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London burns: what it is and what it ain’t

So this will be a fairly ambitious endeavour for me. All of you are no doubt aware of the rioting that has plagued London for the past week. I am going to try and summarize what I think is an incredibly complex issue in the span of a single blog post. Unlike other Monday think pieces, this one is going to have a lot of links to other articles, because they’re relevant.

The riots were supposedly touched off by protest over the apparent murder of a young black father by police officers. The police claimed that the man had an illegal weapon and fired on them. Forensic investigation subsequently revealed that no gunfire was exchanged – the man had been shot twice by bullets from a police-issue weapon and the gun that supposedly belonged to the deceased, while illegal, had not been fired. In an attitude typical of police, the first instinct was to protect the officers instead of upholding the law. Outraged citizens, mostly black, took to the streets to protest, and that protest turned into a riot.

Many are trying to make this riot into a racial issue:

Operation Trident which was set up in 1998 to specifically deal with gun crime related to drug activity within London’s black community — is itself controversial among some sections of the black community. Even though Trident was set up by black activists to tackle so-called black-on-black killings, few of the police officers within the unit are black, and some see Trident as being just another way in which the police can oppress young black men who are already disproportionately targeted for criminal behavior.

Mark Duggan’s death seemed to touch a raw nerve, coming just months after another controversial police-related death of yet another black man, a British reggae artist known as Smiley Culture. A peaceful protest about Duggan’s death turned violent. From then on, the violence has escalated.

It is tempting to compare this outrage to what happened in Los Angeles following the acquittal of police officers in the Rodney King trial. There are certainly many parallels between that situation and London: a marginalized and brutalized minority population who are distrusted and underserved by their government; an attitude by police of extreme racism; lack of representation in the halls of power. However, the rioting quickly grew far past anything that can be attributed to a disgruntled minority group:

The uncomfortable question since the beginning of the disturbances on Saturday night, however, has been the degree to which tensions between different ethnic communities, and wider issues of race and cultural alienation, have played a part in some local areas. The answer, observers warn, is a complex and multifaceted one, in an area where simplistic judgments can be dangerous. “Where communities are already divided along ethnic lines, there is of course a tendency to hunker down,” says Rob Berkeley, director of the Runnymede Trust, which researches issues of race and equality. “But what I’m struggling with is that there is so much that we don’t know. I don’t know if what goes on in West Bromwich is anything to do with what happens in Birmingham, or if the Woolwich riots were organised but the Croydon ones were not.

Most frightening to me is that there are people using the racial tension as an excuse to expand their own small-minded agendas:

Far-right groups have sought to exploit the tensions. The BNP says it will hold its “biggest ever day of action” this weekend and has published a leaflet titled: Looter beware: British defenders protect this area. The EDL claims its supporters are organising across the country and will provide “a strong physical presence, and discourage troublemakers from gathering in our town and city centres”.

While the outrage may have germinated around a seed of racial resentment, it spread so quickly and violently that this is not a satisfactory explanation. A better explanation is needed; certainly one that is better than the line of stupidity coming from Downing street, with Prime Minister David Cameron bemoaning the lack of active parenting and seeking to explain the crime by attributing it to ‘criminals’. The problem, of course, with this line of reasoning is that many of these people probably weren’t criminals before they committed these crimes. Labeling them post hoc as ‘criminals’ is circular, and therefore useless as an explanation. It doesn’t appear to be particularly accurate either:

“Some of the parents were there. For some parents it was no big surprise their kids were there. They’ve gone through this all their lives,” said an Afro-Caribbean man of 22 who gave his name as “L”, voicing the frustration and anger felt by youth and parents over yawning inequalities in wealth and opportunity. “I was on the train today in my work clothes and shoes. All different types took part in the riot. The man next to me was saying everyone who rioted should be gassed. He would never have guessed that I was there, that I took part,” he said.

Many have tried to attribute much of the anger at police to the way they treat minority group members, while others have pointed to the social system, to the power of the welfare state, to raw criminality, bad parenting… many explanations have been thrown out.

