"I have great sympathy for the oppressed but I do not expect them to be morally superior to the oppressors. I merely expect them to be oppressed."
A timely post of something that was stuck as a draft for years, now that the argument is being attempted for the use of water cannons in London. So far the Assembly Police and Crime Committee has found there is no case to use them, but with a Tory-led government and Boris as mayor, let's wait and see.
So, riots and looting.
Lots of people are eager to offer their tuppence worth, "send in the army", "it's because of the cuts, youth workers are losing funding, the EMA is being taken away", "mindless thugs", "take away their benefits and housing".
Once again attempts at identifying the problems, usually in an effort to avoid repetition, are often shouted down as attempts to excuse idiots of their idiotic actions. No, how do people get to the point of thinking that acting idiotically is okay? If you aren't interested in the reasons then you are effectively writing off a whole subsection of people and you may as well just arrest any young people in hooded tops who live in estates, and their children and their children's children and so on. Is it more important to perpetually deal with the symptoms or the illness (or sickness to quote Cameron)?
Panic on the streets of London
As Laurie Penny says in the above article: "Violence is rarely mindless. The politics of a burning building, a smashed-in shop or a young man shot by police may be obscured even to those who lit the rags or fired the gun, but the politics are there."
Laurie mentions watching an NBC report where a man is interviewed, asking if the riots achieved anything.
"Yes," said the young man. "You wouldn't be talking to me now if we didn't riot, would you?"
"Two months ago we marched to Scotland Yard, more than 2,000 of us, all blacks, and it was peaceful and calm and you know what? Not a word in the press. Last night a bit of rioting and looting and look around you."
Surely not? When was there a march on Scotland Yard of all places, of over 2000 people, just a couple of months ago and surely when marches are prime time, after the student and union marches we've had in the last year? I haven't heard of it, have you?
Smiley Culture march
Smiley Culture was a reggae star. To quote the linked article "The reggae star, real name David Emmanuel, who grew up in Tulse Hill, died of a single stab wound to the heart in the kitchen of his home in Warlingham on March 15.
The 80s star allegedly plunged a carving knife into his chest when he went to make himself a cup of tea during a police drug raid on his home."
A couple of thousand people, mostly Black, went on a protest march to Scotland Yard to demand justice for another suspicious police-related death.
Deaths in police custody
So there have been 193 deaths in the custody of the Metropolitan police (link to Wikipedia, main source is a Houses of Parliament report) from 1993 to 2010, more than 10 a year for 17 years. No one is going to claim that anyone was rioting and looting as a direct result of Mark Duggan's death during an arrest, but it's indicative of a general atmosphere that exists in the places that most people do their best not to think about. The kids who took to the streets did so out of greed, out of anger, and stupidity, and there was obviously no desire to 'make a statement' beyond the usual machismo swagger, but these are the kids who live in a world of gangs and petty crime, of real and imminent fear of violence and police being a threat rather than a source of help.
So many people are speedy to rebuff the explanations involving poverty and deprivation as if the only sign is literally being too poor to eat and that the kids should have been stealing staple foods if it was about poverty. But why has the threat been made to take away the looters' benefits unless it's implicitly accepted that these kids are at the bottom of our society?
When you grow up in a culture of endemic unemployment, surrounded by the relatively easy money of drug crime, in an area like Tottenham (where unemployment in June 2011 runs at 8.3% compared to the London average of 4.2% based on claimants source).
Is their poverty a literal cause of their looting? No, but it's a reason for fostering a state of mind where such behaviour is seen as desirable, let alone tolerable. Many people have questioned how people can attack their own communities - but what is their sense of community? The insane idea of postcode violence and the idea of the boundaries that creates might help to understand how hostile the world could become, especially if your family is barely that, your substitute family is a gang and the police are hostile rather than helpful. Could the Fairy Jobmother Hayley Taylor help these kids?