From the above paragraph readers might surmise that I am not impressed by the highly politicized explanations given by some analysts most of whom, curiously enough, do not live in London and have no real understanding of the different areas and what happens in them. Parts of Tottenham experience serious trouble every week-end and often on week days as well. The gangs are very real, indeed, and have little to do with alienation experienced by people who have nobody to vote for. If these people or their "community leaders" think that the police are not on their side, they are, we all hope, absolutely right. It is not the job of the police to be on the side of violent gangs who terrorize local shopkeepers, mug passers by on the streets, sell drugs (well, OK, I do think the drug laws should be changed but the police works in the legal environment that is created by others) and, when all else fails, have violent fights with each other.
The real problem, as expressed by many of the inhabitants of Tottenham, Enfield and other places, is that the police is insufficiently on the side of the law-abiding inhabitants. There are many reasons for this and the infamous Macpherson Report had much to answer for. The police were no longer on the side of the law-abiding members of ethnic minorities but on the side of the criminals from those communities. A discussion of all the other problems would take at least one long posting and today I want to stick to what is happening now.
I would, however, like to describe a scene I witnessed near here some weeks ago. There are many small supermarkets on Uxbridge Road, Shepherds Bush Green, Goldhawk Road and all around them. Most of them have boxes with fruit and vegetables outside. A tall and strong-looking young black lad went past one of these shops, picked up an orange and started eating it. A young member of the Asian shopkeeping family (no, I have no idea whether they are Muslim or Hindu and it is of little significance) remonstrated and got a volley of abuse back, the chief of which was the young lad with the orange demanding that some respect be shown to him. He was being "dissed" when asked to pay for the fruit he was consuming. It was not clear to me whether he was asserting that he was going to pay in the fullness of time or not. One of the older shopkeepers came out, broke up the fight, shooed his young relative back into the store and let the lad go with his orange and whatever else he picked up on the way. He then told the young relative off. It was clear to me what was happening: the shopkeepers wanted no trouble with the disrespected lad and his friends and thought that the loss of some fruit was a price worth paying. Clearly they did not think of calling the police. Notoriously, the police do not even list shoplifting when compiling their crime statistics.
This small episode is being echoed in the complaints of the people of Tottenham right now. Far from complaining about police brutality, they would like to know why the police had not been prepared for the
looting and arson anti-establishment rioting and were not out in force protecting people and their property.
As these riots have spread, certain things have become obvious. There are no geographic or any other kind of links. Simply in several areas of London where there are already gangs in place, some of the smarter organizers decide to target shopping areas and bring their mates together via cell phones, twitter and whatever other expensive communication network is available to them. These are not the "wretched of the earth". The police are thinly spread and are somewhat hampered by the knowledge that if they do use a certain amount of force, there will be uproar on every side of the political divide about "police brutality". The same people who are calling for tougher action now will be screaming in horror if there are pictures of police going in with batons or deciding to adopt the Continental method of water canons.
It is, of course, about time we worked out what the police are for and what do we want them to do. Possibly the events of this week-end will open up that discussion but I am not holding my breath. And while we are on the subject, is it not about time we started worrying just a bit about the very large underclass of all colours, races, religions and ethnic groupings that we have in this country?
ADDENDUM: I have found an interesting blog that is following events closely.