So too, it seems, has any pretense at maintaining the liberal democratic tradition:

Speaking outside 10 Downing Street following an emergency security meeting Wednesday, the prime minister noted that the addition of 10,000 police, for a total of 16,000, on the streets of London on Tuesday night and into the morning had helped curtail the violence. “Whatever resources the police need, they will get. Whatever tactics the police feel they need to employ, they’ll have legal backing to do so,” he told reporters.

Anyone who isn’t immediately terrified by the prospect of police having unchecked powers to punish crimes is clearly living in a world of unchallenged assumptions about the credibility of law enforcement.While Vancouver police have been facing heightening criticism for failing to charge more people after the riots here, I applaud them for not rushing to judgment and waiting to have solid evidence before seeking convictions. The UK police seem to be under no constraint of legal due process, and have already arrested and charged hundreds of people:

“Picture by picture these criminals are being identified and arrested and we will not let any phoney concerns about human rights get in the way of the publication of the pictures and the arrest of these individuals,” Cameron said.

The emphasis on that quote is mine. The horror should be all of ours to share.

So if it isn’t race, or criminal minds, or just the thrill of smash and grab, what happened in London to make this happen? We may never know what the one cause that set off the ripple of rioting, and it’s unlikely that there is one cause. Likely, like any other mass spontaneous uprising (like what’s happening in the middle east), there are a variety of overlapping factors that came to a head at one point, causing a tectonic-like reaction. It seems, however, that the most fruitful avenue of explanation is to ask people on the ground what they think. From outside it is easy to attempt to explain, and you can probably find a sympathetic ear for just about any crazy theory. Until the people from the streets start speaking and telling their stories, all we can do is make a handful of guesses and wait for the flames to die down.

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Comments

  1. says

    ““Picture by picture these criminals are being identified and arrested and we will not let any phoney concerns about human rights get in the way of the publication of the pictures and the arrest of these individuals,” Cameron said.”

    The Birmingham 6. The Guilford 4. The Maguire 7.

    This is standard operating procedure in the UK. Oppress the marginalised until it comes to a head, then arrest whoever is nearest to hand.

    I want to wade into their Parliament, the House of Lords, and every police station and beat the lot of them senseless with a copy of On Liberty, written by one of England’s greatest sons.

  2. Angela Squires says

    Posted on Skype by John Eaton, a resident of Redditch, outside of Birmingham, an accountant, and solid sensible citizen I know from childhood.

    [1:52:42 PM] harriet hedgehog: Any media talked with you yet? (NB Cecelia Walters was given his phone # and Skype info by me early Aug 10th 2011, she answered the phone when I called the CBC Radio Newsroom.)
    [2:11:34 PM] John Eaton: No media talked to me. I have been waiting patiently by my home phone since 2100 Wednesday night 10th August. Ziltch no Canadian media magnet, newspaper baron or cub reporter so much as donged my bell!! Now very bored so off to London again in 7 hours…. We need to get this whole riot thing into perspective. It was less than 5,000 people and they have caused £300m of damage. The excuse that there is a tinder box and the murder of one person by the police does not wash. For a start his family are gangsters and boasted in the past to have more guns than the police. There should be NO angst about who fired first…just good riddance. The rioting was sheer greed, people just taking advantage. They say I have nothing, you are rich so I will take. They also burned homes of people in their own neighbourhood, no excuse. The response is courts sitting 24 hours a day and dishing out custodial sentences. It is mostly proved to be bad parenting. Yes there is a sick element in society but it is small. They do not deserve to live in our society as they are, so either they accept help and “man up” or they are removed from society….. Come up with a solution. The draft, national service, return to country of origin, These people have given up their human rights by offending against the rest of us who manage to exist peacefully, put something back etc. I am not sure about some of the proposed solutions such as eviction from social housing, stopping their benefit cheques because all that will happen is the crime figures will go up. Some of these are from families with no work ethic for 3 generations and some were people who took advantage of the riot from greed and thought that even if they were caught they would get off with a warning. 60% of the people in the UK want to bring back the death penalty. The general public attitude is just as hard line about shysters…. here endeth the letter from middle England!!!

