Thursday, 11 August 2011

Clueless Politicians And Plodding Police

So the mother of all parliaments was recalled from its summer holidays to debate the riots. Today was the day for answers and leadership right?

Prime Minister David Cameron reiterated his assertion that "the fightback has begun".

Which begs the question as to why we need to be 'fighting back' in the first place?

For whatever reason the police largely stood by in a vain attempt to contain what was fast moving and highly mobile rioting. They ceded the shopping high streets to the rioters. So the police now need to reassert their authority and control.

For the first time in my life, I actually feel sorry for the police. They've always been detested by the demographic of law-breaking people who were rioting. But now they've aroused the ire of the law-abiding citizens who felt unprotected and the retailers who saw them standing uselessly by while their property was looted or torched. They're getting it in the neck from all sides.

My criticism of the police would centre on their complete failure to deal with the burgeoning gang culture that has taken hold of certain communities and their high streets.

We have imported the American model of gang culture, virtually lock stock and barrel, albeit with our more stringent gun laws, the knife is more prevalent than the gun, although depressingly that balance looks like it is shifting too. We have gang boundaries and loyalties determined by territory, graffiti marking those boundaries like a dog spoors lamp-posts. They have even adopted the bandana as part of their affiliations. What self-respecting Englishman would wear such an item, apart from a brief flowering during the 80's New Romanticism? Now it is de rigueur for signalling your colours.

The Americans have 30 years experience ahead of us. On how gangs act, the collective mentality, the petty and violent crime they indulge in, the relationship to drug dealing, the symbols and mores of them. I question whether our police have ever seriously sought to consult such expertise and actually get ahead of the game. I don't blame them for failing to be ahead of the game with the social media driving the fluidity of the riots. But their inability to interdict the gang structure and operations is an unforgivable major failing. They have been blighting our communities and streets for over a decade now and their ability to act with virtual impunity from the law has culminated in what we have seen this week. They attacked the shopping areas they know so well from prowling and predating them week after week after week. They knew which shops they wanted to hit, what goods they wanted to have. They'd done their window shopping previously and took advantage of the opportunity to now just take them.

But returning to Cameron's new catchphrase. That notion of 'fight back' also implies the need to hit back at an aggressor. Are we admitting that we are in fact engaged on a low level war?

Mrs Thatcher declared that there were elements of society antipathetic to it, who she dubbed "the enemy within". But her targets were specifically political opponents, both institutional and grass roots, but again this notion of an enemy as in a war.

The maxim of any military tactician is "Know thine enemy" yet not one single government has made any attempt to understand the mentality of those involved in the riots, for to do so would involve admitting to their own culpability in helping to foster them.

The accusation hurled against the US involvement in Vietnam, while some of its own cities burned and police were turning guns on demonstrating students and protesting prisoners, was how could the country prosecute wars abroad without recognising the ongoing war it had back home in its ghettoes? And now the fine upstanding governments of those well-know democracies of Iran, China and Libya are gleefully telling us to get our own house in order rather than sending our bombers over the countries of others and appealing to the United Nations top intervene to uphold the democratic right to protest.

If we can declare war on an abstract word such as 'terror', surely we can do the same with an abstract word but material reality, in 'deprivation'?

Of course the riots were not solely motivated by deprivation (see my earlier post). Just so you don't credit that I'm only bashing the political right, the Leader of the Opposition Labour Party Ed Milliband today asked "How do we have people among us who think it's OK to go and harm and despoil their communities in this way?" Because Mr socially-concerned, oh so unaware Milliband, the rioters don't feel any allegiance to call themselves a member of any community. They are without any stake in society whatsoever. The only things they take from their community are money and goods with menaces and a postcode by which to name their gangs.

Utterly clueless the lot of them. We get the politicians we deserve and the politicians get the citizens they deserve back.


Li said...

Great post, Marc. A very well-thought out social analysis

IMO, a solid, well-funded education system is one of the keys. I work with a lot of violent "throwaway" kids. Their home lives are often appalling or simply non-existent. It's easy to fear them and even hate them. I've been cussed, assaulted, had them spit in my face. I've also seen them turned around, watched as they learned a trade, channeled their anger into art, poetry and music, seen them volunteer at retirement homes and animal shelters and treat the denizens with gentleness and respect. Unfortunately, most of these successes come from intensive intervention, small classrooms, dedicated staff, and businesses willing to work with us and hire these kids for job training. Youth centers give them access to such things as video games, basketball, after-school tutoring - places to hang out and socialize instead of walking around the streets bored to death. Hell, these days most adults can't afford to go to the movies, go bowling, etc. very often - what do we expect the kids to do with themselves? (Obviously, they have no one at home who cares where they are, or they wouldn't even be out on the streets a second, third or fourth night in a row.)

Unfortunately, some of our centers are closing, and with education cuts mounting and the economy worsening (at least over here) there's a very real danger that many (or most) of those programs will disappear. And we simply can't afford that.

As far as American gangs, they seem to primarily revolve around both drugs and the glamorization of "the thug life". And guns - well, I won't take up any more of your blog.

Sulci Collective said...

Thanks Lisa for your 1st hand observations.

Unfortunately we have imported the thug life here too.

And under our stringent cuts, what little facilities for youth there are will be cut beyond the bone.