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by
Mike McNally

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August 8, 2011 - 1:55 pm

This is a slightly surreal experience. I’m sitting in my living room in my quiet corner of south-west England, with the cat asleep on my lap, watching live TV pictures from London, about 100 miles or a two-hour drive away. The pictures, mostly helicopter shots, are of gangs of youths swarming around burning buildings. Most of the buildings are shops from which the gangs have already looted everything of value. Above many of the shops are apartments, the occupants of which have hopefully long since fled.

In some areas police riot squads move in to drive the mobs away, and firefighters arrive to try and tackle the fires. In other places the police are nowhere to be seen, and the buildings are left to burn. Imagine the LA riots intercut with scenes from the London Blitz. If it’s not live on TV in the US yet, I imagine it soon will be. In the meantime the BBC’s website is a good a place as any for updates.

The first outbreaks of violence, on Saturday night, were peripherally connected to the shooting of a man by police last week, but more about that another time. Things have escalated by an order of magnitude tonight, with violence breaking out in various parts of the capital. Saturday’s riots, and Sunday’s copy-cat violence, were mere scuffles compared to what I, and probably millions of other TV viewers, are watching unfold right now. There are also reports of violence in Birmingham, England’s second city. And it’s only just getting dark here. People’s homes and businesses are being destroyed, and I’m very afraid that someone will be dead by the morning.

I’d planned to write a post about how the hand-wringing liberals and self-appointed ‘community leaders’ have spent the last two days making excuses for the rioters – the usual crap about boredom, lack of opportunity, ‘heavy handed’ policing and so on. But it’s not worth bothering with those idiots just now, and with several parts of the capital in flames the news channels seem to have wisely decided to stop letting those individuals run their stupid mouths.

The Prime Minister is on his way back from holiday. Another politician has just been on the BBC urging parents to phone their children and “tell them to come home”, but something tells me that the rioters are some way past listening to their mothers (I’m assuming that in many cases there’s no father to answer to).

An Irish guy with a colourful turn of phrase was just speaking to the BBC on the phone. He was holed up in his pub with, among others, a 90-year-old woman who’d popped in for a cup of tea, and was desperately worried about his young children. He said he hopes the rioters “rot in hell”. I think most of Britain will agree with him.

I’ll update later if there are significant developments.

Update: Midnight London time.
There are continuing reports of sporadic outbreaks of violence and looting in various parts of London, mobs wielding baseball bats, and more fires. Sounds like the police are basically playing a city-wide game of whack-a-mole. A chap who’s just watched his furniture shop burn down says it’s started raining, which might not do much to put out the fires, but might be a good thing in terms of keeping people off the streets. It’s going to be a long night.

A couple of commenters have asked about the racial aspects of the violence. There’s no doubt that many of the rioters, probably the majority, are black – as was the man whose death sparked the initial trouble. However, many of the rioters I’ve seen on TV are white, and no doubt other groups are involved. And many of those who have lost their homes and businesses are black, asian or from other ethnic groups (I’ve heard one report of Turkish or Kurdish shop owners arming themselves with sticks to chase away gangs of thugs); these riots are taking place in working-class areas with a varied ethnic mix, and the fires that are consuming homes and businesses don’t discriminate.

There’s no getting away from the fact that black gang culture is a major factor here, and it’s also the case that many in the black community who wouldn’t necessarily condone the violence are reflexively anti-police and uncooperative, which isn’t helping matters. But it’s still only a minority of that community, and plenty of opportunist thugs of every race and colour have been happy to join in.

Mike McNally is a journalist based in Bath, England. He posts at PJ Tatler and at his own blog Monkey Tennis, and tweets at @notoserfdom. When he's not writing about politics he writes about Photoshop.
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