    harriet hedgehog: Exactly – totally agree with you. I have been dialoguing on FB. My suspicion on record is that the cops deliberately stayed away from the troublemakers so that later draconian laws would be imposed. Since 9-11 we have lost freedoms, the US Homeland Security Act is monstrous, the UK has more CCTV, as in Big Brother watching you, than any totalitarian state, just like the USSR had on its citizens. Peaceful protest is now basically gone, if the powers that be do not agree with protesters views, the cops will simply close them down.
    [2:20:18 PM] harriet hedgehog: bin Laden won – western economies tanking, freedoms destroyed, that was his plan!
    [2:22:18 PM] John Eaton: Protesting is no longer a peaceful activity. It disrupts the rest of us because of the infiltration by elements who only want to riot. I am afraid that protest i.e. on the street must be suspended until people are taught to behave properly…the pen is mightier than the sword etc!!!

    [2:24:20 PM] John Eaton: Or the criminal element are neutralised. Same thing happens at football gatherings. There is an element who just want to brawl… sad state of affairs. What are we to do with them?? Either training or removal!

  3. Angela Squires says

    “Picture by picture these criminals are being identified and arrested and we will not let any phony (sp corrected) concerns about human rights get in the way of the publication of the pictures and the arrest of these individuals,” Cameron said.

    We need to all familiarize ourselves with the human rights codes imposed on members of the EU by their Parliament in Brussels; my impression is that they are a major reason for the current economic woes of EU countries, especially Eire and Britain, Greece, Italy, Portugal et al. No country can afford to support the outrageous welfare state mandated under EU human rights inspired law, in effect countries are forced to pay billions in state benefits under the guise of human rights inspired legislation, enacted by fat cat bureaucrats of the liberal democratic persuasion who don’t give a rats ass for the common man – working, retired, disabled, trying to get an education, raise a family………!

    I know an Irish Canadian citizen who uses 2 names, maintains multiple passports and DL’s, is collecting state pensions from Canada and Eire which is illegal under Canadian and EU rules but easy to do according to him. (He didn’t just kiss the Blarney Stone but swallowed it whole)

    Check out this Imam http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anjem_Choudary
    Choudary is collecting BP25,000 per annum in welfare benefits, god knows how but he is and it appears the UK Govt can do nothing because of EU rules…..!!!
    The same crap goes on in Eire, sanctioned by certain of the native Irish because they are also scamming the syste.! No wonder EU countries are asking to be bailed out by the IMF etc:

    It is all of us that in the end will be paying for these thieves – so yes, Cameron spoke the truth, enough already with the human rights card………..!!!

    As you may surmise, I am very angry about the rubbish that has been going on in Britain for many years; hopefully things may start to turn around along the lines of my good friend outside of Birmingham.

  4. Angela Squires says

    ………. the people from the streets start speaking and telling their stories…………….
    Subject: Fw: Mandy
    To: “Angela Squires”
    Received: Tuesday, August 9, 2011, 8:58 AM

    Wayne’s daughter,Mandy, presently lives and teaches in Doha, Qatar but she and hubby just purchased a flat in London for home base as he is a film animator and travels the world on locations. The family and mates were all here for a bar-b-q Sunday, with the exception of Mandy, and I asked her mother if she was affected but Barb didn’t think so. Now back in Kamloops she replied today. A mother’s worst nightmare….

    Larry, you were asking if Mandy is affected by the rioting. This is what she posted on Facebook about 1:30 a.m. their time:

    “Sleeping in clothes tonight. Looters seem to have mostly finished this area. Air is still smoky, transit is still shut. Cars in front of the building are smashed. No sign of cops, except the cop copter hovering for about 1 min.”

