Writing at the Tatler yesterday as a third night of riots raged across London, I said that I feared someone would be dead by this morning. The first fatality linked to the riots has now been confirmed — a 26-year-old man was found shot dead in a car — but the remarkable thing, given the scale and ferocity of the carnage in the capital, is that so far his is the only death that’s been reported.
The initial riots were sparked by the shooting last week of Mark Duggan, a black man who, depending on which story you believe, was either a peace-loving individual and a wonderful dad, or up to his neck in gang violence. The circumstances of his death still aren’t clear, but a gun was recovered from the scene (and the media aren’t doing him any favors by constantly showing a photograph in which he’s making a “cocked pistol” gesture with two fingers and a thumb).
His death, however, has almost been relegated to a footnote as the violence has escalated. Following last night’s widespread violence and destruction, 16,000 officers are on the streets tonight, compared with 6,000 yesterday. There’s talk of water cannon and plastic baton rounds being used.
The riots aren’t over yet — London is relatively calm as of around 10pm local time, but there are reports of trouble in other cities — but the inquests and apportioning of blame have begun. And as is generally the case in these situations, opinion is divided.
On the one hand, most politicians, the police, and the vast majority of the general public view the gangs of thugs who have taken to the streets to burn and loot shops and homes, and attack police officers, shopkeepers, and bystanders, as criminals who need to be apprehended and severely punished.
On the other, a few hard-left politicians, along with “community leaders,” social workers, and representatives of assorted charities and pressure groups, view the disturbances as manifestations of “social problems” which “must be addressed,” and the rioters themselves as “victims” seeking redress for assorted “grievances.”
The liberal line was neatly summed up for American readers by Ravi Somaiya in this New York Times account of the riots:
Frustration in the impoverished area, as in many others in Britain, has mounted as the government’s austerity budget has forced deep cuts in social services. At the same time, a widely held disdain for law enforcement here, where a large Afro-Caribbean population has felt singled out by the police for abuse, has only intensified through the drumbeat of scandal that has racked Scotland Yard in recent weeks and led to the resignation of the force’s two top commanders.
That last part is a bit of a stretch — as if the upheaval in the upper echelons of London’s police force was the final straw that caused feral teenagers to smash their way into Foot Locker and make off with ten pairs of running shoes — but otherwise it’s an almost perfect distillation of the left’s simplistic mantra for explaining and excusing social unrest.
It is, in fact, pretty much the liberal boilerplate for explaining everything from Palestinian suicide bombers to illegal immigrants in the U.S.. It’s the time-honored cultural marxism narrative of oppressors and victims: an evil, invariably “right-wing” government and their brutal shock troops victimizing a decent but downtrodden minority.
Typical of the excuse-makers are the succession of “community leaders” who have been touring the TV studios, and who invariably begin an interview with words to the effect of “nothing can excuse the scenes we witnessed last night…” before proceeding to rattle of their list of excuses: “tensions” in the community, “heavy-handed” policing, lack of jobs, young people are “angry,” there’s nothing for them to do, and so on.
No reporter or presenter ever seems to think it might be pertinent to ask these so-called leaders whether they feel they bear any responsibility for leading their communities into their current predicament. With leaders like these, one might think, who needs enemies?
As for their arguments, well they’re certainly right about there being “tension” in communities, although the tension isn’t, as the “leaders” would have people think, between law-abiding local people and hostile authorities. The tension is between the large numbers of criminals — mostly young and mostly, though by no means exclusively, black — who would like to be left in peace to deal drugs and mug, burgle, stab, and shoot their fellow Londoners on a daily basis, and the police whose job it is to try to stop them.
The “heavy-handed” claim, meanwhile, alludes to the fact that young black men are several times more likely than their white counterparts to be stopped and searched by the police. What is never, ever mentioned when this subject comes up, however, is that this is because young black men are responsible for a disproportionately high number of London’s shootings, stabbings, and other violent crimes. Crime figures broken down by race are difficult to obtain due to the sensitive nature of the subject, but you’ll find some here and here.