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Monday, 8 August 2011

We must learn from these riots

We could call the riots that have swept London this weekend either common criminality or the anguished roar of the politically dispossessed and economically disenfranchised. The truth is probably in the middle, but we should take every chance we can to learn from what happened and why in order to make sure they don't continue.

But first some pertinent stories and statistics:

1) Being a policeman is a hard job. One told me about being screamed at outside a tube station on July 21st 2005 (the day there was a failed suicide bomb attempt - a fortnight after a "successful" one). "Why aren't you stopping them?" he was asked "you should do everything in your power to stop them." Yet when they do make attempts to stop 'them' they are often accused of racism or brutality. "I feel like I can't win" said this particular police officer, "because I'm damned if I don't stop crime and damned if I try and stop it."

2) Being a 15 year old boy in London is also a hard job. A lovely young man at my old school who is now at university told me of the time he was stopped and searched by police three times in one day. It was cold, so he had his hoodie up and he was walking fast. He wondered if he was guilty of looking like he was about to commit a crime or of being a 15 year old black boy in London.

3) On average every year the armed police units get called out about 10,000 times. They only actually reach their destinations about 2,000 times as normally on their journey it is found they are not needed. They draw their guns on average about 100 times a year and on average around 10 bullets are fired. If you are an armed police officer and you shoot your gun you are immediately placed on what might be termed an "honourable suspension" and you will never be allowed to be an armed police officer again. You are trained NOT to fire your gun, and you know that to shoot it will be the end of that particular career.

4) During recessions it is like the tide going out and revealing us as a society. Some of us saddled with unpayable debt, some of us with no form of income, some of us homeless, and some of us so rich that we actually can't find ways to spend our money.

Social unrest is created by many things. Take Tottenham for instance. In Tottenham here are more than 50 people for each unfilled job, and 10% more people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance this year than last. Last week Mark Duggan, about which we know very little, was shot by a police officer. The family wanted answers as to how it happened, but, partly due to it being the subject of an Independent Police Complaints Commission inquiry, they were not getting any. So they marched to the police station in Tottenham peacefully on Saturday afternoon demanding "justice" for the killing of Mr Duggan. What this "justice" actually involved, I'm not sure.

But what we do know is since then we have had rioting, looting and the attacking of police officers in Tottenham, Enfield, Walthamstow, Edmonton and Brixton. It seems to have been organised over the internet, and people have been coming in from quite a distance to get involved. Shops up and down highstreets, from chain stores to independent newsagents, have been ransacked and looted by mobs of youths, and there has even been the almost ridiculous sounding scene of about 100 people in a retail park in North London emerging holding boxes of trainers and loading them into cars.Today (Monday 8th August) we have looting and quite a lot of setting fire to things in Lewisham, Peckham and Hackney.

So, again I ask - common criminality or the anguished roar of the politically dispossessed and economically disenfranchised? I believe it is both, and we must do something about both in order for it to stop.

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