    I’m not sure if these riots are taking place at the spot where they are staying temporarily, or if this is where they purchased a flat. Needless to say, it is worrisome.
    Barb

  5. says

    I couldn’t disagree with you or your friend any more, Angela. I think it displays a shocking short-sightedness to blame the welfare state for what’s happened in London, especially when people who are actually involved in the riots are giving a very different picture of what it’s like to be on the streets. I was taken aback, to be honest, by what Mr. Eaton said. No angst about who fired FIRST? Only the police fired! It seems as though his distaste for Mr. Duggan has overpowered the logical centre of his brain. The rest of the conversation read like something out of the Daily Mail: “THEY do not deserve to live in OUR society”, “THESE PEOPLE have given up their human rights”, “…mostly proved to be bad parenting”, “…removed from society”, and then the call for suspension of the right to protest. This is a friend of yours? Because he is certainly no friend of mine, and not at all what I would call a ‘sensible’ anything.

    I am not trying to minimize the tragedy of what has happened to people, but the first people to offer explanations and solutions in these times of crisis are always wrong – Mr. Eaton is certainly no exception.

  6. says

    I should also point out that you are being a horrible skeptic here. You’re using two anecdotes, mixed in with inflammatory language and a total lack of reliable evidence to attempt to justify the suspension of human rights.

  7. says

    “We need to all familiarize ourselves with the human rights codes imposed on members of the EU by their Parliament in Brussels”

    Aye! Bring back Thatcher!

    Those coal miners? Fuck’em. That’s welfare statism! They’re nothing but thieves!

    Pass the remote, I want to watch more Fox News.

  8. Angela Squires says

    Your collective reaction was expected……I guess I’m not a card carrying Skeptic but a really free thinker.
    Nor am I a liberal democratic, politically correct wuss, so excommunicate me from your community like Joe and Melanie Fulgham did.

    My friend John Eaton speaks for a lot of middle class Brits so you know what; I agree with him. I’m a Winston Churchill Brit, whose forbears defended and obtained the freedoms you enjoy today. We fought and died for you; fucking PETrudeau gave you a Constitution with Rights and Freedoms but no Responsibilities.

    How dare you tell and opine me what is going on in my country from your utterly safe, never invaded, wimpy, wussy Canadian perspective! Canada is nothing, has only a presence on the world stage because of historical Commonwealth association and its geographical proximity to the USA.

    Brian – I have great respect for your philosophical efforts on the atheism scene. However your reflections on the British scene are utterly coloured by partisan politics, not rational skeptical critique.

    Ian et al – I have much passion concerning this topic, it is my country!!! Ian, as you know we are not always in agreement. To be frank I find your opinions at times extremely prejudiced, not balanced, partisan and at times distasteful., all par for the course.

    Now, I shall be equally partisan and say “When you really do not know, have not lived there, are not English born, bred and educated, maybe you should shut the fuck up:”

    Angela Squires Cert Ed UK

  9. Angela Squires says

    should also point out that you are being a horrible skeptic here. You’re using two anecdotes, mixed in with inflammatory language and a total lack of reliable evidence to attempt to justify the suspension of human rights.

    Explain please. I don’t have the benefit of your Canadian education, just a poor ignorant Brit from the cockney East End of London.

  10. says

    Angela, accusing people of being partisan without explaining that they are wrong isn’t the act of a ‘thinker’ at all, ‘free’ or otherwise.

    Your bullshit fails to acknowlege those people who are British too, but not hateful misanthropes like Churchill. British people like David Hume, John Locke, and John Stuart Mill. The ‘British’ part only matters due to your non-’free thinker” Appeal to Provincialism.

  11. says

    I could point out the irony of you, a person now living in my country of birth, telling me not to talk about a country I was not born/educated in whilst disparaging our wussy ways, but I’ll simply point out that my country has managed not to tear itself apart at the seams.

    I further find it ironic that you would come to my blog and post your friend’s ludicrously intolerant and knee-jerk reactionary opinions, then turn around me and accuse me of being partisan and prejudiced. As far as “not balanced” goes, I’m going to leave that up to the readers to decide.

    As far as I’m concerned, you’re excommunicating yourself at this point. I am not the arbiter of the skeptic community in Vancouver, and even if I was I wouldn’t let a personal disagreement on the internet poison a community that I’ve only been a part of for a short time. I’m not sure if something else is going on in your life at this point, but leave me out of your melodrama with the other Vancouver skeptics please.

  12. Angela Squires says

    .”…………should also point out that you are being a horrible skeptic here. You’re using two anecdotes, mixed in with inflammatory language and a total lack of reliable evidence to attempt to justify the suspension of human rights”.

