This is Britain, and everything's alright. It's FINE.

All conflict dies in the brotherhood of flags

After last weeks multiple days of consecutive rioting, there’s a chance now for some calm, measured discussion on the upheaval that saw the capital and several English cities burn, high streets looted and alleged gangster Mark Duggan shot dead – with three others killed defending their property. The key word being “chance”, the same way there’s a chance you’ll win the lottery or Michael Bay will decide to stop making movies – what’s predictably actually happened is talking heads, politicians and newspaper editors have demanded martial law/the death penalty/the return of Maggie Thatcher/Saddam Hussein to crush the thousands of young people who live in the shadows among us waiting to strike again like a Tottenham based Vietcong.

One Newspaper has demanded the return of national service, safe in the knowledge that teaching thousands of young rioters basic firearms skills would have no possible down sides. Other newspaper polls have asked if Blackberry messager should be banned – following in the footsteps of other strongmen leaders who thought cracking down on people communicating would solve all their problems. If the responses on how to stop the riots again have been a bit daft it’s nothing compared to what some folk have blamed the riots on. David Cameron predictably said the riots were down to “sheer criminality” – but why didn’t all these criminals strike earlier if their only motive was theft? Looters obviously took advantage of clashes with the police to go out and get a new telly, but what was it they took advantage of? More on that later. Historian David Starkey has blamed the riots on rap music and black culture in general, saying white folk have become black, like Michael Jackson in reverse with less moonwalking and more firebombing. The BBC have obviously went straight for the insider voices into why urban black youth in London might riot, by asking the 66 year old Royal Family historian from Kendal his views. Continuing this new line of reporting, BBC Four have asked Tinchy Strider to front a 4 part series on the Tudors.

But the BBC didn’t just ask old bigots like Starkey why the riots started – they did ask a black man as well, fulfilling their broadcasting guidelines. Except when they interviewed Darcus Howe about why the riots started, and he gave a response that didn’t blame BBM/Jeremy Kyle/Welfare State/Ali G In Da House, but said people might be angry cos a man was shot dead and the police lied about the circumstances the interviewer didn’t like it too much and accused him of being a rioter. It’s all part of a concerted effort by the press and politicians to make people stop thinking, and instead accept that people rioted because they’re animals – literally “feral youth” as the BBC described them.

So how did the riots start? On the 5th of August Mark Duggan was followed in a taxi cab by armed members of the Metropolitan Police. After what was claimed to be a shoot out, Duggan was shot dead by the Met. After his death his family and friends started a protest demanding answers about his killing. When a 16 year old girl approached police lines, in accordance with the Met’s community engagement agenda, she was beaten with batons. The combination of Duggan’s killing and police thuggery at the demo sparked an uprising from young people in different parts of London against the police. Outnumbered and caught by surprise, the police were forced to retreat and leave parts of the city in the hands of rioters. Like any spontaneous riot, unlike a planned insurrection once you force the police out people take advantage of having no authority at all. That can range from drinking in the street, to stealing new pairs of trainers, to mugging folk. And if you’ve grown up on the broo with no hope of employment – 54 people chase every job going in Hackney – getting all the consumer kicks you’re supposed to have is much easier to do when there’s no polis around.

More information then came out about Duggan’s death – that the bullet in a police radio was in fact “police issue”, and that the IPCC “may have misled” the public about how he was killed, stating there was no evidence he fired a weapon the police claimed they found at the scene. By the time this information came out the riots were in full swing and it probably would not have made much more of a difference – but it did confirm the unaired suspicions of thousands of black and asian youth in London, that the police had lied about the circumstances of Duggan’s death. The bullet in the police radio is especially fishy – while Met police have an itchy trigger finger, they’re just about clever enough to avoid shooting each other. Could the Met have killed Duggan illegally, and then put a bullet into a radio to make it look like he had responded? It’s a very cynical thought, almost like believing they’d be in cahoots with a major newspaper to cover up massive phone hacking scandals.

