Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: London's Burning

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  • Russell Brown,

    Wow. Via Dylan Horrocks, this Guardian story -- published 10 days before the riots -- headed 'Farewell youth clubs, hello street life – and gang warfare' seems prescient.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 17967 posts Report Reply

  • Peter Darlington,

    It's sad as, and while much of it does look like simple opportunistic thuggery, you can't tell me social factors haven't played their part. A prescient article in the Guardian from a couple of weeks ago:

    Nelson • Since Nov 2006 • 868 posts Report Reply

  • Peter Darlington,

    Heh, Snap!

    Nelson • Since Nov 2006 • 868 posts Report Reply

  • Hadyn Green,

    I met a guy last year who was in the Poll Tax march (and subsequent riot). He said as they walked in his friends noticed large piles of bricks around despite no other construction work and felt that initial dread of seeing what they were walking into.

    Just saw on TV3 a local spoke about being attacked while trying to save a bus driver. "People just need to be normal" is what I think he said.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2079 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch,

    I should be working, so I'll only throw down some links and quick comments.

    Firstly, if people were burning Porirua and looting the shops, I'd be equally quick to condemn. These are disgusting acts, by people with no consideration for others. But it is worth asking how such people might come about.

    Radical disengagement (rioting, looting, destruction) must be considered politically. "it is [a society] which I am happy to burn”. Of course the riots are political. If "there is no such thing as society", destructive and violent acts operate in a different social environment. Which is not an endorsement, of course. A couple of Guardian columns provide some context: 'Rioting fuelled by social exclusion and 'There is a context'

    It is also worth noting Britain has the worst social indicators for children among developed nations. These kids and teens in the early 2000s, when the data was collected, are teens and young adults now. When you ain't got nothing (and some of them clearly feel that way) you ain't got nothing to lose.

    On Twitter;
    @londonriot
    @ravisomaiya (NYT London correspondent)

    And finally, a very young Vincent Cassel, in la Haine.

    "Mais l’important c’est pas la chute, c’est l’atterrissage." The important part is not the fall, but the landing.

    The People's Republic of … • Since Nov 2006 • 2078 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Hadyn Green,

    I met a guy last year who was in the Poll Tax march (and subsequent riot). He said as they walked in his friends noticed large piles of bricks around despite no other construction work and felt that initial dread of seeing what they were walking into.

    There was poor policing there too, though. The cops mishandled a sit-down protest outside Downing Street and bottled up crowds on Whitehall. They beat innocent marchers.

    We'd actually wandered off to the pub and had no idea what was going on until we tried to catch a bus home and drove into it all. I recall a policewoman on a horse being caught in the crush at Piccadilly Circus and feeling relieved when she stayed in her saddle.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 17967 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch,

    Also, I'm more than a little upset that this is taking the spotlight off Syria. Hama is under siege, with no food, no water, and no electricity. People are being shot on the streets. I said a couple of days ago that if this was happening in Britain or France, nobody would be talking of anything else.

    Obviously, when other things are happening, we can be excused for looking elsewhere.

    The People's Republic of … • Since Nov 2006 • 2078 posts Report Reply

  • Omar Crawford,

    I headed over to Bethnal Green early this evening to meet some friends for dinner. We were planning to go to the local Tesco supermarket for some ingredients as the Sainsbury's in Whitechapel had closed their doors early in anticipation of trouble. Coming up onto Bethnal Green Rd you could feel the heavy tension in the air as people milled about on corners, fervently looking about for signs of trouble. Shopkeepers had their shutters half pulled down, ready to close at any moment.

    I passed the Tescos and found my friend, just as an unmarked police car full of riot police pulled up outside. We decided to just head home to check out the news. About half an hour later I picked up my wife from the tube station and walked again down the high street. Rubbish bins were ablaze in the middle of the road and there were a hundred or so people pressing forward towards police several blocks away. Then the smashing started and the crowd surged, hooting and cheering each other on as police fans were pelted with debris. I wisely took my wife home then headed out again to get some photos with my friend.

