Saturday, August 13, 2011

London Riots- My two pennies' worth

The Police
1.)The police are racist and violent. The Metropolitan police are particularly racist and violent. Maybe I'm cynical, but this was what I said on Sunday morning about Mark Duggan's death:
After two years of hearing every lie in the book trotted out about police murder victim Iam Tomlinson, any thinking person would be criminally stupid to assume that stories of 'a bullet lodged in a police radio' were not a load of the Met's typical evidence invention and fraud. Usually they construct some 'undeniable' piece of crap to get them through the first few weeks while they are under scrutiny. In three weeks, when this has died down, it will be revealed that the bullet was actually 'accidentally' fired by an officer. But by then there'll be loads of fudged interviews and phony witnesses, it will be fully established that Mark Duggan was so bad he was practically asking to be shot, and the relevant officers will have their early retirement package.

2.) A large proportion of London teenagers know the police are racist and violent, and hate and mistrust them accordingly (including my teenage self). They shouldn't know it, because happy children don't know how fucked up the world is, but many of them know it from first-hand violence and humiliation. In Forest Gate, where everyone has been mugged or burgled, everyone hates the police. There were lots of stories on Twitter on Tuesday and Wednesday about Asian boys in Green Street, Forest Gate, defending the local businesses from rioters. My favourite story, unfortunately completely unverifiable, has those boys saying 'We don't want no looters round here. We don't want no cops, either.'

3.) When the Metropolitan police kills someone, from Ian Tomlinson to Mark Duggan, Smiley Culture to Jean Charles de Menezes to Mikey Powell, they have a smooth, practised system for covering it up, lying about it, lying about the lies, and then when really pushed, making sure someone really small and insignificant takes the fall, itself as small and insignificant as possible. Usually this fall is broken by a golden handshake of some kind. This often means releasing false information to the media and then lying about that. Or getting their pals in the Independent Police Complaints Commission to do the same.

4.) On Friday morning, either the police or the IPCC verbally told the media that Mark Duggan had been killed in an exchange of fire, and that a bullet had been fired by Duggan into a police radio. They did not write this on the Metropolitan Police Press bureau website- slash pressbureau. So either someone cocked up while giving an oral report to the press, or they were deliberately setting up a lie. History will decide (hopefully).

5.) The police's reaction to the riots this last week would have been laughable, except that five people tragically died. And that is really devastating, and sad, and I'm really upset about it. And fuck JD Sports. But the police have their own agenda, facing as they are 20% cuts. I don't know if they were wrong, or self-motivated, or stupid, or just understaffed to let things go so crazy. But Mark Duggan's family heard he was dead from the TV, as the police failed to inform his parents before releasing a press statement. The vigil stood outside Tottenham Police Station for four hours last Saturday and no police officer came out to speak to them. Why not? They did this in 1985, and god knows how many times since. Why not give grieving people a token respect? If only to prevent a riot...

Public Reaction
1.) A lot of people who weren't involved with the riots do not know how fucked up the police service is. A friend thanked me this week, for having taking her to a student protest where we were kettled and charge by horses, saying 'You opened my eyes. If I hadn't been kettled, I would have no way to defend my suspicion of and anger towards the police.'

2.) Many of these people have reacted with shock and horror to the riots. If you live in East or South London and you felt these riots came as a complete surprise, then you have been walking around with your eyes closed. See this insightful article. But you are justified in feeling sad, shocked, worried, scared, horrified and disgusted. That's normal. The riots are a demonstration of collective pain, among other things, and will be a collective trauma for some time to come. If you cannot see that one of the causes of the riots is a country which fucks over poor young people, you are not as well educated or insightful as the young man at the end of this video. Go read some history. Or volunteer at a youth club.

3.) I've been drawn into some pretty pathetic social networking squabbles this week with people who think their own feelings of shock and horror justify completely ahistorical, non-analytical response to the riots, parroting the politicos' comforting mantra of 'mindless criminality'. Well, I'm sorry if I argued with you over this, because I agree that mindless criminality and even "lower levels of a brain chemical that helps keep behaviour under control" are really tidy answers, and reinforce an 'us and them' attitude to crime that does make us feel safe. Sorry for being a patronising twat, random people I don't know on facebook. I think a lot of these heated debates were because lots of us feel sad about this week's events, and need to discuss them. (What is the etiquette for arguments with strangers on mutual friends' threads, btw? I've been told to fuck off twice this week. Is that normal?)

