On the Disturbances

When something shocking happens (like the events of the last few days), it’s in our nature as human beings to try to make sense of it, to square it with our world view to make life seem more predictable again. The thing is of course, we always opt for the easy answers when things are not necessarily that simple. Try these on for size:

“…there’s a disengagement. They feel no-one at the top of society, in the government or city hall cares about them or speaks for them… This is anger and it’s disaffection.” Ken Livingstone, former (and not particularly widely missed) Mayor of London

“It is no coincidence that the worst violence London has seen in many decades takes place against the backdrop of a global economy poised for freefall.” Mary Riddell, Daily Telegraph columnist

I don’t think that this is just left-wing drum-beating. Nothing like this has really happened before in this country. Ever. Let us not forget that the disorder we’ve seen in London and elsewhere these last few days cannot be dignified with the term “riot”. This is not civil unrest, this is not violence against institutions, this is a very sudden outbreak of aggravated burglaries. So, trying to fit this situation into a frame of reference, some pundits are comparing this situation to the easy context of the 1980s race riots. It’s a simple answer and it means we can fit these events into our world view without the trauma of having to adjust it.

Of course, the fact that this began with the shooting of Mark Duggan has muddied the waters. There was a protest. And then there was a riot. But somewhere in the middle of that, people realised that the police, in being cagey about blowing up a tense situation and not coming down too hard on the rioters, were not really doing anything to stop the looting either. And when certain people in other cities realised that the police were powerless to stop the looting in London, they began their own little looting sprees as well. It’s an easy narrative to follow, but the question remains as to why this has happened. Let’s face it, there’s always an awful lot of opportunity to commit crimes, but it’s unheard of for people to begin doing it en masse like this.

Have a listen to this:

“That’s what it’s about: showing the police that we can do what we want.” Two girls speaking to the BBC’s Leana Hosea on Tuesday morning. (I think we can safely ignore the bit where the young lady here says, “It’s the government’s fault. I dunno. Yeah, the Conservatives, whoever it is,” as an attempt to clutch at straws for justification.)

The bit that interests me here is that in these girls’ minds the whole shebang is about showing that they can do what they want. It reminds me of a report I read somewhere about a decade ago where a policeman told the journalist that it was a typical response of criminal children to say, “what you gonna do about it copper? I’m underage.” This was back when the UK’s statutory age of criminal responsibility was still 15. It strikes me that there’s an arrogance to a lot of young criminals; not so much a belief that what they’re doing is right as a failure to even question that what they’re doing might be wrong.

Take a look at this:

In this video, an injured young man in the middle of the disturbances is helped up then robbed.

Just look at the body language of the guy who takes the item out of the victim’s bag. That’s not furtive behaviour, nor even particularly aggressive – it’s the confident motion of a man who thinks he has every right to take the contents of someone else’s rucksack.

What I’m trying to say is this: this is a social problem. Not the social problem of a response to deprivation as the left-wing drum-bangers say. Heck, these kids were co-ordinating themselves with blackberries. Nor is it the simple lack of discipline and toothless policing that the right-wing drum-bangers would have us believe either. The perception that spending cuts have already effected the police and that they would be unable to respond has been a catalyst, no doubt, but this is all indicative of a state of mind. It’s consumer goods that are being robbed. The small businesses that have been targeted have come as a result of simple lack of feeling for those being hurt, in some cases, or, in the case of higher end businesses like that furniture shop in Croydon, resentment that anyone’s got more than the looters. And I’m sorry to say this, but I think this attitude to life has been about thirty years in the making and we’re not going to fix it overnight.

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~ by Scary Rob on 12 August, 2011.

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