23 August 2011

A Few Obvious Statements Following the Riots

Ok, so this is going to be a long one, but there are quite a few things to discuss, all of which are fairly obvious in their own ways. The political meaning of the riots, our general attitude to victimhood, the "Black community" and gun crime, the effectiveness of a law-and-order response, the overall conclusionary significance and a predictably common phenomenon in the language of the riots.

1) Different Events Are Different
I don't know why I need to point this out, but Michael Gove is right. Stealing a plasma TV is not a political act. It's also, though this might go over his head, an entirely separate action to the political protest that sparked the riots, to the riots themselves, and to every other theft that went on around the same time. Different things happen for different reasons. Likewise different things are articulate to different levels, which is why, no, burning down an EMI warehouse is not a concerned and carefully-worded musing over the disappeareform* of EMA. So let's not make the mistake of assuming the riots and the looting and the 26th March Anti-Cuts Rally all have to mean the same thing.

As Laurie Penny rather nicely points out:
Riots are about power, and they are about catharsis[...]People riot because it makes them feel powerful, even if only for a night. People riot because they have spent their whole lives being told that they are good for nothing, and they realise that together they can do anything – literally, anything at all.
Obviously the protest outside the police station meant what it claimed to mean - "what the fuck, Metropolitan Police Force?" And obviously the looting generally meant "that's a nice crate of water, I'll 'ave that" and nothing much more. And obviously the looting was at least partly made possible by the police being occupied or blocked by rioters, in turn made more rioting feasible, if you can even draw a fine line between "looting" and "rioting". But the riots meant something. Every riot means roughly the same thing: "I AM ANGRY TO THE POINT WHERE I SMASH SHIT UP AND BURN SHIT DOWN".

Now, we can only speculate as to what the rioters might be angry about, but I reckon it is possible to speculate quite efficiently as to that, and without even having to condone them first. I think some of the 16-18 year-olds might have been angry about their disappearing EMA. I suspect that some of the suspicious-looking and/or Afro-Caribbean ones might have been angry at their bumf-drawer being full up with stop-and-search receipts. I suspect some of the poor ones might have been angry at poverty. Maybe some of the more chivalrous ones were angry hearing about a teenage girl get beaten up. Who knows. Like I said we can only speculate, but anyway, shorter non-psychotic Left:

"The fact that they were wrong to express their anger that way doesn't mean they weren't right to be angry".

*I'm coining this mother-lover

2) Victims: Bollocks to The Twats, Really
This might not seem that obvious initially and it's a bit of a tangent, but I'm going to come back to it later. Since Millie Dowler's phone got hacked, since Anthony Walker's mother unforgivably offered to forgive his murderers and made us all feel uncomfortable, since we really got into blaming raped sluts for failing to prevent crime against themselves, it's starting to look like we don't care about victims quite so much as we like to tell ourselves.

Fact is, we hate criminals. We hate criminals because they do awful things, they attack our precious concepts of law and order and respect for our fellow man. We're right to. Rapists, murderers, muggers, they're cunts. Massive cunts. But it feels a little unsavoury when our hatred of criminals overshadows or even contradicts our concern and respect for their victims.

Frankly, I'd say first and foremost among "victims' rights" is the right not to share your victim status with every sadistic ghoul who read about it in The Sun and felt affronted. Closely followed by the right not to be used as a pathetic pretext for tabloid to wank out their perverse revenge fantasies about dismembering paedos. In short, to be seen as human beings who've had their lives ruined in ways most of us could never imagine, as opposed to spokesmen and -women for the penny dreadful industry. If that wasn't obvious, it bloody should have been.

3) Black-on-Black Gun Crime Cuts Both Ways
Funny how we never see JFK or John Lennon as victims of White-on-White gun crime. Or Leon Trotsky as of Marxist-on-Marxist ice-pick crime. You never read about Kristallnacht as "a sad case of German-on-German brick crime", or Max Brod's refusal to posthumously burn Franz Kafka's oeuvre as "member-of-a-Prague-circle-of-German-speaking-Jewish-writers-on-member-of-a-Prague-circle-of-German-speaking-Jewish-writers legacy-betrayal crime", or MOAPCOGSJWOMOAPCOGSJWLBC for short, but there's obviously something I'm missing in how we define these categories.

Anyway, I heard some self-important white cock on the radio a few days after, you know, who thinks he'll always be spokesmen for the working man because a comfortable salary, leafy suburban house and pitiful bourgeois sense of paranoia can always be cancelled out by an affected estuary accent? Him. Anyway, he said, roughly, that
The fact that there's a whole police operation to deal with Black-on-Black gun crime, what does that say about the Black community?
Well, two things: Firstly, the Black community seems to be prone to committing gun crime. (A scientician would tell you that the gun-crime gene is carried on the same chromosome as cool dancing, rap-hop, calling people "blud" and forgetting to say 'is').

