All Riot on the Western Front


Thanks world. I was on a high. Really, I was.  Hopefully it’s still there somewhere, but yesterday I got so sad and just despairing that my lovely high went away for a bit.

It’s all gone a bit Pete Tong. No one can deny it. But what saddens me most is the unutterable stupidity we’re surrounded with. The unutterable selfish stupidity of those rioting and looting. The unutterable selfish stupidity of those who say, bring in the army, lock them all up for ten years, evict them from their homes, shoot on sight. And even to some extent, though I probably sit more here than anywhere, the unutterable selfish stupidity of those who take the opposite view of “well, what do you expect, given all the poverty, deprivation, and inequality”.  Three separate sets of blind stupidity, none of which will actually solve anything.

All fires need a spark to set them off, and by all accounts this one was the spark which triggered the bullet from a policeman’s gun, which shot and killed Mark Duggan.  While there is an investigation into the events, it’s doubtful we’ll get  a real picture of what happened.  Only those who knew him know what truth there is in descriptions of his character – whether he was an all round family man, anxious and paranoid and/or a known drug dealer previously “known to the police”. Or all three. Doesn’t really matter.  Even if he was carrying a gun – (and if he was involved in, or moved in circles with those involved in drug dealing, it’s probably an if not sensible, understandable move from a protection point of view) – the only point at which there would be justification for the police to shoot, would be if it was pointed at them.  And then, I don’t know what the rules are, but I would hope there was a “shoot to disarm or distract” before “shoot to kill”. They say the weapon doesn’t seem to have been fired – but unless there’s footage, or independant witnesses, we won’t know if it was pointed.  However, accidents happen.  We’ve all seen films where someone “reaches for their wallet”, and gets shot because some jumpy cop thinks their going for their gun.  Fear is a horrible thing, and armed policemen and women are not immune to it.

However, as is pointed out, over at Cogitare Aperiat, at least 333 people killed by the Met police since 1998 [why 1998 btw? 13 years is an odd sample size. Is it because 333 is a nice round number?] with no convictions to speak of.  Whether the people involved are innocent of any crime is kind of also irrelevant – because we’ll never know, they never got to go to court even if they were accused.  Not all are even in circumstances where death should be a possible outcome.  Accidents happen. But if no-one is ever brought to book for the unlawful killing of a person in their custody, then suddenly no one will believe an accident is an accident. Like the boy who cried Wolf – when an accident actually does happen (whether this was or not we don’t know) – people will view everything the Police does that isn’t put their hands up and admit guilt, as obfuscation, stalling, cover up.

Yes, police deal with people who commit crime. Even murder.  But they don’t always get it right, and they aren’t all full of love for their fellow man. Some have a strong belief in society and want to keep it safe, some want the authority, the “permission” to feel better than x bunch of other people. Some are downright bullies or racists.  Just like sadly there’ll always be some people who go into the Army because it’s the only way to legally kill someone. And someone you don’t know, in a country far far away at that.  Humans, whether their uniform is black, blue, khaki, or closer to hooded tops or baseball caps – are all falible, and some are not very nice.  Even back in the day when we had the death penalty (and please god let us not get it back) people were entitled to a trial before being taken for the long drop.

So I can understand the peaceful protest that occurred on Friday, of people angered and saddened by yet another death, of another father, another son, at the hands of someone who they don’t believe will be dealt with fairly and openly.  I can understand the frustration which might mount in some, if answers don’t come quickly enough. If they are not dealt with sensitively or with respect by the police. I can understand shouting, kicking things, maybe even smashing windows of the police vehicles/ buildings – though this is the point I would expect other people to step in and say – don’t Son, it’s not worth it. It will only get you into trouble.

I don’t understand how violence and looting and fire-raising have anything to do with anger at a person’s death.  But like I said, that’s just a spark.
However. This is where one side steps in and says, well, what do you expect… all the cuts… deprivation… inequality…

It’s one of those things isn’t it. One of those troublesome questions – take two people, put them through the same upbringing, one will turn out one way, another entirely different. Some people manage against all the odds, to become respectable adults, hard working, peaceful, loving, sharing. Others fail at education, fail at or do not even enter employment, see no connection between themselves and “society” or vice versa, don’t think twice about breaking the law, and are quite happy to jump on a bandwaggon and steal and smash stuff, so long as everyone else it.

What’s the difference between the two?  For my mind, it’s attitudinal.  The first person, set of people – sees the state that they are in, the hardship of their lives, and is able to say “I deserve better than this”. Then, with that pride, they look around again and see what it might take to change it. As they grow up, they see the opportunities that are offered to them by life and society. They see school, they see libraries, they see parks, swimming pools, clubs. And importantly, they take their pride and with it say, this is what I am entitled to.  I deserve to go to school, to study, to ask for help and receive it. If people try to cajole them into thinking it’s not cool, or worthwhile – they shrug them off and remember. They deserve a good life. They deserve food in their mouth, a roof over their head, a clean house, respect. And as long as they have respect and pride for themselves, they make the connection that the first and most important person who can do damage to you and disrespect you is yourself. If you step off, and start behaving like someone who doesn’t want, nor deserve a better life, then you won’t get one.

