Predict A Riot – How UK Riots Happen And Why We Should Worry
The "Arab world" - as the media call it, is having what is loosely named an "Arab Spring". Riots that lead to social upheaval and change. In the UK in recent times, we all saw major riots break out in various parts of London and beyond, as thugs, hooligans and “hoodies” (young men and women who wear hooded sports tops to hide their faces) and youths set fire to shops, homes, apartments, and businesses in many locations. The scenes of destruction and anarchy were beamed all over the world, and tens of millions of pounds worth of damage was done to people's properties and businesses. So where was Law Enforcement? Where were the Police? What caused it? Why did it happen? Who is responsible? And what can be done to stop it happening again?
Here in the UK, we pride ourselves on being open liberal-minded folks who don’t arm our Police. Except for Govt Offices and Key Financial and Essential Utilities like Airports and Ports, which will have armed personnel - there are for the most part - no armed Police. In Police chases that get out of hand, there are Aerial Police units and Police armed with Spike strips that can be deployed to cut short any criminal endeavour before lives can be lost. In Northern Ireland, a different more robust kind of Policing happens. Because of past violence and acts of terrorism there, Plastic bullets rounds were (and still are) used to break up violent mobs. Water cannons and Police batons, pepper spray and Tazers will be used against criminals. They are used in Northern Ireland, not as last resort tactics but first degree tactics, meeting force with force. There are other measures used, Police units on horseback, Police Canine units are deployed to counter riot-like behavior. British Police believe in something called a measured response. A Proportionate response to the crime or crimes in question. Is water cannons and plastic bullets good enough for the rioters who have brought Britain to the brink? Are we being too soft?
On a fateful night recently a young man Mark Duggan, aged 29, and living in Tottenham - was shot dead by Police after it was alleged that he had a gun and used it on them, and that they returned fire in self-defence. Now word is emerging that this is not what happened. The dead man didn't have a gun on his person when he was shot. The Police have changed their original story, suggesting now that the dead man did not fire at Police. A huge investigation into this death is underway. No one has so far admitted an accidental shooting under such conditions. No one has admitted Police error. Police investigate long and hard before admitting such things. But this is a bullet that has been heard around the world.
A Public Rising
It was the reaction of literally hundreds of young angry British thugs that has been the center of attention. They were hard to miss. They are the ones who went on riots and rampaged through Brixton, Tottenham, Manchester, Wolverhampton, Lewisham and many other areas throughout the London area and beyond - and they did this apparently in response to the Police shooting of this one man.
During the 1990's) in the USA, an African American man named Rodney King was grievously assaulted by American Police and that sparked a wave of destruction and fury across Los Angeles as hundreds of Thugs went on riots causing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of damage. This British police shooting may be Britain’s equivalent to the Rodney King events.
Many think it was just waiting to happen. In the UK today, unemployment has risen sharply, as record numbers of school leavers have left school and cannot to find work. Many can’t afford to live a proper ordinary life and others in poverty begrudge the others in society who do have jobs and who sip their cafe lattes and text on their mobile phones while meeting, relaxing and chatting in the many shopping areas around many business and retail areas of the UK. The sight of a person driving a BMW – once a routine thing, is now instead a sore point of objection and resentment.
There is a large group of angry young people, men and women who lament over the lack of job creation, lack of opportunities, lack of facilities, lack of incentives to work... and simple lack of care from the rest of society. They feel that somehow society seems to leave them feeling inadequate, disconnected and alienated – that has left them angry and longing to lash out in protest at what they see as an uncaring society that just “...couldn’t be arsed”. So their attitude is – “neither are we...”.
Seeing businesses close down, seeing the constant stream of foreign immigrant workers arrive into the country and whipping up their jobs, and willing to do work for a lower wage... has all combined towards the inevitable consequence. A lot of what is happening in the UK mirrors what is happening in other countries. The suggestion is that Politicians don’t seem to care and are not listening, and that these young angry people were being taken for granted. As one friend of mine said, “we are still treated like sheep, treated like dirt...” And when I ask what is the solution here, since surely addressing this to the relevant authority will get their grievances heard – the reply I get back is quite stark. “I predict a lot of angry people are not going to take this any more...”
