Thursday, 11 August 2011
As the looting and attacks on business and residents in their own homes, subsides, the inquest begins.
A combination of intervention by residents, business owners, increased police numbers, arrests, and a campaign of shaming and identification across the media and Internet appear to have finally smothered the lawlessness which has plagued the country.
Dawn raids have been carried out across the country, and other suspects have been turned in by their parents. Over a thousand suspects have now been arrested, and none have been granted bail. Thousands more are still being sought by police.
Those now being fast tracked through the legal system range from 11 years old through to mid forties. Half are under 18, but a 24 year old graduate, a law student, a youth worker, an Olympic ambassador, a semi-pro footballer, a ballerina, and the daughter of a millionaire are amongst those arrested. All will have a criminal record, if convicted, and will lose the right to travel abroad, work in law, or any other work which requires good character.
Many of those accused have confessed that they did it for "a laugh", and did not expect to get caught. Magistrates have made it clear that there is nothing funny about destroying their communities and terrorising innocent people. Most have been remanded in custody for later trial at crown court, their crimes being so serious. Custodial sentences are expected in most cases.
Parents of youths have found their children's indiscretions bringing unwelcome attention to their own doorstep. One father of a 17 year old who has admitted looting, expressed anger at "this coming to his doorstep". He did not comment on those who doorsteps were attacked by his son and others. It's sad for the parents, but they do have to share some of the responsibility for the behaviour of their children. The mother of a 12 year old boy, convicted of stealing a bottle of wine covered both her own face and her child's with a coat. When asked why she didn't know where her child was, she responded with profanity. Parents of children under 14 have a duty of care to ensure that they are know where their children are.
Many reasons for the looting have been raised by various people, often based on their own agenda.
Labour and anti-cuts activists have blamed "cuts", even though public spending is at an all time high, and the government is borrowing millions every day to pay for services and benefits. In particular Labour who were planning to cut the funding for police themselves, have called for the planned 20% cut in Police funding to be reversed, and for taxes to be raised instead. However, no cuts have been made yet and even after the budget reductions, it thought that the police front line will only be reduced by 2%. It is clear that even without the cuts, police were overwhelmed.
Bob Cantrell on Greater Manchester police revealed that under the Labour government no money was spent on riot gear and police are still using the same equipment they had 17 years ago.
Some of the looters have said that they were looting because taxes were too high already. Indeed, when all taxes are considered, someone on minimum wage, working a 40 hour week, pays about 60% tax. At the same time, global demand for food and oil have pushed food and energy prices to unprecedented levels causing real hardship for low paid workers. However most of the people arrested so far have turned out to be students or graduates, who either don't pay tax (other than VAT), or earn above average salaries.
Others have suggested that a lack of opportunity exists in London for young people. It has been reported that there are 17 hopefuls for every apprentice vacancy, despite a campaign by London's Mayor Boris Johnson, which has created 28,120 new opportunities in the last year. The forthcoming withdrawal of payments direct to young people who stay in full time education, has also been cited, although parents will received child benefit as with younger students.
Anti terror laws introduced after the 7/7 terrorist attack and a rise in gun and knife crime, undeniably, primarily effecting black teenagers, mean that police have re-instated random stop and search. In a mirror of the riots of the 80s, this has alienated the youths targeted by police, and the lack of respect shown by police when exercising such powers has exasperated the anger that this causes. In the aftermath of the Brixton Riots in the 80s, it was identified that police stop and search and alienation of young black youths was the primary cause of the anger which lead to those riots. Working with community leaders, police found a new way forward and London enjoyed 20 years of peaceful policing by consent.
However, some black activists have suggested that part of the problem is that politicians and police have not taken any action to try to prevent the rise in gun and knife crime, which does require surveillance and searches. There is no simple answer to this issue.
The original protest which was hijacked by rioters, was over the killing, by police of Mark Duggan, 29, as part of Operation Trident. At that time, police were claiming that Mr Duggan had fired at them, but this has since been proven to be mis-information, as claimed by locals and his family. Similar mis-information was issued after police executed Charles de Menezes, and when a policemen fatally assaulted Ian Tomlinson in an unprovoked attack as he was heading home from work. In both of these cases, the victims were totally innocent and fully co-operated with police before being killed. This, and the alienation of youths in London, by police, was undoubtedly the cause of the Tottenham riot.
The police failed to intervene in the riot, and others quickly began to take advantage of the police's abject failure to commence whole sale looting of local retail parks.
The following night, copy cat looting broke out in other areas, not directly effected by the circumstances of the previous night, and police, once again failed to intervene. This apparent ineffectiveness, created a sense of impunity, and the following night, whole sale looting spread across London, as thousands of opportunists broke into retail premises to steal luxury goods.
Perhaps inspired by flaming police cars on the first night, and perhaps to distract police, and destroy evidence, looters set fire to many buildings. Many residents were forced to flee as fire consumed their homes, with at least one woman forced to jump from a first floor window. It is thought that everyone escaped the flames but access to the destroyed buildings is still limited.
The final night looting spread to other major cities, but preparations by residents, business owners, and police limited the impact of these copycat criminals. However, at least four men have been killed by looters, and another is in hospital, with brain damage. These wounds will never heal. Another man was fatally shot in Croydon, although it's not clear if this was related to the looting.
It's certainly clear that the looting was exclusively luxury goods, and most of the looters were wearing designer clothes. So it's clear it's not about poverty.
Police have pointed out that much of the looting was organised, and carried out by gangs of youths coordinated by older men. The same gangs which are responsible for the gun and knife crime which has blighted London in recent years.
Obviously it's not possible to prevent widespread coordinated lawlessness on such a mass scale by force. It's clearly therefore important to respond to looting at the outset, to avoid the development of such widespread action. It's also clear that policing in the UK is by consent, and that the police cannot afford for that consent to be withdrawn, so a more respectful approach to police the applying of necessary tactics everyday, is also needed.