Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The UK riots

I was in the process of writing a blog post comparing three locations I had recently been in the UK, namely London, Nottingham and Bradford, when the rioting broke out. I'll come back to that topic eventually but feel that writing some thoughts about the current situation is more urgent.

The original peaceful protest on Saturday afternoon/evening in Tottenham was fully understandable. The community felt that one of their own had been unnecessarily killed and wanted to mark their feelings. How we got from there to sporadic burning, looting and general mayhem in multiple locations within the London and indeed around the UK is beyond understanding. Any answer to the question that can fit within the confines of a blog post is going to be glib and miss many of the potential points. However, that's what blogs do so I'll at least try to hit some points.

The original riot may have been in response to Mark Duggan's killing but to my mind the following two evenings have been mainly copy-cat vandalism and thuggery rather than a traditional riot with a political or social injustice dimension. Sure, those carrying out the acts are mainly male youths from disadvantaged areas but look at what the targets are: mobile phone, sports and technology shops. All items either of status or reasonably high resale value.

But why do people feel that they should carry out such acts? Marginalization from society? Poverty? Lack of civic responsibility? Lack of fear of being caught? Adrenaline rush and a herd mentality? Probably a mixture of all of the above. There are solutions to these but they take time to implement. Despite all my socialist tendencies, reality says that a society will never be fully equal but efforts have to be made to heal the rift between the top and bottom. Even using this language makes me feel ick. Those with nothing have to be brought into the fold and those with everything have to be made give a shit about others. It's not good enough to sit back and tut-tut.

The response by the police may not have been great, but given their numbers and the number of concurrent incidents it may have been deemed safer to let the looters run their course and contain the damage rather than clamp down. The right decision was made to leave the army off the streets. They are not specifically trained to deal with these situations and introducing firearms into the mix would only have ended badly. It was also right to not bail in with baton charges and tear gas. This would only piss off the communities and bystanders and turn them against the police rather than keep their anger and frustration pointed at the rioters.

The biggest fear is that these events are just the start of something more serious. If a body count starts mounting you can be sure the extreme fringes on all sides will get more vocal. The last group we need to be hearing from right now is the BNP or the radical muslim clerics stoking up further tension.

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