    Explain please. I don’t have the benefit of your Canadian education, just a poor ignorant Brit from the cockney East End of London.

    Why do you not at least have the courtesy to ask some questions, verify facts? Before sounding off about events in my country?

  13. Angela Squires says

    No melodrama Ian, I can assure you, just an ongoing disconnect. Free inquiry, not a doctrinaire viewpoint is what I am seeking

    We may need to agree to disagree about the English riots. I am pursuing my convictions as is my friend John, at least we have the balls to do that.

    I challenge you as a born Canadian to pursue better and more equal democracy in Canada. equal treatment for English Canada beside French Canada, equal rights for English Canada such as the right to choose their immigrants (enjoyed by French Canada but not English Canada)

    Hugz. Angela

  14. says

    It doesn’t take any balls whatsoever to parrot the same short-sighted, ignorant and hateful nonsense that tabloid papers and Conservative MPs across the country have been saying since day 1. All that takes is a willingness to restrict your view only so far as is required to blame those lowest on the socioeconomic rung. What does take balls is to show up on someone else’s blog and demand the right to “free inquiry”, then tell the author of that blog that he must restrict the topics that he can inquire about. I am not sure what magical powers you think you have that makes this look like anything other than rank hypocrisy, but you don’t have them. Your bipolar entreaties for me to only talk about Canadian topics reminds me nothing more of those South Africans who said that the international community had no right to comment on apartheid, because they weren’t South African.

    If everyone disagrees with you, it might not be due to a ‘doctrinaire’ viewpoint whatsoever – it might simply be that you’re wrong. As a person whose family wouldn’t have been “chosen” to immigrate here not too long ago, I find your attitude towards immigration, poverty, and social class personally disturbing and mired in the previous century’s mistaken thinking. You are free to express your opinion here and wherever else, but I cannot take you seriously when your reaction to disagreement is to insult not only me, but the country I love and that we both live in, no matter how many ‘Hugz’ you offer me. You have severely misestimated both our relationship and my patience for hypocrites.

  15. says

    Maybe you’re new at this. Those words that are underlined in blue text are, in fact, links to other sources on the internet that support my arguments.

  16. Angela Squires says

    “Until the people from the streets start speaking and telling their stories, all we can do is make a handful of guesses and wait for the flames to die down”.

    I posted my friend John Eaton’s comments in the spirit of your statement above. I realize your blog post was a carefully reasoned and substantiated spiel which I don’t have the leisure to do. I have no time to follow up on all your links, I’m too busy scraping a living, sorting out other people’s messes (for no pay) and recovering from a fairly severe injury. I don’t see this blog as one I can only comment on with a carefully reasoned argument that is in accord with the Skeptics Doctrine, the Politically Correct Doctrine, the Liberal Democratic Doctrine, the West Coast Socialist Doctrine, various Nationalist Doctrines or whatever other rules readers and posters subscribe to.

    I may not agree with the comments I make or other people’s comments to me, I am throwing them into the ring to get a reaction and feedback from your readers, to create a free-wheeling discussion that is not hidebound by particular political, philosophical, scientific, educational, or other points of view.

    I am becoming increasingly concerned by the doctrinaire rigidity of CFI, Skeptics. I am a freethinker so would also like to speak freely, write freely, discuss freely without having to follow a doctrine.

    ….”I should also point out that you are being a horrible skeptic here. You’re using two anecdotes, mixed in with inflammatory language and a total lack of reliable evidence to attempt to justify the suspension of human rights”.

    I wasn’t trying to be anything, justify anything, I was just speaking my horror about events, Do I have to only come out with a carefully, legally considered statement on this blog? Is there no opportunity for non-constipated discussion? My Cali friend Ron and I agree to disagree, discuss our different POV with no problem and he’s a Green R.Catholic :P

  17. says

    Excuse me, Angela. I must have missed it. At what point did I tell you that you weren’t allowed to comment? At what point did I enforce a doctrinal policy, requiring you to agree with me? Because if that happened, then I must have been drunk or something, because I recall no such occurrence. You posted something on my post, I disagreed with it, and then you completely lost your shit and went on a fury-spree. If you don’t have time to bother thinking your opinions through before you share them with others, you’re going to have to develop a much thicker skin when people disagree with you. Otherwise you are not promoting a “free-wheeling discussion” of any kind – you’re trolling, and asking for others to treat your arguments with far more respect than you seem to be willing to show others.