    Even by then, maybe 10 minutes later, police had regained control. People were complaining they'd 'missed it' and large groups were cutting down side streets and through the park, heading towards the next spot to try it on.

    From what I could see the rioting was definitely opportunistic. At the same time it was extremely fluid, with police and rioters playing a game of cat and mouse. The reasons for the underlying current of unrest are complicated. I think for many people it is frustration in not knowing how to communicate the feeling that they are somehow outside of the society being constantly reconstructed around them. Some councils have seen over 80 percent cuts to their budgets, which I believe include youth programs and libraries.

    Hastings • Since May 2008 • 4 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Omar Crawford,

    Thanks for that excellent comment, Omar. Stay safe.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 17967 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    A pretty sharp comment under Nina Power's story:

    There's a widespread myth that law and order is preserved by police, politicians and other forces of authority. Not true. Never has been. If we all decide to go out and chuck a dustbin through Argos's window and help ourselves, it would take about 15 million coppers to contain it. We actually have about 150,000.

    Law and order is kept by a collective acceptance of mutual goals. If, as a society, we look after each other, offer everyone a share and a stake in the common weal, maintain some semblance of a Rousseauian Social Contract, then the vast majority of people will mostly stick to the rules without ever needing to see a police officer.

    When people lose that sense of being looked after, no longer feel part of society, no longer feel like they have any kind of share in any kind of collective, the ties that bind begin to be broken.

    Rioting, especially the type of vandalism & looting we've seen in London, is a sure sign that the social contract is unravelling around the edges. In the days and weeks and months to come, we shall see how far it has frayed.

    There are few things more dangerous to a society than a populace with nothing left to lose.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 17967 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch,

    Other incredible tweeting from @paullewis.

    Turkish man: "We're protecting our homes. This is war." #hackney

    It's all very intense. I wonder how far this will go, how long it will continue for.

    The People's Republic of … • Since Nov 2006 • 2078 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Video from Clapham Junction, where the police seem to have been caught completely unawares:

    The BBC said the police were assembling in Clapham Common North, but none had riot gear. Poor bastards.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 17967 posts Report Reply

  • Heather Gaye, in reply to Russell Brown,

    [...] There are few things more dangerous to a society than a populace with nothing left to lose.

    Wow. Thanks for sharing. I want to plaster that message all over Auckland.

    Under the western motorwa… • Since Nov 2006 • 522 posts Report Reply

  • Robert Fox,

    I moved to Tottenham just after the Broadwater Farm riots in 1985 and in the aftermath, the bitterness towards the Met festered on for years mainly because the police cracked down hard and got the wrong guys for the murder of PC Blakleock. Met policing has certainly improved since those days but the economic conditions in the poor inner city are pretty similar to how they were in the 80s. I'm not us that Cameron has Thatcher's gumption when it comes cracking down hard on disaffected youth though. http://twitpic.com/6344ny

    Since Nov 2006 • 102 posts Report Reply

  • Tom Semmens,

    A Londoner I work with shrugged his shoulders and said “What do they expect? people are pretty pissed off”.

    Illuminating:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/8630533/Riots-the-underclass-lashes-out.html

    Not so much the actual opinion piece but the comments section is the thing that unintentionally underlines how dysfunctional and bitterly divided British society now is.

    The mob may be opportunistic thugs and looters, but they are also a symptom of the all pervasive class war that is flaring more brightly that ever in Britain.

    people are criticising the police response, but at the end of the day even Murbarak’s total dictatorship relied on at least the acquiescence of the governed. When the spell and veneer of that acquiescence to authority is broken, anarchy reigns. the Metropolitain police are totally discredited in the eyes of those they repress most often. Hundreds have died in police custody in the last two decades and the IPCC have convicted not a single officer. Policing vacillates between bullying the middle class with kettling and totally abandoning “no go” areas to youth gangs. The Murdoch scandals have revealed the police as just another corrupt part of a British ruling elite that is run along the lines of an organised crime family. In a animal sense, the marginalised mobs are sensing the general weakening in the moral authority of the discredited capitalist ruling elites from Tel Aviv to Greece to London.

