Text from London Riot: 'We’re Not Broke, But Who Says No to Free Stuff'
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.
So much for the "police oppression" excuse. What about the "lack of jobs"? It's true that there's severe unemployment in some of the areas where rioting has broken out; and those areas have, like the rest of the country, been affected by government cuts. But many of the rioters have jobs, while many youngsters who are unemployed are taking no part in the violence; unemployment is equally bad, or worse, in other parts of the country, but people don't burn down and loot shopping centers in protest. And if these young people are so concerned about jobs, we might ask why they're burning down shops and other businesses that employ local people.
The fact is that many of those doing the looting aren't poor: "we’re not broke, but who says no to free stuff" read one of the text messages advertising the looting of a particular store, and many of them are apparently able to afford a BlackBerry. And most of those rioters who don't have a job wouldn't want one if they were offered it -- why bother to work when you can spend your days high on drink and on drugs, and make a comfortable living by topping up your state benefits with the proceeds of crime?
As for the "anger," while there was certainly a mood of anger towards the police on Saturday night, that seems to have abated -- the laughing, strutting yobs ransacking clothing and electrical stores in full view of the TV cameras appear to be having a whale of a time. Ditto for "boredom."
You only have to look at the sheer savagery and cruelty of the rioters (see, for example, this video of a teenage boy who'd already been beaten up being helped to his feet by a group of youths who then rifle through his rucksack) to know that, contrary to the claims of their liberal apologists, they have no political or social agenda. If they had, surely they would have wanted to talk to journalists covering the riots, rather than attacking them and smashing or stealing their cameras.
Then there's the race issue, which, with one or two exceptions, no one appears to want to talk about. Anyone watching footage or looking at pictures of the rioting can see that a majority of those involved are black, although opportunist thugs of every race and color have been happy to join in. We should be clear, however, that these aren't "race riots" -- many of those who have lost their homes and businesses are black. That said, there's the potential for the racial aspect to take a sinister turn -- Asian and other ethnic business have been damaged and looted, and there have already been reports of other communities organizing to defend the homes and properties where the police have failed to show up.
The reluctance to even mention the race factor means that, even when the fires have been put out and the streets are quiet again, the underlying problems which have led to these appalling events are unlikely to be addressed. In this respect, the widespread indulgence of criminal behavior by young black men in Britain's inner cities is reminiscent of liberal attitudes towards Muslims in the country.
Islamic extremism has been able to flourish in Britain in part because of the refusal to countenance any criticism of Islam by liberals. In a similar way, the dictates of political correctness and multiculturalism have led liberals to dismiss attempts to address the dysfunction in black families and communities as racist. Now, against the backdrop of the financial crisis and austerity measures, a minority of black youths feel entitled to engage in what is basically a massive looting spree -- the Duggan shooting just provided the spark.
The protestors have also been emboldened by the attitudes of politicians and the media towards the police. Another recurring theme in the news coverage has been criticism of the police for not acting faster and with more force to stop the violence and looting. Yet, just a few months ago, they were being criticized for being overly aggressive towards anti-cuts protestors in London, and the officers currently enduring nightly hails of bricks and bottles know that, should they respond with "inappropriate" force, their superiors -- many of whom have never actually arrested a criminal, but who have aced all the required courses in "diversity" and "cultural sensitivity" -- will happily hang them out to dry.
One BBC anchor suggested that the police were "damned if the do and damned if they don't," which is a fair assessment, but a bit rich given that the BBC is usually at the forefront of those doing the damning -- you can rest assured that if a rioter so much as stubs his toe while kicking a fallen policeman in the head, the BBC will be demanding that politicians launch an inquiry.
Essentially, what's happening in London, and on a smaller scale in other cities, is what one commentator called "aggressive late-night shopping." Gangs of thugs are stealing things because no one is stopping them, and because they know that many will excuse their actions on account of their skin color. The combination of liberal hand-wringing, politicians who lack the courage to address the root causes of the trouble, and a demoralized police force portends a difficult few weeks ahead.
All, however, is not lost. While old-school left-wingers like odious former London Mayor Ken Livingstone have been shamelessly exploiting the riots for political gain, others, such as David Lammy, the black MP representing the area where trouble first broke out on Saturday, have conducted themselves with dignity, and condemned the violence unreservedly. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Londoners have signed up to a Twitter and Facebook campaign to clean up the city and help those whose homes have been damaged or destroyed.
Several commentators have remarked that the scenes of destruction across London last night were reminiscent of the Blitz. Londoners and their leaders now need to show some of the spirit that their predecessors did back then, confront and disown the minority of criminals in their midst, and reclaim their city.