Future of British Politics.
People are angry and feel frustrated that they don't have a voice and that even their local councils, which they elected this May also don't seem to be listening. Could this frustration and rage have overflowed into the riots?
It is indeed possible BUT at no point has any placard been waved or cause announced short of the original demonstration.

What of this lost generation? Now, it couldn't have escaped your notice that when you wander through town centres or on estates you'll see large groups of youths just hanging around. I've seen them, at work and at home, when I grew up I did a similar thing at times. Where I work we often get youths just coming in to pass the time, others and a specific group come in regularly, cause damage and antagonise our staff. This isn't necessarily because they are bad kids or are urban criminals its just they don't have anything better to do and so act out of boredom. I grew up in a very rural village and there was literally nothing to do most days so when I wasn't playing on the PC or reading a friend and I would go out and walk around the public footpaths and relax in the sun on various bridges and chat so I can sympathise with them in a way. However my thoughts never turned to acts of crime!
Still the majority in this case see something exciting happening and immediately want to jump in and get involved. They saw how easy the protests were in the autumn, saw Laurrie Penny's "People's riot" on Oxford street and more importantly they saw how powerless the Police were to deal with it. One ex Police officer also referred to the revolving door justice system of the UK. How many of the 215 will serve any kind of sentence? The prisons are overflowing and re offending is becoming frighteningly common. Lets be honest its only the ring leaders who will get a stiff sentence in a media fuelled frenzy and then in a few years time, with barely a whisper of condemnation they will be released early.
The mob knows this. What have they to fear?

On top of that they also know the Police are in a tight situation. A Police officer has to think twice before striking a member of the public. Job and pension are on the line. When my Grandfather was involved in a riot he was guarding the truck and was attacked by a couple of protesters and he was forced to lash out in defence and struck them with the starting handle of the truck! His Inspector at the time was impressed. Now he'd have lost his job and may have been arrested for ABH and assault. Also the Police don't know the areas well and groups are able to hit and fade in a guerrilla warfare style. At the moment actions are taking place across London and already officers are being drafted in from elsewhere to assist the situation.
Also coming back to problems with the Policing in their community. I have a friend who is stopped regularly in Brixton because he's of Afro-Caribbean origin, drives a black sports car with tinted windows, he has many friends who suffer the same. Some communities feel that they are victimised by the Police and when one of their own is shot and there is a five hour delay on simple answers to the questions of the community then yes anger will come out. Something Claudia Webbe was talking about on BBC Radio 4.

At the centre of all of this is the beating heart, the cold calculating brain, the criminal. Its one thing to be caught up in the mob mentality or acting out of boredom knowing that there is no line of recourse. Its another to be organising this sort of thing for material gain or just for the sake of doing this just to cause trouble and have a go at the Police.
On the 7th August Liam_1993 ( self described as Post Capitalist. Student Activist. Revolutionary Anarcho-Syndicalist. Lazy Bastard.) tweeted the following:

apparently #Enfield is kicking off, remember to mask up if your gonna join in, if your arrested, no comment.

I don't think I need to say anything further about this, except to echo David Lammey (MP for Tottenham) in saying that the most horrendous acts are not being carried out by locals but an outside group. This may not necessarily be true of Tottenham but definitely Enfield, Peckham and Harrogate.
There has also been reports of preprinted documents handed to looters and rioters of how to avoid arrest and what to do if arrested. Others have had petrol bombs which means that they have prepared for action this day and haven't acted on the spare of the moment.
 Yes the communication revolution has helped organise these things quickly but it is merely an aid not a cause.
There are also extreme incidences where a photographer has been bottled;

marmite_ marmite
Just seen a photographer being deliberately bottled, horrible. #hackney via @billykenber #LondonRiots (tweeted about 8pm)

Others, appearing on BBC news have talked about cameras being smashed and been threatened with weapons for valuables like telephones. Shops like Currys, Aldi, Lidl, MacDonald's all ransacked and broken into and not just the big companies that can afford it but little off licences and corner shops are having their lifeblood taken from them.

Who suffers from all of this? The Community. Family businesses will not be able to afford to reopen. Housing prices will drop, other buisnesses will not want to rellocate there, some will not rebuild their lost shops. More importantly the everyday civillian who has lost everything at the hands of the mob have no reason to stay. The minority are ruining it for the majority.

So what can be done? As I said earlier, now is NOT the time for party politics or points scoring. Comments like Ken Livingstone's ("I'm not trying to politically point score but its all the government's fault") or Dianne Abbott whittering on in the I about cuts are not helpful. What needs to be done is a cross party solution where we all sit around the table and actually listen to the communities, to the local councils and Police commanders as we try and figure out what the cause is and what solutions are available and not jump on a bandwagon and sally forth to vanquish another foe and getting it completely wrong.

Now is not the time for knee jerk reactions. My first reaction was to call for the army to reinstall order. This was done a century ago when rioters took parts of London and Liverpool, in fact in Liverpool a Navy Gunboat sailed up the Mersey and opened fire on strikers. This is not Syria though and if we started rolling APC's and Tanks down Peckham Highstreet then surely something would be amiss?
On the other hand it would send a clear message. After the LA riots a 7pm-7am curfew was installed with a shoot to kill from the military as a deterrent. Maybe such a curfew for the duration of the emergency is needed but that is up to the policy makers.
There were also compelling arguments for water cannons. Not just for their ability to disperse the crowds and allow the Police, Firefighters and Paramedics to do their jobs and help those in need but also to help put out the fires in shops, in cars and remove these focal points for the mob.

Ultimately it is a temporary solutions. What needs to be looked at is the youth of the country and what they want to do or not do. Their subculture has become so distant and removed from civilisation and society that scenes like this are OK, that taking part in actions like the riot is acceptable if not wished for! How could we have come to this? Something desperately needs to be done to reach this doomed youth.

The new Politics, the one we believe in, the more open and understanding politics that isn't overloaded with party rhetoric and tribalism needs to come into play and we actually need to listen to the people, what they want and what the government and councils can provide.

We also need Justice to prevail and be reformed so that those who break the law or conspire to public disobedience at this scale are punished properly and fully.

No comments:

Post a Comment