1. As always with urban riots, Tottenham and its aftermath have produced political rock-throwing. A familiar polarisation can be witnessed in mainstream and social media alike. From the right comes condemnation of the criminality, uncritical support for the police and a snorting contempt for any attempt to diagnose the events with reference to their wider social and economic context: unemployment, poverty, historic tensions with the Met and so on. From the left comes, yes, an insistence that the events cannot be truly understood without reference to that wider social and economic context, an insistence that the police must be held to account, and so on.
I’m in the latter camp, but do I also condemn the burning and looting? Yes, stupid, I do. I find it hateful, depressing, selfish, contemptuous, vicious and frightening. My, possibly paranoid, sense that delinquent youths all across the inner city are emboldened by the current mood has ratcheted up my parental anxiety an unwelcome notch or two.
I have no problem with condemnation, only with condemnation in isolation. That is because condemnation on its own is far too easy - so easy, in some mouths, that it becomes a sort of narcissistic vigilantism: my condemnation is bigger than your condemnation; your smaller condemnation condemns you as a secret non-condemner and therefore a closet excuser and justifier, etcetera. The other problem with condemnation unadorned is that it’s a dead end. You condemn. Then what? You have to look for some solutions. Condemning alone is not enough.
2. Rioting is often described as “mindless.” The problem is, it’s not. I know why the word is used: it expresses our incredulity and sometimes points to the rioting’s counter-productiveness - that’s the meaning, I think, that David Lammy deployed when he used “mindless” in his strong and nuanced statement yesterday. But people who riot do have minds, and in these lie the reasons for their rioting.
Those reasons vary, and may be various. They will be bad reasons, even when miserably explicable. But reasons, they are. Call them motives, if you prefer. These may be greed, hatred, a craving for status, for battle and excitement and for an antisocial sort of liberty. Some deep, possibly incoherent rage against authority and a safer, kinder more prosperous world they can’t join might be part of this story too. None of this is evidence of mindlessness, and to declare it so is to hide from reality.
3. Do the riots and their backdrop indicate that the capital’s street criminality is becoming more ingrained? I’ve a sad suspicion that they do. The whole story, beginning with Trident’s operation against Mark Duggan and broadening to smashed shop windows in Enfield and elsewhere, has ushered into the light a still mostly hidden London subculture of guns, thieving and thuggery that normally appears mostly suppressed.
The long-term pattern of overall crime in London is down, but as a careful interrogation of serious violent offences shows, the numbers of teenage and young adult victims of knife and other grave assaults has been rising in recent years - a trend our Mayor has yet to acknowledge. Does anyone believe the drug trade is in decline? Does anyone doubt that localised fraternities of felony are an established part of inner city London life? Does anyone seriously think that the police alone can make them go away?
4. The cops are not perfect: they spin, they’re secretive, they do wrong things. But every inch of riot footage confirms to me that I don’t have what it takes to be one.@2 years ago with 1 note