Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg

Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg
Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg © Gernot Keller, 2007
Blinkered Justice articles also appear on CrimeTalk and Government In The Lab

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Policing the UK riots?

(c) William 79
Earlier this evening I tweeted

16,000 police being deployed in London tonight to quell #UKriots. Why not last night or night before? Police making a point about govt cuts?

Given that only 6,000 police were on the streets the night before, one has to wonder why has there suddenly been a sudden 267%  increase on the number of police being deployed tonight.

Last night was night 3 of the disturbances. Whilst the major politicians were away on holiday, only returning to the UK today to address the situation, there were still people present, whom I am sure it is in their job description, that are supposed to step up and deal with situations like this. Tonight, the 16,000 strong police force appear to have extinguished the ardour of those seeking to set fire and loot. At what point, did those left to deal with the disturbances not think that it might be worthwhile having a more visible police presence on the street the last couple of nights?

One has to wonder whether the police were sending out a message to the public and the government. We know that recent government cuts are due to hit police forces all over the country over the next few months. We know that they claim that this is going to put the public at greater risk. Yet those in charge of police operations in London over the last couple of evenings have blatantly failed to safeguard the public. Nobody has come forward to explain why more police were not deployed earlier to protect the public.

For me, it seems that the police have only taken full ownership of the problem tonight. There does not appear to be a good reason why they did not so before, unless they had ulterior motives. 

UK riots: who is responsible?

2011 Tottenham riots on High Road (c) Victoria

Copycats, mindless thugs and disenfranchised youth are all terms that have been used to describe those who have taken part in the disturbances over the last few nights. But do any of these descriptions explain what, or, why it is taking place?

We know that the first riot that took place in Tottenham started largely as a result of the killing of Mark Duggan. However, this soon mutated from anger at the reaction of the police and IPCC, to one which focussed on looting local businesses. Looting seems to have been the primary objective for those rioting. It has been reported at any number of sites throughout London, and has since spread across Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester, amongst other areas.  

One might see these rioters simply as copycats.  I am presuming that this term has been widely used in the media to denigrate those taking part in the riots, and to make them think that their actions are not as good as those that did it originally. However, this misses the point. They are not necessarily looting to look as “good” or as “hard” as their forebears. From Blackberry messages that have been made public (see Newsnight link), they appear to be looting to make some money. Is this the work of mindless thugs?

No. Everyone wants to make money.  This is exactly what the capitalist society is about, but some people are less able to make money in this socially divided society in which we live. This is as ideological as it is economical. 

At the same time, people see politicians, the police, bankers and multinational corporations loot the public purse to line their own. And whilst I agree that this is not an excuse to start rioting/looting, one has to consider whether this kind of “criminal” behaviour has a knock-on effect, given that we still live in a largely hierarchical society.

Tonight’s Newsnight has suggested that amongst those arrested for rioting/looting, are people from the traditional middle class backgrounds. Please check on the BBC iPlayer tomorrow for evidence of this report. If so, this hints at something more than the disenfranchised youth who live on council estates as being responsible for the riots.

For the purposes of this blog, I do not condone any of the actions taken by the rioters/looters over the past four nights. The riots are especially distressing for those that have been left frightened, and for those that have lost their livelihoods and property. I thoroughly understand their frustrations (please see my next post on this).

Whilst these actions are not justifiable, we need to understand why people are rioting/looting. We need to talk to them and we need to understand what it is they are saying on a personal and cultural level, so that we can try to avoid future disturbances.

My fear is that this is only going to lead to more punitive measures that target specific communities, and that it provides the coalition government with an excuse to make cuts in welfare services that negatively affect those self same people. This will not address the problems that we have in our society, namely that greed is good, but will serve to divide society more by stereotyping, and further excluding, those who are already marginalised by consumerism. 
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