Posts Tagged ‘Criminality’
Stop the world, we want to get off! How else to sum up the mood of a bunch of codgers who turn out at dawn (7.30am actually) and quickly become the victims of hailstones as big as saucers, at least that’s how they felt on my Cameron-like bald patch. I either need a cap like Albert or a hair transplant like Wayne Rooney. To crown it all the heating in the clubhouse had conked. As we stood there shivering and swearing the thought of rioting crossed our collective Borg-like minds. But we are too old to head off to loot the local Comet store.
I wrote that without thinking and it is interesting that when asked, everyone associates the August Riots with cost-free shopping. Of course there was a lot of that and no one in their right mind could see that as other than opportunistic theft. But that was only one aspect of the gruesome days of last summer. Today the first in-depth research on the affair is published under the heading ‘Reading the Riots’. In a unique collaboration the Guardian and London School of Economics interviewed 270 people who rioted in London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Nottingham Manchester and Salford. The project collected more than 1.3 million words of first-person accounts from rioters, giving an unprecedented insight into what drove people to participate in England’s most serious bout of civil unrest in a generation. Five people died, more than 400 people were arrested and enormous wanton damge was caused to property.
In the wake of the riots David Cameron blamed gangs for the disturbances. The findings contradict that, indeed even those who admit to being part of gang-culture said that it played no part. Many admitted that their involvement was simply the result of being able to obtain “free stuff”, we can dismiss them from any social analysis for nothing can justify criminality.
But the two reasons quoted by the majority merit further thought. Many described the police as a “gang”, claiming officers enforced a law they themselves played fast and loose with. Complaints included being beaten up in police vans and “stitched up” over offences people were innocent of . However the major factor behind the clearly widepspread hostility to the police related to stop and search, and the basic incivility of officers displayed toward sections of the community in everyday interactions.
One rioter, aged 34 and from north London, described an incident that, he claimed, shaped his attitude to the police. He was, he says, thrown into a police van, handcuffed, beaten, kicked, spat on and called a “nigger” and “black bastard”. In later life he claims that on three occasions attempts were made to fabricate evidence aginst him, including one involving a knife. There were many such stories.
Many told their story not expecting to be believed. A typical comment was along the lines of ;”if you ask people on the other side of the fence or from a posher community they will argue that the police just do not do such things”. But, the interviewees argued, they do in our run-down patch. Whatever the truth the sad fact is that many saw the riots as the opportunity to get revenge.
The other major factor quoted was unemployment. This is less of a surprise given that over a million young people are long-term unemployed and see no prospect of work. You don’t have to be a rioter to realise just how soul-destroying this is and how quickly it can produce feelings of alienation and rejection. To compound the grievance local youth centres have been closed in almost all the cities affected.
To draw immediate conclusions from so comprehensive a study would clearly be hasty. But it is important to note that, unlike the original governmental report, this one included people who were not arrested. Gut reaction must be that nothing justifies what people did but the role and attitude of the police in everyday contact with communities must be checked out. The role of the police should be to enforce the law, not to make judgements or hand out punishment. So far as unemployment is concerned it is high time that the government came up with meaningful initiatives. They could usefully start by examining the recruitmnent practices of our large companies, most of which now advertise even the most menial job vacancies exclusively in mainland Europe.
Another factor that did emerge was the feeling that our society is rent asunder by the have and have not syndrome. It is a theme referred to regularly on this blog-site. Today we have yet another example. The part-nationalised Lloyds bank mis-sold payment protection insurance to customers, and has been forced to set aside £3.2 billion to cover claims to pay them back. Yet the departing chief executive, Eric Daniels, was handed a bonus of £1.45 million!
Lord Oakeshott, the ex-Treasury sokesman for the Lib Dems, has asked why he was paid a bonus at all: “No bank chief executive responsible for this gross consumer mis-selling should have been paid any bonus. the Treasury under both governments has been amazingly soft at controlling bonuses in the state-owned banks”. Amen to that. And is it any wonder that, with stories like this emerging daily, many people out there feel that our society is rotten to the core?
On one thing we can rely. Next summer will bring more riots and those that become involved must be brought to account. But right now we need action, based on the report, to at least narrow the rioters to the truly lawless, for many people who have never so much as picked up a parking ticket are becoming almost as alienated as the brick-throwers and morons.
In every part of the country there are probably people like us who are scanning the headlines in near disbelief tinged with not a little fear. Now that the tinderbox has been ignited where will the conflagration reach, how will a nation so utterly unprotected cope? Hopefully the violent criminality will either fizzle out or be brought under control. But every angry deprived area has seen the spectacle of unchallenged looting and there are many who will be eager to grasp the opportunity to enrich themselves and to settle what they see as grievancies. If the rioting escalates and spreads there will be only one option; to call out the troops, always assuming that we have any to spare given our obsession with playing the role of world policeman.
