Reading the riot act
“Panic in the streets of London. Panic in the streets of Birmingham” – Morrissey
“I predict a riot” – Kaiser Chiefs
“Communication breakdown, it drives you insane” – Led Zeppelin
Three huge songs, that both describe the riotous acts of Britain’s youth over the past few nights. It was undoubtedly last night though, that told us something was seriously wrong with our country. As riots spread from London to Birmingham, to Leeds and even as far as Bristol, the situation spiralled out of control. The nation’s streets became filled with riot police and reckless youths, looting shops, setting fire to property and damaging everything they came across in expression of a protest that nobody really remembered….
It all started with the shooting of Mark Duggan in Tottenham on August 4. Mark was dragged out of a taxi and shot dead after conflicting reports stated that he shot the officer in pursuit of him. Mr Duggan was said to have been connected to gun crime in the black community but whilst police claims of a bullet from Mr Duggan’s gun becoming lodged in a police radio are unconfirmed, those that knew Mr Duggan believe he was an innocent, peaceful man who would rather run than fight or shoot police. Forensic tests on the gun have already begun and whilst they should provide answers in respect to Mr Duggan’s situation, nobody can begin to explain or condone the riots that took place soon after the arrest.
On Saturday August 6 at 5pm, a peaceful protest marched through Tottenham to the local police station, requesting answers and justification for Mr Duggan’s death. There were around 300 in attendance. This is the sort of protest that is acceptable, is more constructive than destructive and does actually hold a place in our free society. However, as with anything, a bandwagon soon emerged and by 8.20 that night, the violence had already begun in Tottenham. A double decker bus was burnt out, 26 people were injured and shops were looted. The following day in Enfield, similar riots begin with disturbances also reported in Brixton, Walthamstow and Oxford Circus. By the night of Monday August 8, the riots and alleged protests had spiralled out of control with shops being looted, properties burned and people attacked in Birmingham, Leeds, Bristol and many areas of the capital. It had spiralled out of control.
What quickly became apparent though, is that the rioters (not all youth but 80%) had absolutely no idea what it was they were meant to be upset about. The excuse for the looting of shops in Birmingham such as Addidas, Phones 4 U and House Of Fraser was quickly shifted from justice for Mark Duggan to government cuts. The youth were looting shops, looking to steal things they could not afford, due to high unemployment and public sector cuts – which of course, would look great on their CVs in the future! There are lots of unemployed people in Birmingham, London, Bristol etc but they don’t all take to the streets and smash shop windows, burn property and steal expensive items. How is this going to help rising unemployment? At a time of recession, shop owners cannot afford to replace stock, to fix windows or to buid their businesses up from scratch again. Instead, those damaged stores will remain abandoned for years, much like many of the empty Woolworths units still are to this day, if anything making unemployment figures even higher as those that used to work there find themselves jobless.
It was Documentally who, whilst everyone else tried to report the facts, boldly speculated and asked what the rioters would be damaging if our city centres consisted of mainly community centres rather than large high store chains.
If this was the case, would there even have been riots at all? It does seem the case that Britain’s communities have become so far strewn and lost over the years that these days, you don’t even speak to your next door neighbour! There is a gulf between communities and large organisations – that is a gulf which caused the initial protests calling for Mark Duggan to receive justice. Of course, the gulf is not to blame for the riots which saw young people looting stores for the very sake of it – to get their hands on a new television and satisfy their greed.
Blame the benefit culture if you want. Young people have become greedy. They do expect everything on a plate these days but let’s not forget those that do still have values and work for their money. After all, who can blame the youth expecting everything on a plate when the man running the country enjoys a similar situation. David Cameron was conveniently on holiday during the riots and his expert advisor felt it be best if he remained on holiday during the riots. What a great decision(!) Why does Cameron even need an advisor? I don’t ring up my mother every time I need to make a decision to check I am doing the right thing! Furthermore, why was cutting short a holiday acceptable for Rupert Murdoch’s phone tapping saga but not for riots in your own country?!? Fortunately he saw sense and returned home after cries of disorder from the media and key political figures. To do what? Much of the nation’s police forces were already out on the streets , fuelling the problem. For these police were the very reason the riots started in the first place – through drip feeding information to the public instead of giving them the full picture. As many social networks stated, this situation required the army; no red tape, no fear – they would have dispersed the rioters in no time at all – but then, would we want to turn into a country whose state just compresses people? Do we have a choice?
Of course, as with any big event, social media played its part. Blackberry Messenger was accused as the platform with which riots chose vulnerable places to hit and throughout the riots, Facebook and Twitter provided the facts and also a little light humour – Google+ did as all great Google products do in situations of controversy, and shut down for many(!) Whilst Twitter did its best to keep people up-to-date with the situation of the riots however, it soon turned into a minefiled of lies. Claims that a handsaw was being used to cut of the brass iron head of the Bull statue in Birmingham were untrue – if the rioters could create such a powerful handsaw, they would have definitely been employed somewhere! Claims that Birmingham’s Primark store was on fire were unfounded and similar wild rumours flew around, with fake images allegedly showing the army handling the situation in London going vi4ral. It fell down to such Birmingham resdients as live Tumblr whilst Birmingham’s media scene worked hard to keep people updated via Twitter on the real situation.
What was perhaps best about the situation was seeing just how many people condemned it, proving that there are still decent people living in Great Britain. With the whole world watching the hoodlums looting for the sake of looting and burning for the sake of burning, ahead of next year’s Olympics, what message was Great Britain really sending to the world? Don’t come here, the country’s people are out of control. Peaceful protests turn to riots within hours. We have no leadership – the PM would rather work on his tan than his own country’s structure. We don’t even have any police left to deal with t he situation as jobs across the force are slashed. The one message other countries will receive is that actually, Great Britain is no longer Great. In fact, its barely scraping upon average.
August 9, 2011