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London Riots

Gordon White said:
"Whatever happens to the world happens to London. Terrorism, banking crises, racism, class battles, wealth, food trends, art, immigration concerns."

Look at British stamps. Notice anything? Anything missing? It doesn't say "United Kingdom." There's not even a little "GB" in the corner. The reason is that the British were first with that too. No need to put the name of the country on the stamps if you're the only country that makes stamps. Gordon is spot on about that.

On a less trivial note, riots happen in London and the UK with disturbing frequency. As much as I agree with Gordon's socio-political sentiments, this isn't the first time it's happened and it won't be the last time either. If it's not income disparities worthy of the Middle Ages, it's institutionalized racism, poll taxes, miners' strikes... you can take it back through the decades. There's always a reason and often a good one.

But after a couple of years they all blur together unless you were affected directly, or you only lived in London when a riot happened. I think this time Twitter is exacerbating the effect. That is a pattern. The immediacy of other large-scale events at certain junctures was sharpened by new-for-the-time technology. First it was the telegraph, trains, radio, TV, color TV, mobile phones. The Loma Prieta earthquake was televised because there was a baseball game of national interest at a San Francisco ballpark at the time.

My point is that riots don't achieve anything. They make for dramatic pictures on the telly but they are soon forgotten. As Gordon is saying "Rioting is terrible magical target selection."

How many riots did it take before the Met learned that a largely white police force engaging with criminals of other skin colors was a recipe for "community tensions?" Have they even learned it today? I doubt it. The higher-ups say the right things, most of the time. But your local plod? White. His ideas about race? Not pretty.

Remember the Broadwater Farm Riots? Chances are, you don't. According to Wikipedia, they took place in October 1985. They were also in Tottenham and were sparked by similar incidents to the Mark Duggan shooting. The only reason I know about them is that Broadwater Farm is always mentioned when discussing how to police rioters because at that riot a police officer was killed by rioters. The officer was trying to keep firemen safe from rioters while they (the firemen) were putting out a torched building.

Lingering tensions from a riot the previous week in Brixton contributed to the Broadwater Farm Riot.  The Brixton riots were also caused by a similar incident involving white police officers and black people being treated like criminals for being black and living in a poor neighborhood.

(This is one of my rare public entries. As this is a sensitive issue, I'm screening all comments. If that bothers you, feel free to link to this entry and comment in your own blog.)


As it happens, I do remember them.

Riots are like the steam whistle on an old-fashioned engine... when it blew, you knew that the pressure in the boiler was too high. [seriously, they were designed that way] and you had to vent pressure or quit stoking the fire because it was going to blow sky-high otherwise.

There is always social tensions of one sort or another, it's pretty easy for some clumsy policing to set things off.. however, this time I suspect there was confluence of events.

1] an 'incident' that appears increasingly dodgy, which sparked the initial peaceful protest.
2] heavy handed policing of the sort that the Met does from time to time, which turn the protest into a riot.
3] people are feeling generally pretty annoyed at the authorities anyway, and a sub-section are feeling very angry, betrayed and ignored.

One can speculate about the motives, it could have been the commander badly misjudged the mood of the crowd.. social media might have played a part... or it could be that someone in the Met decided that a little riot was just what was needed to scotch any idea of cutting police budgets, and quietly told the boys in the front line to be a bit keen in moving them on, knowing full well the effect that would have...but misjudged the degree of resentment and got more aggro than anticipated.

Who knows.. but I doubt we'll ever find out either. The rioters will be labelled as criminals and thugs [and certainly a lot of them are] The police will close ranks.. and nothing will change. Except that apparently the police are going to get more money & powers to shut down the internet and mobile networks...
I'm finding the riots really unsettling. Not in themselves, just in the attitudes they're bringing out. Riots? Obviously not good. Symptomatic of deep social problems, IMO. But even the liberal end of my friends' spectrum are baying on FB for rubber bullets, curfews and benefits withdrawal. I'm pretty uncomfortable with that.