I remember how close we came to that at the time of the riots triggered by Toxteth. I was then involved in negotiations with the Ministry of Defence over the supply of vehicles. At a working lunch one of the Generals said that he was awaiting the call with dread. If troops are employed, he said, we are then just a hairs breath away from their using arms, we are on the verge of revolution.
Who knows what the next few days will bring. What we do know is that right now many areas in London are beyond the control of the police. As one injured officer put it they are outnumbered, outmanoeuvered and exhausted. Units from across the country are being rushed to the capital from areas that may well need them, and all leave has been cancelled. But there are simply not enough officers to cover what is happening. The determination of this government to reduce police strength by 25 per cent stands exposed as the ultimate folly alongside its willingness to spent billions on Libya and Afghanistan, not to mention millions on aid for rich countries such as India.
But even if there were sufficient numbers there is still the question of leadership. Someone yesterday referred to what is happening as the second Battle of Britain. But it is a good deal worse in many respects. Then the enemy was an external one, our leadership was experienced and inspiring and there was unity of purpose. Today we have out-of-touch leaders in Downing Street, police chiefs who are more concerned with management speak and whole communities that are alienated, see the police as enemies and who have suffered from cuts to the few services of hope available to them.
Around the world there has been constant reporting of London’s slide into chaos. The New York Times front page today features a picture of a burned out store in Tottenham. A long piece included this summary; “Frustration in this impoverished neighbourhood, as in many other parts of Britain, has mounted as the government’s austerity budget has forced deep cuts in social services. At the same time , a widely held disdain for law enforcement here, where a large Afro-Caribbean population has felt singled out by the police for abuse, has only intensified through the drumbeat of scandal that has racked Scotland Yard in recent weeks”.
It is often said that the onlooker sees most of the game and, if we are honest, the piece sums up pretty accurately the situation that has developed. What we are seeing now has little to do with the protest that triggered it, woefully though that was handled by the authorities, it is a combination of pent up rage combined with criminality of the most violent kind.
Clearly the first task for the Prime Minister, who has at last abandoned his holiday, is the restoration of order and the prosecution of those arrested. But a wise government would recognise that actions based on what has happened are needed urgently. What should these be?
Firstly the plan to reduce police numbers further must be abandoned, in fact numbers must be increased significantly, meantime coverage of sporting events should be suspended. Cameron has announced that 16,000 officers will be on the streets tonight. That is totally inadequate especially since many of them have been bussed in from areas as far away as South Wales and will now be quite rightly entitled to rest days. Secondly, an imaginative leader for the Metropolitan Police must be found. Thirdly, the whole method of policing must be changed. Not one of the hundreds of officers rushed into Tottenham actually lives there. The concept of local policemen of a community living within it must be restored. Dialogue and mutual respect requires local presence and local knowledge.
And an immediate programme of local employment training initiatives must be introduced. Young alienated people must be engaged and involved in meaningful employment even if, initially, it only comprises work on improving the local environment. The funding? Discontinue our ruinous military operations abroad and confine aid to countries of real poverty. And the final action should surely be to open up youth detention centres, there have to be clear messages about real punishment.
Meantime a wise government would ensure that police and magistrates combine to produce early sentences for those already arrested. Our local paper reports that last week a man was jailed after threatening a shopkeeper and stealing goods. Each and every one of the low life now rioting is guilty of just that!
Even as I type it is becoming clear that what started as a protest in Tottenham is triggering looting and mayhem across the land. Gangs of louts are meeting up to attack and loot shops and to attack anyone who dares to obstruct them. They have received a loud and clear message; the police will not intervene and even should you be caught sentences are derisory.
Oh for the old and wise Churchill. He would have ordered ‘action this day’. But he is long gone and we should all pray that, just for once, the muppets in charge get it right. In 2009 David Cameron as opposition leader claimed that Britain was “broken”. It wasn’t right then, it isnt entirely right now but we are getting there for trust in politicians and the police has all but vanished.
Few of my pals on the allotment agree with what I have written. But they tend to be influenced by Albert, who bears a remarkable resemblance to Cpl Jones of Dad’s Army. His solution is to reform the Home Guard and issue bayonets. Somehow I prefer my own possible reactions.
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ; 1. Kennedy 2. France 3. UK & Ireland 4. The Romanovs 5. Eton 6. Crimean War 7. Edmund Hilary 8. Hitler 9. 17 10. Ronald Reagan