On the UK Riots

First, a quick news round-up...

The Guardian has a gallery of images here. Their live daily coverage here. The front page of full coverage is here. There's just so much stuff there, I wouldn't even try to excerpt highlights; I really encourage you to stop by the site and browse through all their coverage.

CNN—Cameron vows tough action as violence flares in British streets:
British Prime Minister David Cameron vowed tough action Tuesday to quell rioting in Britain's cities, after tensions between groups of youths and police escalated in London and elsewhere Monday night.

He said more than twice as many police would be on the streets of London Tuesday night, with 16,000 officers drafted in to tackle "criminality, pure and simple."

...Speaking after the meeting at Downing Street, Cameron said court processes would be sped up to ensure swift justice for those people involved in "looting, vandalising, thieving, robbing", many of them apparently teenagers.

"People should be in no doubt that we will do everything necessary to restore order to Britain's streets and make them safe for the law-abiding," he said.

"People should expect to see more, many more, arrests in the days to come," he added. "If you are old enough to commit these crimes, you are old enough to face the punishments."
The word that comes to mind is "unhelpful." It's not that I believe rioters/looters/protesters, some of whom are violent and dangerously destructive, should not be stopped or face consequences if/where criminal acts are committed, but when the lit match of a questionable police shooting landed in the tinderbox of simmering hostilities, one significant part of which has been police "stop-and-search" tactics, and another significant part of which has been government neglect, to have the Prime Minister start paying attention only to belligerently bark about a law enforcement crackdown, it just seems, you know, unhelpful.

Cameron comes across as addressing People Who Matter, promising them, "We will stop these vicious scoundrels from interrupting your peaceful lives!" and thus reinforcing to marginalized people that they are not People Who Matter to their nation. Unhelpful. I understand Cameron wants and needs to communicate his concern about the situation, but there's a better way to do that. Is what I'm saying.


The BBC's front page of full coverage is here. Their photo gallery of last night's riots is remarkable. I also recommend this piece by Matt Prodger, in which he opens with the wise observation that "instant analysis is a dangerous game."

To that end, I won't be engaging in a lot of analysis, sitting at my desk 4,000 miles away. I will say this: The situation is hardly as simple as most people will want to make it out to be...

There are people who are reacting to the fatal police shooting of Mark Duggan. There are people who reacting to the police "stop-and-search" tactics. There are people who are reacting to austerity measures that have pressed them to the point of breaking. There are people who are waging class warfare from the only position they've got. There are people who are simply tired of not being heard. There are people who are just using political conflagration as an excuse to be violent assholes for the sheer thrill of it. Etc. And every combination thereof.

To try to find a singular motivation, or a singular source of the disquiet, or even to try to attribute a singular emotion to a toxic mix of rage, fear, alienation, anger, frustration, exhilaration, dispossession, is folly.

And to be surprised is dishonesty, or privilege. Nina Power documents the history of the boil here:
Since the coalition came to power just over a year ago, the country has seen multiple student protests, occupations of dozens of universities, several strikes, a half-a-million-strong trade union march and now unrest on the streets of the capital (preceded by clashes with Bristol police in Stokes Croft earlier in the year). Each of these events was sparked by a different cause, yet all take place against a backdrop of brutal cuts and enforced austerity measures. The government knows very well that it is taking a gamble, and that its policies run the risk of sparking mass unrest on a scale we haven't seen since the early 1980s. With people taking to the streets of Tottenham, Edmonton, Brixton and elsewhere over the past few nights, we could be about to see the government enter a sustained and serious losing streak.

The policies of the past year may have clarified the division between the entitled and the dispossessed in extreme terms, but the context for social unrest cuts much deeper. The fatal shooting of Mark Duggan last Thursday, where it appears, contrary to initial accounts, that only police bullets were fired, is another tragic event in a longer history of the Metropolitan police's treatment of ordinary Londoners, especially those from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, and the singling out of specific areas and individuals for monitoring, stop and search and daily harassment.

One journalist wrote that he was surprised how many people in Tottenham knew of and were critical of the IPCC, but there should be nothing surprising about this. When you look at the figures for deaths in police custody (at least 333 since 1998 and not a single conviction of any police officer for any of them), then the IPCC and the courts are seen by many, quite reasonably, to be protecting the police rather than the people.
And Laurie Penny observes:
The truth is that very few people know why this is happening. They don't know, because they were not watching these communities. Nobody has been watching Tottenham since the television cameras drifted away after the Broadwater Farm riots of 1985. Most of the people who will be writing, speaking and pontificating about the disorder this weekend have absolutely no idea what it is like to grow up in a community where there are no jobs, no space to live or move, and the police are on the streets stopping-and-searching you as you come home from school. The people who do will be waking up this week in the sure and certain knowledge that after decades of being ignored and marginalised and harassed by the police, after months of seeing any conceivable hope of a better future confiscated, they are finally on the news. In one NBC report, a young man in Tottenham was asked if rioting really achieved anything:
"Yes," said the young man. "You wouldn't be talking to me now if we didn't riot, would you?"

"Two months ago we marched to Scotland Yard, more than 2,000 of us, all blacks, and it was peaceful and calm and you know what? Not a word in the press. Last night a bit of rioting and looting and look around you."

Eavesdropping from among the onlookers, I looked around. A dozen TV crews and newspaper reporters interviewing the young men everywhere.
There are communities all over the country that nobody paid attention to unless there had recently been a riot or a murdered child. Well, they're paying attention now.
People can only be pushed so far before they push back. To not understand that is a privilege.

To invoke that privilege in response, to use it in order to demonize the very people with whom the fastidious maintenance of one's privilege has left with no voice and no power and no options, is both cruel and risky.

I hope our leaders in Washington are paying attention, as the ink dries on our fancy new austerity legislation.

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