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Politics

These “Riots” Have Little to Do With Social Exclusion

Saturday 6th August 2011 saw violent disorder and violence aimed at the Police return to the streets of London following the shooting in disputed circumstances of Mark Duggan, a 29 year old mixed race man from North London on the previous Thursday. The Police led everyone to believe that Duggan had shot at them and his death was the result of them returning fire. This was dissembling and reminiscent of the Met’s response to the murder of electrician Jean Charles de Menezes, slain by anti terrorism officers on the London tube in 2005. In that case the met claimed that the totally innocent Brazilian man had vaulted turnstiles to avoid capture, something repeated by Met Chief Ian Blair 24 hours after the events. This was totally untrue and painted the Met as an organisation that simply cannot, and will not admit when it makes a mistake. The Duggan case was shrouded in doubt, with claim and counter claim, not of which were addressed by the Met allowing pressure in the community to ratchet up. Finally on the Saturday, years of pent up resentment blew up into full scale rioting. 

Whether Mr. Duggan was guilty, innocent or somewhere in the middle is largely irrelevant. His death was a tragedy for his family and friends, and for the Officer whose shot led to Duggan’s demise. Was matters to the community is that the Met have little or no transparent means of reacting to controversial events. This results from the seemingly too cosy relationship between the Mayors Office and Scotland Yard. Both Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone before him seem to have struck the wrong balance in their role as a “Critical Friend” to the Met. Locally elected politicians are there to make the Police accountable to the community that they serve, and whilst they should have a good working relationship there should be a feeling within the Police Service that they MUST do things by the book because they know that if corners are cut, and in this case mistruths are allowed to go unchecked the politicians will be all over it, keeping the community briefed and involved. 

But we feel that the Tories smokescreen of elected local Police Commissioners is not the answer either. Why are they needed? We elect our local politicians to take responsibility for overseeing all aspects of community life, so why should the Police be any different? If we extrapolate that concept then you end up with elected heads, a la the USA of all Council Department Heads with all the lobbying and potential for favours that could result. Imagine a Labour member from East Hull was elected as Police Commissioner for Humberside. Her first priority would be to shore up her core vote and if an issue arose in election year between diverting resources towards her area or say, Barton on Humber, the temptation to override operational matters in favour of serving her electorate would, for any politician be overwhelming. Human nature and all that. 

The first weekend of August 2011 saw disorder spread across the UK, along with much hand wringing from both Left and Right regarding family values, the impact of the cuts and a general consensus that the “Yoof” are out of control and under the thrall of gang culture. Whilst these are issues that we will address as part of this book, they have little connection with what happened. 

In 1981 British inner cities burned as disaffected and hopeless young people fought with Police who had little or no understanding of the communities that they were meant to serve. Crucially there existed a culture of not wanting to know about socio economic problems and how they impacted on people’s lives. The Police Service across the UK was overwhelmingly male and white. Issues such as rape, domestic violence, homophobia and racism meant little to the Officers dealing with them as they were not matters that they, by and large could relate to meaning there was a total disconnect between the Police and the public. 

Thirty years on, although by no means perfect, the Police have a far better gender balance and boast a Gay and Lesbian section in the Police Federation. There are far fewer barriers for ethnic groups to become Officers and highly professional and well thought out training in sensitive issues is de rigueur as the Police move into the 21st century. 

Only a fool would say that there are no problems regarding Police and Community relations, but by and large (Tottenham excepted) they were not an issue in the 2011 events. By and large when the Police turned up in numbers, and looked like they meant business most people left the scene. Most of the disorder was opportunistic and revolved around emptying unprotected shops of desirable goods such as mobile phones, trainers and TV’s and once the Police made a stand and organised themselves around retail properties, the crowds melted away. 

There is a growing sense of false entitlement in the UK. This idea that somehow people “deserve” material things is a follow on from this idea, a nebulous one at the best of times that there is a right to be happy. Thus when something bad happens some people tally that they have a “right” to recompense via materialism to make them feel better. 

The 2009 scandal surrounding MP’s expenses provides a microcosm of the Entitlement Culture; particularly it has to be said from Labour MP’s such as Hazel Blears making her condemnation of the disorder seem almost satirical.

Can this be the same MP who in one year claimed £4874 on furniture, £899 on a bed, £913 on a TV (the second one that year), £400 a month on food, as well as “flipping” her second home, and amongst other things making a tax free profit of over £40,000 when she sold a flat for which she had claimed mortgage expenses? Labour Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, who claimed that a room in her sisters London house was her main residence thus allowing her to claim £116,000 in expenses on her family home in Redditch, along with Blears was quick to say she had done nothing wrong. Both women were very well respected amongst the Party activists as they personified a sense of duty to their country coming before the riches they could have made in the private sector as Barristers. 

But, it seemed they decided that their “sacrifice” warranted making the lost of Parliamentary expenses as they “deserved” them. They were entitled irrespective that both knew that what they were doing was at best immoral. The sweetie jar was open and they, along with many MP’s simply could not resist. 

Not one looter stole with the thought that Hazel Blears is doing it, so why can’t I? But there is a sense of behaviour by osmosis in Society. Littering was acceptable in the 1980’s but you very rarely see it now due to a zeitgeist in Society making the habit a no no these days. Smoking is similarly on the wane due to an underlying current against it. By the same token MP’s were exposed as being ambivalent regarding dodgy claims, the perception that they were “stealing” was widespread thus inadvertently encouraging a feeling that it might be OK that if there were no security around a store, and everyone else was doing it, what would be the harm in taking a bit of gear yourself?

 The rioting in Tottenham must be addressed. It was wrong, but it resulted from concrete local issues that must get sorted out. It could also be argued that violent scenes in Bristol and Nottingham also have undercurrents around policing but elsewhere the disorder was just that. Not rioting, nothing to do with social exclusion and there is absolutely no corollary with 1981. 

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About dermotrathbone

Writer and co author "Through Red Lenses". Activist Unite the Union, Save Our NHS Hull. Fan of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, Hull FC, Munster and Ireland Rugby. Views are mine alone and may not reflect the organisations concerned.

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