The big story in the UK at the moment is that tonight is the fourth consecutive night of serious rioting in various English cities, primarily London.It all started on Saturday night after the fatal shooting of a man named Mark Duggan by Policetwo ddays earlier. The reports about the shooting are confused, but what seems clear is that Duggan’s taxi was pulled over by Police who moved to arrest him and a number of shots were fired, one of which killed Mr Duggan. A gun was found at the scene but reports that the Police fired only after being fired upon themselves seem incorrect, as the Independent Police Complaints Commission has said today that the bullet which hit a police officer was actually a police bullet.
Various people went to Tottenham Police Station on Saturday to protest Mr Duggan’s death, and somehow a riot started. The riot doesn’t seem to have begun with people at the protest, but rather unconnected people. On Saturday it was mostly confined to Tottenham, looting shops, and burning buildings and cars – even a double-decker bus.
On Sunday the trouble spread to other parts of London, and last night to several other English cities, including Birmingham, Liverpool, Leeds and Bristol. It seems that it will extend even further tonight.
Everyone I speak to is absolutely furious about this. I don’t remember this level of public anger over anything before, not even the MPs expenses scandal last year. It’s not about Mark Duggan. It may have began that way for a few people, but now this is trouble makers who think the world owes them something and they are willing to cause all sorts of mayhem for fun and to get what they can. The BBC spoke to two girls who were part of the rioting in Croydon and described the experience as “good fun”. The girls freely admitted to drinking alcohol they had looted and said “It’s all the government’s fault … the Conservatives or whoever, I don’t know.” Needless to say, there was no justification for this claim. They said it was about showing the Police and “all the rich people” they could do what they wanted. When the reporter asked why they were targetting their own community, one of the girls responded “Because of the rich people. The rich people have got businesses and that’s why all of this has happened.” I can’t even begin to address the idiocy of that statement.What these people don’t seem to realise or care about is the impact of their actions. Torching and looting a big chain shop like Jessops or Footlocker is bad enough, but what about the local independent shops that have been attacked? These sort of business owners are not typically wealthy – in fact, they may be struggling to make ends meet – and they provide employment not only for themselves but also others. All people who will now be out of work. All people who may struggle to pay their mortgages and feed their kids, because of a bunch of idiots who thought it would be a good laugh to have a riot. These shops will no longer be able to provide their services to local people. Not only that, but while the emergency services are stretched to the limit dealing with callouts to riots, they can’t cover all of their usual calls.
It’s been a bad few months for the Metropolitan Police. There’s been the decision to prosecute a Met officer over the death of Ian Tomlinson at the G20 Summit. Then complaints about their handling of protests and controversial tactics such as kettling. That was followed by revelations about Police corruption and involvement in the News of the World hacking scandal. Now this. By and large, the Police have public support over the events of the last few days but people are wondering why they aren’t dealing with the problem more strongly. There are stories of buildings left to burn because the fire brigade (understandably) won’t attend without a police presence. However, the police are easily outnumbered by the rioters and have their own safety to consider as well. I saw something today which made an excellent point about the behaviour of the police and their somewhat less than robust tactics. For each rioter that is arrested, you probably need two officers and a car or police van to take them to the station. The situation then needs to be explained to the Custody Sergeant who has to authorise the detention of the rioter. He then needs to be processed, have his property taken away for storage, and put in a cell. This all takes time. The police have to find a balance betwen contain the carnage and arresting the perpetrators – not an easy task.
Some people are even saying we should get the army on the streets. The situation is nowhere near that bad. The police are trained to deal with this sort of thing (though none of them are used to it on this sort of scale) and the army isn’t. The police need to be given the resources to do the job and eventually this will die away. Once enough of the rioters have been arrested there will be less organisation and people will get bored. There are 16000 officers on the streets of London tonight which should help.
Besides, it’s a worrying precedent to allow the army to take action against your own citizens. We don’t do things like that here.