4.) However, the other side to public reactions has been a lot of racists, closeted racists, borderline racists and classist wankers, using the opportunity to disseminate their vile racist bile. Facebook seems to be an ideal breeding ground for this. (I won't link- you can search if you like). The worst thing about this is the thought that many of these people, from David Starkey to the EDL, have ALWAYS been racist. And they have hidden this because it was not socially acceptable to reveal their racism until this week. We have such fragile racial tolerance and multi-cultural values in this country, and we have to try to safeguard them. We have to. And it's the same for generalisations about 'black youth' as it is for 'chavs', 'pikeys', 'scum'.. and so on. The riots are not the opportunity you have been waiting for all your life to justify your vile feelings about young people, poor people, black people, ethnic minorities, criminals, people from inner cities, hoodies, whatever. Do not follow the lead of a racist Tory government in choosing your language.

5.) One more thing about the public response- there is a problem with the way most people understand the criminal justice system in this country. (It's pretty racist too, btw.) We pay for legal aid for all defendants who want it. That includes alleged rapists, alleged serial killers, alleged child abusers... everyone.  Legal Aid is necessary to save court time, to allow everyone in the court to roughly understand what is going on, and to prevent the grosser miscarriages of justice. As such, it is a fairly pragmatic thing for the powers that be. It's been upsetting this week to bicker with a self-professed Legal Aid lawyer who implied that young people are not deprived if they can afford Blackberries, and that she had advised clients not to pursue police officers they had accused of brutality. The legal aid system has limitations. (I wouldn't dream of naming her, and I notice she has deleted all of her most outrageous statements now).

6.) We also, with scary limitations, undertake to give social housing to many of the people who need it. We undertake, also with grotesque limitations, to give a small amount of subsistance money to those who are not working, or can't work. That's calld the Welfare State. Like Legal Aid, it did not come into being as a lovely kind, generous out-pouring of love towards the feckless poor and criminal underclasses. It's there because it is necessary not to let poor people die of poverty in this country. It is because we have a system without appropriate jobs or education for everybody, and while it is impossible that every one can work, it is necessary to make a token approach to supporting those who can't contribute. It is not now and has never been an easy path to live off benefits in this country.

7.) So the suggestion that rioters or their families should lose benefits or their homes or be denied legal aid is as horrific as it is ludicrous. I know it happens already; but don't suggest it as a punishment. If you can't have a little human compassion for these desperate people and their families, have a little political pragmatism: it is not good for anyone to have more homeless people. It is useless to have more poor people supporting other poor people financially. It is laughable to have people denied the crappy legal aid that speeds up their processign through the juridicial system.

The Media
1.) The media is a business, and one that needs sensation. It was delighted to paint Mark Duggan as a feckless criminal; it has been delighted to write off rioters as feral thieves. This is because sensation sells.

2.) We've heard stories this week of nasty attacks on reporters and photographers. Rioters smashed up a Sky camera van. Rioters have deeply affronted media workers by refusing to give them sound-bites, refusing to allow them into their hearts, minds, or even the centre of their riots. These rioters just won't cooperate with the press, which is pretty ungrateful considering how much attention the press has paid them this week, and clear evidence that what we're dealing with are feral criminal kids with no political message. Well, Martin Luther King Jr said 'A riot is the language of the unheard.' What does unheard mean? In this case it means ignored and even silenced. And what has been the part of the media in the silencing of our poorer youth? In my opinion, it is guilty. Why would you spend time humouring some dick-head journo who has never paid you the slightest attention, except as a statistic in some bollocks feature about house prices or obesity? You wouldn't. If media response has been overwhelmingly negative, well, the rioters are obviously not particularly skilled in PR. If the affronted journos now want to turn their hands to a little social commentary, well, it probably wouldn't be a bad thing. And when people feel less silenced, they are more powerful. Powerful enough to channel their anger into constructive forms of protest, or to speak their cases to those who will listen. Or foment revolution, that's the only risk. 

The Left
1.) Not all the left, of course. Many people have made really interesting interventions about the riots, and my sister has been kindly listing some of them. (Bet you wish you'd just read that first by now.)

2.) Some of the left have revealed that they are really liberals without a cause."We want a revolution, yes- but we never condone criminality!" They basically fall under Public Reaction 2., see above. Nothing much wrong with it. There's nothing wrong with spending an afternoon thinking about stuff, either.

3.) I've been really depressed with the other reaction I've heard recently, as well, which is "Isn't this great!" "Could be the start of the revolution!" I don't think it's wrong to feel a little gleeful tingle about people smashing the whole place up. If I'm completely honest I felt it a bit too, especially at first, on the Saturday, watching rolling coverage on Sky. But it was never really the start of a revolution, was it? Don't forget the wise words of Gil Scott Heron below. So it has been irritating to see the glee with which certain people view the destruction of our crappy chain stores and the inevitable custodial sentences of some of our young people. Understandable, but irritating. Particularly when accompanied with the same sense of affront that Sky news reporters feel (see above, The Media 2.)- "Why won't these kids speak to us or take our literature? Don't the know we're On Their Side?" Lessons to be learnt for the future here- for me as much as anyone else...