    Imposing austerity on the poor and squeezing the middle class whilst bailing out the global financial sector to the tune of billions is starting to have its consequences.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 1711 posts Report Reply

  • dc_red, in reply to Tom Semmens,

    Imposing austerity on the poor and squeezing the middle class whilst bailing out the global financial sector to the tune of billions is starting to have its consequences.

    I'm beginning to think along the same lines. They don't even have pension funds to lose!

    Oil Patch, Alberta • Since Nov 2006 • 706 posts Report Reply

  • Ben Austin,

    I was in Croydon today, working, eating lunch around some of those zones where the riots kicked off, but I didn't see anything at 2, possibly due to the rain. Might have been better if it kept raining it seems. I was also in Clapham yesterday around where the looting happened.

    It is really rather hard to imagine that these are the same places. I guess when I wake up tomorrow I'll see if the Business Continuity Plan has been activated.

    London • Since Nov 2006 • 861 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    This Google Maps mashup of where the riots are is developing alarmingly quickly.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 17967 posts Report Reply

  • Scott Gamble,

    Hundreds have died in police custody in the last two decades and the IPCC have convicted not a single officer.

    Do you have a citation for this? It's a horrifying stat if true.

    Australia • Since Apr 2011 • 13 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Tom Semmens,

    A Londoner I work with shrugged his shoulders and said “What do they expect? people are pretty pissed off”.

    And this is why poor people can’t have nice things, right? Really, Tom, not meant as a poke at you but I’m fucked off at the unpleasant “the natives are revolting! I know they are, but what’s that awful row?” dog-whistle under a lot of the media.

    It’s really easy to be an armchair general in the class war when the frontline is twelve thousand miles away and it's not your neighbourhood getting torched.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 11617 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie, in reply to Scott Gamble,

    Do you have a citation for this? It's a horrifying stat if true.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/dec/03/deaths-police-custody-officers-convicted

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 3291 posts Report Reply

  • Tom Semmens,

    Do you have a citation for this? It's a horrifying stat if true.

    From the same Nina Power story in the Guardian quoted above:

    "...When you look at the figures for deaths in police custody (at least 333 since 1998 and not a single conviction of any police officer for any of them), then the IPCC and the courts are seen by many, quite reasonably, to be protecting the police rather than the people..."

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 1711 posts Report Reply

  • Scott Gamble,

    Two interesting things I picked up from that article (thanks for posting btw)

    One:

    The majority were from natural causes, with nearly three-quarters relating to drug or alcohol abuse.

    Two:

    Those who died in custody were mostly white (75%), male (90%) and aged between 25 and 44.

    Not really that surprised about the deaths linked to drugs/alcohol/both, but the stat that it's mostly white males was interesting. I just lazily assumed that it would mostly be young, black males given that the Met is widely viewed as being institutionally racist.

    Australia • Since Apr 2011 • 13 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart,

    Teresa May on cuts to police budgets, last year:

    The home secretary, Theresa May, has dismissed fears that deep spending cuts could undermine the ability of the police to tackle possible civil unrest, and insisted the British did not respond to austerity by rioting on the streets.

    I have a very dear friend in Clapham. She's just posted this from down the road. At some point she's going to go to bed and I'm going to spend the rest of the day fretting until she gets up again.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4286 posts Report Reply

  • Scott Gamble,

    Having said that, the politest police I've ever come across by a long way were consistently the London police (as opposed to in Auckland and Sydney, the other places I've lived.)

    Australia • Since Apr 2011 • 13 posts Report Reply

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