What no one predicted was a riot.
But we got one, and the riots continued repeatedly for many nights since the shooting of that one youth. No one expected an explosion of fires across the city, of retail stores being broken into – of stores being looted, of buildings and homes and businesses being set on fire, many with people still in them. Several people are already dead, and several were injured. Over 2000 arrests were made and many convictions have followed. It was discovered that circulars were printed by Riot Controllers on leaflets all around and warning rioters that if they see Police, to shoot back, to loot, and steal and rob and don’t talk and don’t get caught. Even the organisation behind this criminality was intriguing.
It was found that the Blackberry Messenger Mobile Phone service was a favorite method management and communications of Riot Organisers as it's hard to track and is heavily encrypted. Thugs and Crime Leaders took advantage of Smart Phones. Because this was circulated by the Police to the public and the media, and fearing the service might be turned off - the thugs then switched to other Apps – including Google Talk and Skype. There was a flurry of App downloads of software on Mobiles that could enable Thug and Gang Leaders to better organise their campaigns of theft, fire, damage and diversion tactics.
A favored system to confuse British Police was to pour petrol or inflammable liquid down the center of a street and set a fire – usually to a building or a vehicle - to draw in the Police and emergency services, and while the services were tied up dealing with these events – the thugs were moving to a nearby shopping area and breaking in and looting and setting fire to property to either cover their tracks, or just cause damage to the business premises for fun. And they had no regard for innocent victims whose businesses were destroyed in the process, and whose livelihoods are now scarred by these events.
One channel, ITV1 was for a year showing repeats of a grim Reality show depicting Police at night constantly dealing with youths falling down drunk, or stealing cars or committing crimes or assaults, and TV audiences became weary of watching it. It was a curious contrast to find every channel at one point was filled with news of Businesses and homes and stores in flames and you couldn’t tell the difference between the schedule and the live ongoing events of destruction as TV programs and live news footage blurred into one another. It seems the riots were little more than thugs and youths in hoods who were nascent opportunist thieves and criminals going shopping at night in large numbers armed with crowbars, Molotov cocktails and fire-making materials. For some days, the streets were seen to belong to the thugs, and no one felt safe.
Authority Steps in to Control Events
What did Police do to stop it? The Police were accused of being too slow. But there were other problems that caused discomfort for Politicians and Authorities.
In a time when Olympic Games Sports Inspectors and Officials had arrived in Britain to check on the progress of building and setting up of sports and entertainment facilities – the Olympic Officials watched those on-going events, ensuing riots and fires and rampant thuggery that broke out across the country. One can only guess what they have reported back to their respective bosses on their mobiles, and Blackberry Phones. One hopes ruefully that their Networks did not get shut down.
It does not bode well for the 2012 Olympic Games in London. If ever a series of events had been timed to happen at a bad time, this has to be probably the worst possible time for this outbreak to occur. And many Police and other emergency staff traditionally take their summer holidays at this time.
The Government did not over-react by calling in the Military to assist in the process of combating the problems, and should be commended for this. The Police were sorely tested, as baton charges and running battles occurred most nights to stop rioters committing more damage. But for some critics – it seems the damage was already done. And whether it’s Birmingham, Salford, Manchester or Nottingham, where a Shopping mall was looted and set ablaze- damage was significant.
Police said that as many as 16,000 Police officers engaged these feral, violent thugs who brought shame and disgrace upon the entire country. Armoured Police Vehicles were a good tactic, showing that Police meant business, and the UK already has the highest number of CCTV Cameras of any country in the EU.
Many are asking what mistakes the Police made? Were there enough Police? Did Govt cutbacks help cause it? Was Police response just too slow? Was Police Intelligence not there or under reported? Has increasing distrust in Police contributed to this? Was a lack of dialog and communications between community leaders at fault? Or was it a lack of Force and Toughness from the Police and their mainly Dispersal methods (rather than anticipatory tactics) that left them with less of a grip on things than many would prefer? Do Police need more Powers and more tools and ways of dealing with such organised criminality? And most of all – did the Police do a good job of Protecting and Serving the People?