4.) I do not wholly condemn the riots, and I would go so far as to say I support many of the rioters. Not all. There's definitely been a significant number of people who have done terrible, shattering things this week, including at least one murder. BUT, despite this limited support, I am sad that they happened. I am sad that they had to happen. Another police killing makes me sad. The cuts to youth services, the scrapping of the EMA, and the new barriers keeping poor kids from higher education also make me sad. The violence makes me sad. The five dead people make me really sad, and I am saddened by the risk of new racial tensions as a result. The homes wrecked and buildings burnt make me sad. (JD Sports, Ladbrokes and Cash-Till-Payday make me a little bit less sad, but then I'm a bitch.) The hundreds of arrests makes me sad, particularly considering many of these people will do time. And the hopeless inevitability of the whole business makes me sad.

This is one of my favourite protest songs, because it is completely affirmative. A fitting song for what the new social awareness that possibly emerge as a positive effect of a terrible week. (Although I'm not particularly optimistic.)

[Afterword. I notice, on rereading this blog, that I come off as a vile, smug know-it-all. I think this is largely because I feel very strongly on the above issues, and so I'm very sorry, but I'm not going to change a word. As usual, though, I'd love to hear responses and criticisms. Racists need not apply.]

[After-afterword. I have worked with young people in Tower Hamlets, Hackney and Waltham Forest for five years now. Expect some thoughts soon about who the hell these kids are and what makes them angry.]


suburbanslice said...

You shouldn't feel at all sad about JD Sports, Ladbrokes and Cash-Till-Payday having their front windows smashed up. It was interesting to see today that of all the shops whose front windows were smashed last Monday evening (at least 15 or so), the only one which has since been reglazed is 'Payday Loans', which only opened about 4 months ago. Not even Morrisons or Boots has been reglazed yet. Anyway.

suburbanslice said...

I forgot to say that I was referring to Walworth Road.

Frances Grahl said...

The looting of Cash-til-Payday just makes me happy.
see April 30. That stuff belongs to us.

Frances Grahl said...

A further comment on 'Public Reaction, points 6 and 7, from Jacob Bard-Rosenberg's blog at the Third Estate:

"Benefits are already not there to give people a life: they are to stop people dying."

Anonymous said...

A lot of the 'opinion' in the mainstream media has been criticizing the rioters for having no real political motivation or idealogy. I'm having trouble remembering where these people were after the G20 protests...

"I can see a young man in a black hoody with his face covered trying to hit the police with a piece of beam. Apparently he is trying to emancipate the class to which he belongs, believing that no other class can do that for him. This is really good stuff, although I don't agree with him I admire him for getting off his arse and making an effort."

Anonymous said...

Note that the IPCC apologised for giving a misleading impression about what happened when Mark Duggan was shot. This 'misleading impression' was given before any comment was made to the family. As we now know, that delay in talking to the family was what motivated the original protest in Tottenham.

The last piece of brazen propaganda I heard from them was when they 'revealed' that criminals often fired handguns while in socks. Thus the fact that Mark Duggans gun was inside a sock didn't mean that he wasn't just about to shoot a police officer. They cited a single case of someone firing a gun which was inside a sock at the time.

Surely there should be some restriction on the IPCC making this type of comment? Usually people who have had family members killed are dissuaded from publicizing any of the details they find out about the circumstances, in case it jeopardizes 'any future prosecution of police officers involved in the death'.

Anonymous said...

The interesting about the Daily Mail response is that a lot of it differs sharply from the quite popular opinion that the people involved are just 'bad', 'evil', 'criminal scum' etc.

While deriding Guardianistas et al for supposedly seeing looters as victims, it also holds that they are in fact victims, of liberal teachers, social workers, of the welfare system etc. So the story goes, political correctness means that black children can't be told off in school, no-one is allowed to intervene and force people into work or stop them having childen they can't raise, and in general people in ghettos don't get the tough love they need to motivate them into becoming middle-class Daily Mail readers...

The clear implication is that it's not the fault of the people rioting that they are 'scum', but the fault of the liberal system which allows them to be so. This is often explicit, as in the last par of the Daily Mail piece you linked.

Thus this thesis requires one to deride a viewpoint which is allegedly (but not actually) widespread among one's enemies, while at the same time supporting that viewpoint. It is necessary to hold two entirely contradictory positions in one's head simultaneously. Luckily, if you are Melanie Phillips this is not difficult.