Voices: The London Riots

London Riots

We can dispense with some mistakes, though. It is wrong to say that the riots are apolitical. The trouble began on Saturday night when protesters gathered at Tottenham police station to demand that the police explain the circumstances in which a local man, Mark Duggan, had been shot dead by the police. The death of a Londoner, another black Londoner, at the hands of the police has a gruesome significance. The police are employed to keep the peace and the police shot someone dead. This is a deeply political matter. Besides, it is conventional to say how much policing in London has changed since the Brixton riots of the early eighties – but not many people mouthing the conventional wisdom have much firsthand experience of being young and poor in Britain’s inner cities.

More broadly, any breakdown of civil order is inescapably political. Quite large numbers of mostly young people have decided that, on balance, they want to take to the streets and attack the forces of law and order, damage property or steal goods. Their motives may differ – they are bound to differ. But their actions can only be understood adequately in political terms. While the recklessness of adrenaline has something to do with what is happening, the willingness to act is something to be explained. We should perhaps ask them what they were thinking before reaching for phrases like “mindless violence”. We might actually learn something.

— Dan Hind, writing for Al-Jazeera

I’m digressing, personalising, because I am angry and despairing. Right and left are meaningless in terms of what has happened over the last few nights. If you genuinely think that this wouldn’t have happened if the coalition had been Labour/Lib Dem you need to get off the internet and get out more. That 13 – 20% have no respect or concern for or interest in any government, and probably can’t even distinguish between the range of worthies in suits who have ruled us during their lifetimes. I’ve even seen someone blame Thatcher for what happened last night, as if Cameron had achieved the kind of reversal of history that was beyond Pohl Pot. Politics does not concern the 13 to 20%; criminality is their norm, just as it was their parents’ norm.

They are not part of the society the people reading this belong to. Rioting last night gave them a sense of power and control, over the police, and over their neighbours. It’s a huge oversimplification to say these are simply poor areas. Patterns of housing – particularly the rental market – in London are way more complex than that and Hackney, Clapham, Brixton etc have been increasingly gentrified over the last thirty years. The communities are much more mixed than many commentators will acknowledge. What these riots – which aren’t demonstrations, but parties got out of hand, with fires and prizes – is the degree of alienation from their own communities, their inability to acknowledge that they are part of any community. They also don’t see themselves as angry or even oppressed, because they cannot look beyond the circumstances they are in and the peer pressures around them. And it is about bad parenting, to the extent that when the 13 to 20% become parents they have no aspirations or responsibilities for their children to inherit. That won’t change if you treat merely them as victims, and enhance their sense of entitlement to trainers and TVs, nor if you treat them merely as criminals and process them through a judicial system that encourages recidivism.

— Rosamicula on LiveJournal

Just let me be clear about this (It’s a good phrase, Mr and Mrs Cameron, and one I looted from every sentence your son utters, just as he looted it from Tony Blair), I am not justifying or minimising in any way what has been done by the looters over the last few nights. What I am doing, however, is expressing shock and dismay that your son and his friends feel themselves in any way to be guardians of morality in this country.

Can they really, as 650 people who have shown themselves to be venal pygmies, moral dwarves at every opportunity over the last 20 years, bleat at others about ‘criminality’. Those who decided that when they broke the rules (the rules they themselves set) they, on the whole wouldn’t face the consequences of their actions?

Are they really surprised that this country’s culture is swamped in greed, in the acquisition of material things, in a lust for consumer goods of the most base kind? Really?

Let’s have a think back: cash-for-questions; Bernie Ecclestone; cash-for-access; Mandelson’s mortgage; the Hinduja passports; Blunkett’s alleged insider trading (and, by the way, when someone has had to resign in disgrace twice can we stop having them on television as a commentator, please?); the meetings on the yachts of oligarchs; the drafting of the Digital Economy Act with Lucian Grange; Byers’, Hewitt’s & Hoon’s desperation to prostitute themselves and their positions; the fact that Andrew Lansley (in charge of NHS reforms) has a wife who gives lobbying advice to the very companies hoping to benefit from the NHS reforms. And that list didn’t even take me very long to think of.

Our politicians are for sale and they do not care who knows it.

Oh yes, and then there’s the expenses thing. Widescale abuse of the very systems they designed, almost all of them grasping what they could while they remained MPs, to build their nest egg for the future at the public’s expense. They even now whine on Twitter about having their expenses claims for getting back to Parliament while much of the country is on fire subject to any examination. True public servants.

– Nathaniel Tapely, “An Open Letter to David Cameron’s Parents

 

(Via Baratunde and Jason)

  • Rochelle

    Obviously this episode should be seen through a political lens, with a careful examination of the structural and historical factors that have caused and/or conditioned what is happening. Any brush off in “mindless violence” parlance is, I agree, very dangerous.

    But dangerous, too, is any wisp of romanticization of this violence by those who want to cast the rioters in the role of the ‘people’ and the politicians or police as the ‘enemy’ and everyone in between as stagecrew. I am not rooting for rioters, and I don’t think there’s anything cool or forgivable or empathetic about smashing glass and taking shit.

    Clearly this is just anecdotal, but I’ve lived in London and I saw some truly astounding violence there. I wouldn’t call it ‘mindless’ but more like ‘disinterested’, meaning there was no clear economic or social-justice motive.  On the southside of Chicago (where I lived before), you got jumped because somebody wanted your money or you did something to piss somebody off. In London I saw a guy getting stabbed by a group of young (white) men in hoodies outside my flat. They didn’t know the guy, they didn’t take any of his stuff. It was just random. It reminded me of the Clockwork Orange, and it wasn’t an isolated incident.

    Any attempts to cast this as a ‘brown-people’ phenomenon is pure, unadulterated bullpoo. The fact is, the vast majority of the rioters are young, white men, who can classify as ’NEET’ (not in education, employment or training). So yes, I don’t have any qualms saying that the UK is experiencing a huge social problem with a group of people who are not integrating well into society and causing problems as a result: young, bored, white men.