The Thugs’ and the Hoodies’ complaints that it was the Politician’s fault and there was a lack of Youth Centers and Amenities - is a sore point that needs addressing. And constant allegations of a serious lack of opportunities has left many angry and wanting to have what the well-off people in society already have. And so these "less well off" people headed off – to the malls, and went and rioting for Luxury Goods. Many people feel this was just down to mindless greed. And it went on until the criminals got tired of doing it. Like infants eye-ing a big cake they can all share in – they gorged and feasted on this, knowing they were wrong, and morality and decency was suspended when friends call and text and said – come on out and steal with us, get some new shoes, clothes - new mobile phones and laptops. It is the temporary feeling of control and of power that lead them to do it. And the sense behind it all that they were wrong but they were winning.
Anyone who would have said they could predict this riot breaking out would have to have a very good crystal ball. We are used to seeing our European neighbors marching and organizing events like strikes over job cuts or closures or austerity measures due to Bank and Financial collapse – but how many saw this coming? I seem to recall the Irish going through the worst austerity measures I have ever heard of – and which seem focused on taxing Irish citizens into oblivion – but how come none of this rioting broke out over there? The Irish are taking it on the chin, but they are dealing with it, and they are still standing.
Whatever sympathy anyone had for the deceased man who dies in Tottenham has evaporated slightly - in the face of the career criminals who preferred to steal, loot, rob and burn their way across London and beyond, supposedly in that man’s name. It's a name they stained with every crime and looting and theft and violent act. And which now seems to be completely lost on the rest of British society. Because it isn’t good at all, is it?
If you are not part of the side in society who are doing well, then you seem to belong to the part or side that is suffering and they seem to act more like the victim, so it seems like a class situation within society. It is like a party that does not want to end. It has to end. But we need it to end peacefully and not crash and burn. If people have no control, they will do whatever will give them the sense of control, even if it has to be a criminal enterprise, and cause misery.
It can be compared to indolent toddlers trashing their rooms in frustration at too much authority, too little opportunities, and lack of positive role models, and of being forever ignored, and so they disrespect the rest of society. If they feel no one cares about them, they won’t damn well care either. SuperNanny times a thousand. Hardened criminals can coerce younger softer more impressionable youths into getting involved in crime and looting. The worst part here is that young people are just not afraid of Police any more. There is less of a structure of instruction, advice, knowledge, care or sense of how to fit in, for the youth in this country - and some have no role models (read about who are role models for kids here) and don’t know how to fit into this society.
At the center of this is a vacuum, a big emptiness, and moral absence, like an absent parent or adult. It is like a ship drifting out of control. And it needs a firm hand on the wheel to guide it back onto the right path. What has happened here, could theoretically happen anywhere. It clearly is a British problem and requires a British solution. It could happen again at any time. Arming Police might do some good...but is that the issue here? Do you use more Force in a case like these Riots to quell unrest? Do you find new ways to make it harder for the organization of events like riots to happen in the first place? Or rather - could we use dialog and understanding and empathy, and simple extending of the hand of caring and help, and of Inclusion? We are all ultimately children in the end, seeking acknowledgment and love and attention, tempered with guidance and care. We crave understanding.
And if we become somehow injured, ignored and are left to fend for ourselves – rather like the British book “The Lord of the Flies” where a bunch of school kids get completely out of control and society breaks down to a debased animistic level – we risk self destruction. That cannot happen. We have to be better than this. We have no choice. It is everybody’s problem and it should begin with this simple statement. Perhaps we are all to blame. A bit of simple honesty can go a long way. It might not be much...but it’s a start.
Copyright (c) 2011 to 2014 Cathy Mantis (Cheeky Girl) with assistance by Cathy Nerujen (Astra Nomik). All rights reserved. Do not copy.