After three days of consecutive rioting – which had spread from London to Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Liverpool, Manchester, Salford – the combined weight of thousands of extra polis/nothing good left to loot brought the riots to an end. After a rather unpleasant shock, the legal system has responded with draconian sentences against rioters – one guy was sent to jail for 6 months, for stealing bottled water. Another woman was sentenced to 5 months for accepting goods that were stolen, not actually stealing them herself (better avoid that guy round the Barras with the new Planet of the Apes DVD eh?). Under any other circumstances these people would be let off with a caution for shoplifting, or at worst a fine. Now they stand to face jail time and a criminal record for petty crimes which did far less damage to society than what the legal system is doing to them and their families. Alongside these sentences for theft others have even got jail time for just for swearing at the police – and one guy’s even been sent down for four years just for a facebook event.

The reason there’s been such a massive crackdown is that the establishment is desperate to ensure a riot on the scale of last week never happens again. But they’re at a permanent disadvantage in that they don’t know why the riots started, and they don’t want to know why – that’s why the media has asked everyone from aging home counties historians to Tory cabinet ministers about why they think people are rioting – people they have about as much knowledge of or link to as they do with martians. Nowhere has the media tried the most simple and obvious way of determining why people rioted – actually asking the young folk in these cities. Where the BBC have done it, it’s been at best a soundbite – but it’s a soundbite that’s worth more than the endless hours of droning from talking heads. Two young girls from London spelled things out pretty clearly – folk rioted because they wanted to show the police and the rich they could do what they want. No one in the media or the political establishment is prepared to engage with that argument because they live in a bubble where they can’t fathom why people would be angry at the rich or the police – so they create lots of alternative explanations like blaming rap or BBM for rioting.

actual reason folk rioted above

There’s plenty of poor areas in the UK that didn’t riot though – Alex Salmond has been at pains to remind the BBC these riots aren’t UK wide, there was no looting anywhere in Scotland despite the Scottish Polis’ efforts to invent some. And some of the poorest constituencies in the whole UK are in Scotland. So are riots just down to poverty? The answer is no, riots don’t just happen when communities are poor – they happen when they’re poor and are under attack, or have suffered an injustice. In Britain and the USA this injustice is generally police brutality motivated by racism – like the Rodney King case, the murder of a grandmother that sparked the 1981 riots and now the police killing of Mark Duggan. This – and not black or “gangster” culture – is why riots have taken off.

These riots are also happening at the biggest pillars of authority in British society are collapsing – the banks have stolen from everyone and are now getting paid off, with the wages of nurses, teachers, carers and the benefit claims of the disabled. Instead of being prosecuted bankers still receive bonuses larger than most young people will earn in their entire lifetime. The MP’s who are calling for strict prosecution of the rioters are thieves that make last weeks looters look like angels in comparison – Tory Minister Michael Gove, who lost his temper when Harriet Harman argued cuts were behind the riots, has stolen £7k from the public purse to do up his house. When he was caught out, he simply repaid the money. Will folk who say they want to riot on facebook get let off if they delete the page? No, they’ll get four years. The forces trying to crush the riots – the Met – have also been exposed as massively corrupt, with backhanders taken from News International in exchange for covering up phone hacking. This is as well as being able to kill with impunity – there’s been over 300 police deaths in custody, but not one single conviction.

That’s the problem with saying all that’s necessary to stop the riots is law and order – there’s virtually no law or order when it comes to regulating the abuses and crimes of those at the top of society. The corrupt political establishment don’t care about the communities that rioted, either because they think they’ll always vote for them no matter what (Labour) or because they’ll never vote for them (Tories). During the boom years of British capitalism, these poor areas of London were left to rot because the rich demanded cheap labour. Now that the same rich have destroyed the economy these areas which have nothing are being asked to pay up with money they don’t have – weeks before the riots, massive cuts to Haringey’s youth budget was announced. People who say the riots are mindless have got it massively wrong – people are now at least talking about why these areas have been abandoned. A few weeks ago they’d never make the headlines. Riots are the one desperate way to grab attention from people who have access to no other means of political power. If you want to avoid riots in the future you can’t keep demanding “order” but have no order in the economy, society, or politics which allows 50% of young people in many parts of London to be unemployed – otherwise people will find their own ways of striking back whether you think it’s healthy or not.

1 Comment

  1. Denise Morton says:

    I agree with every word.

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