It’s hard. If your family, your community, is entrenched in a belief that certain things aren’t for them – I’ve seen it in black and white families alike. You don’t even get to know if you want something or not, if everyone is telling you you can’t have it.

The current round of cuts are horrendous. Don’t get me wrong. They have made life bloody hard for a lot of people and will be removing opportunities for people to better themselves left right and centre. But they haven’t caused this. They may have reminded people how little the political elite, and those who support them, know, or much less care, about their lives – and thus given them a spur not to care about what they want in return. But the seeds of this were sown many years ago. When the parents of these young people were growing up in poverty, or trying to succeed, and somebody said there was no such thing as society. That there was no reason to help other people who weren’t helping themselves.  Who cultivated an unequal, prejudicial state of affairs, that good people have been trying to resolve ever since.  Cuts and lack of investment to the services people at the poor end of society need to keep afloat – that started long ago.

I strongly believe, Governments should be there to help society provide what is needed to keep society ticking. They should do this by taking the required taxes, and using them to provide what is needed.  You decide on the need, and tax accordingly. Need does not just disappear because you don’t want to pay tax, or ask people to pay tax. If you give people what they need, and don’t ask for appropriate tax, you get a deficit. You don’t remove the need just because you want to get rid of a deficit. It doesn’t vanish. And these needs are about getting that better life.  The people at the top, who don’t want to pay more taxes, are saying, we don’t want to help the bottom get a better life. And yet – the banks get in trouble, it’s money from everyone’s pot, which should be going to provide what people need, which gets used to sort them out. And yet – still the people at the top don’t want to help.

Schools, Support for families, Educational support allowances, Libraries, Employment and training support, Hospitals, Doctors, Midwives, Social Workers.  The state has to provide enough. The community has to provide more – has to work together to build up the pride and sense of self esteem in people who are born with nothing – so that they respect themselves to take what is offered by the state – that education, those services, and realise they are doing no-one but themselves a favour by doing it.  The media needs to think about how it reports things, about what role models and ambitions we give to children. The family needs to be strong – and by family, I mean whatever form it takes. Melanie Phillips blind faith in the father figure ignores the many well brought up children of single parents out there. Taking responsibility for your children is however part of that “better life” people need to be ready for. Everyone needs to get back to expecting better of one another, and helping out those who are struggling.

But the individual has to make themself someone who sees a good life as a better life, and believe that they deserve a better, longer, freer life -and want it more than they want a free TV, trainers, or a night of violence.

Because once you do that final “fuck you” to the world, and throw yourself in at the deep end – showing your community how much you care about them, along with the police, or authority, you profess to be annoyed with –  then it’s hard to come back from that.  People’s lives have been ruined by this. Not the police, not the politicians. Not even most of the shop owners who will hopefully be insured. But the families of the people who died. The poor people living in rented flats who have had everything turn to ashes. The people who will be out of a job while shops are repaired – if indeed they come back to life.  I don’t think most of the people looting and being generally wankers give one stitch of a thought to Mark Duggan, except in a, yeah, that’s another thing, kind of way. But there are kids out there – the youngest arrested is 11 years old.  People calling for them to be thrown in jail for 10 years.  What then? Our prisons are already overcrowded, and not enough is done within them to rehabilitate people, and prepare them to be useful citizens when they leave. A criminal record is yet another thing which will make life harder for them. It’s fine to say tough, but if you can’t care about their lives, then care about the lives of the people they will commit crime against when they are released.  Think about the money you will have to pay towards their upkeep in jail, their unemployment benefit when they can’t get a job, the policing of their unchanged attitudes and behaviours when they get out.

I understand all angles of this. It’s shit. It’s stupid. And until we actually find a way for us all to start caring about eachother again, and share some moral standards – it’s just going to go round and round and round. Same as it ever was.  What do I think should be done? Start with Community service – work to clean up your mess. Then work in the community you have trampled. Work with the disabled, the elderly, the sick. People who have a whole load more to deal with than just what society chooses to throw at them and still manage not to be idiots. Compulsory education or training until you have a useable qualification or skill – failure not an option. And then compulsory employment. If no one else will give them a job, then society must. The markets don’t like people who are hard work. Doesn’t mean they don’t exist. If you ignore them, they will bite you in the ass. But, I kind of think this should be a template for life anyway. No one should leave prison without qualifications or skills, and an offer of work. No one should leave school unable to read or write, or communicate effectively. People need education, love and support like they need food, otherwise they just will not thrive. Society needs to be our broad church.  I’m not a religious person, but I doubt there were many devout christians, muslims, sikhs, or other believers out there. Not because they think God will punish them, but because religions offer moral guidance and a community which does hold eachother to account. If we are a largely secular nation now, then the state must recognise that it needs to do something to build a replacement for this, which includes all parts of society.

Anyway. Fingers crossed for calm this evening. And my love to you all.

Some other people’s thoughts I didn’t find space to link to:

Five Quick Points about the Riots

A crowd psychology analysis of the riots

The London Riots: On consumerism coming home to roost

Riots reveal two disparate worlds

London Riots – including great video

Riots, Sell Offs and Cascades

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