    This “doctrine” nonsense is a straw man argument. Nobody is requiring you to follow a specific pattern of thought or belief – they are simply disagreeing with you. What would you prefer happen, that everyone just nod and say “Ooh, very good Angela, even though your position has no merit, it’s different and therefore worthwhile listening to!” If you want that kind of mindless adulation, start hanging out with the alt-med crowd.

  18. Angela Squires says

    “What does take balls is to show up on someone else’s blog and demand the right to “free inquiry”, then tell the author of that blog that he must restrict the topics that he can inquire about. I am not sure what magical powers you think you have that makes this look like anything other than rank hypocrisy, but you don’t have them. Your bipolar entreaties for me to only talk about Canadian topics reminds me nothing more of those South Africans who said that the international community had no right to comment on apartheid, because they weren’t South African.”

    Sorry you completely misunderstood my message, my fault of course……….I did none of the above! I did not ask you to ONLY talk about Canadian topics, you utterly misinterpreted what I said:

    “I challenge you as a born Canadian to pursue better and more equal democracy in Canada. equal treatment for English Canada beside French Canada, equal rights for English Canada such as the right to choose their immigrants (enjoyed by French Canada but not English Canada)”

    This was exactly what it says, it says nothing about your blog. It is a challenge to you to take action about an inequality in Canada – that’s it. I don’t know why you think your forbears would not have been chosen, you would have been welcome in the UK. Quebec chooses folks from countries that speak French, Creole, etc: They want immigrants who are willing to integrate into their culture and are willing to speak or learn French. It would be fair if English Canada had the ability to do the same. That is all I said.

    I have thought before Ian that you may have had some bad experiences to do with race. I am very sorry about that and abhor those who perpetuate racism. I grew up with people from many different backgrounds such that I don’t ‘see’ race, I dated men from several cultures then and do so now. Currently dating a Cuban, befriending a Kenyan, and pursuing a young man of Asian descent.

    I speak/read/write French, German and am going to learn to speak Mandarin.

    My apologies again for any misunderstandings – I was immensely upset about the UK events and angry about the lack of in-depth reports I had access to. I do not have access to TV, rely on CBC Radio, find online news superficial and much media biased. UK media is the same, biased, a lack of actual first-hand info without some commentators opinion. I hope to get a hold of other UK contacts for info. The FB feed seems to be middle class view too, trying to find some poor rioters comments; the ones who have Blackberries, flat screen TV’s, iPods etc: I guess the underclass I grew up with no longer exist, mind you they could afford steak to feed their dogs; whereas we ate whatever was left at the end of the day in my Mum’s butcher shop.

    I don’t think much has changed in the UK; there are those that work at whatever they can or create their own little business and those that do nothing except hold their hand out.

  19. Angela Squires says

    I much prefer people to disagree with me, critique my statements, tell me how my ramblings are wrong, and appreciate their response so thanks Ian and Brian.

    The doctrine nonsense as you put it is in response to the PC crowd that jump down my throat for no real reason. Newspeak as Orwell called it, is endemic to certain people here as it is also in the UK. I have found for me that it obscures clear communication and leads to misunderstandings.

    I also prefer verbal discussions as it is too easy for misunderstanding to occur in this type of forum where the literal dominates; facial expression and body language is an important part of communicating in my opinion. Sorry don’t have time for internet references to prove that.

  20. Angela Squires says

    Sorry for losing my shit and going on fury spree as you put it, it was not personal. I think I’ll stick to chatting with folks.

    Also if WordPress had an easy way of stopping blogs coming to my spam box I would not even have seen your post in the first place. That said I’m glad I did see it and hope soon to have time to check your links for the info and most particularly the source of the information.

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