But Black-on-Black gun crime is a two-parter. This can be logically inferred from the fact that the word "black" occurs twice. Black Britons seem to be more likely to be victims of gun crime. If we assume a victim-to-perpetrator ratio of 1:1, then the very worst we can say about this community and gun crime is that it breaks even. If we then think about how the danger of gun crime might push impressionable and frightened young people into getting guns themselves and at least seeming ready to use them, and that if their bluff gets called then whatever happens they've basically thrown their life away, it suddenly becomes harder to see BOBGC as a crime by The Black Community against decency, values and anyone that has to read about it in the paper.

The job of Operation Trident, as much as anything, should be to keep young Black men safe from gun crime. When we see a young Black man with a hoodie and South London accent, we should think "that guy is potentially at risk of being gunned down" at least once for every time we wonder where he's stashed his piece. But we don't. We police poor, fairly black communities where we should be protecting them in equal measure. We police them for fear that their crime will spill over into affluent, mostly not-black communities. And we just learned how much we really care about victims.

4) MOAR LAW! MOAR ORDER!
Ok, so it's patently obvious this approach is daft. For all the desperate, vengeful squealing for ELECTRIC TEAR GAS! FLAMING WATER CANNONS! SHOOT ON SIGHT WITH ATOMIC BATON ROUNDS THEN DEPORT THEIR BENEFITS! it only takes a minute or two to work out this won't even work.

People riot when they think they can temporarily overpower the police. They carry on when they think they can outmanoeuvre and evade the police/army/SAS/cybernetic beefeaters/whatever you want to throw at them. People loot when the police can be evaded or distracted long enough for you to grab stuff through the broken window. The Big Society Vigilante Service is all well and good if you live on a street of arse-kicking Sikhs and massive-balled Turks and Kurds, but it's basically only useful for protecting the Big Society Vigilantes' own areas. However strong, vicious, vindictive or downright spectacular your repressive measures are, they won't work where they aren't. It doesn't take a genius to work out that lawlessness happens where the law isn't, not where it's so hampered by PC Gone Mad it can't even slaughter them all with jagged cyanide-axes.

The second half of this though, is justice. Justice is essential to law and order, and not just because criminals need punishing. For all the bellowing and table-thumping for reprisals, it's just as important for deterrents that innocent men get to go back to their unimmolated homes. That you aren't evicted from your home because your brother committed a crime. That you don't get splattered with indelible ink from a water cannon aimed at the crowd of looters you're rubbernecking or accidentally stumbled into. That you don't get banged up for six months for rubbernecking outside Argos. If you can be punished not for rioting but for the riots themselves, if you can be punished for anything other than your own actions, then the punishment is obviously no incentive to change them.

This is one way the disproportionate use of stop and search might have contributed to the violence. People are left feeling that they could be harassed because of the way they speak, dress or produce skin pigmentation, not whether they're actually doing anything. Just look at this letter to the Evening Standard (Wednesday 10th August 2011, David Gilbertson):
Junior Officers claim that the youths involved are largely the same youths they stop and search on a daily basis but who are "always" dealt with leniently by the courts or cautioned. As a result they consider themselves invincible.
Or even, thanks to meddling liberals, allowed to walk free simply because they hadn't done anything this time. No wonder people might feel they won't affect their guilt, let alone their treatment by the police, by their behaviour.

This is why polite, middle-class suburbanites don't torch panda cars. We see the police as allies, for good or ill. Sure, they may bang our kids up for youthful indiscretions such as entering an upmarket department store with intent to sit down and shout, they may harass anarchists or God-fearing motorists and homophobes, but overall we know they're necessary to protect us, or property and our social position. If you're left feeling that law and order isn't there to protect you, just to limit your lawful and unlawful activities alike, law and order becomes an adversary, and it's a lot harder to take the police's constant misbehaviour lying down.

5) Some Obvious Conclusions on Obviousness
Ok, so overall it's silly to say "these kids have no stake in society". Most of the things they own, use or eat are made using division of labour. Their streets get swept and maintained and their jobbies flushed away. But they didn't torch a sewage works. A riot is a rebellion against a specific aspect of society - law and order. And if the values of law and order and respecting property that is someone's livelihood are not ones you benefit from, you have nothing to gain from upholding them if there's a free TV going.

We're too quick to use these riots to hate on more criminals, especially the criminal underclass. The underclass, criminal and law-abiding, just had their neighbourhoods wrecked. The council house evictions, the squealing about stopping their benefits, the general sentiment that they should be punished extra for being poor and ungrateful shows how we still don't want to quite drop all our venom for the chavvy victims just because they've had a little bad luck. Instead, we just them to draw a line round the Bad People, point at it, and tut at how bad they are.

Ok, so a lot of this stuff isn't obvious. But it should be. And the fact that it's not is a lot of the reason the riots happened and similar things will happen again.

6) A Brief Musing on the Naming of the Phenomenon
I should like to use a song lyric, maybe the Smiths, for the title. Any suggestions would be most welcome.