The Riots

I predict a riot, I predict a riot” ~ The Kaiser Chiefs

Or, as defined by my dictionary:

Riot (n): a disturbance caused by an unruly mob


“…a hundred well-armed people could wipe out the Watch, if they knew what they were doing. Once some madman finds out that a copper taken unawares dies just like anyone else, the spell is broken.”

That is what I was reading when they were talking on Radio 4 about the Guardian and LSE study ‘Reading The Riots’. It’s a line from Thud by Terry Pratchett and is expressing the views of the Commander of the City Watch, Sam Vimes.

For me, it sums up a lot of policing. It works because the vast majority of us are law-abiding citizens, leaving the Police to deal with the minority that aren’t. In effect, we are a self-policing society. Yes, I know that’s not across the whole of society but think for a minute; how many crimes have you committed today? This week? Ever? Yes, exactly. I haven’t been rocking the crime statistics myself either.

That whole self-policing thing clearly suffered some large cracks in August. People who would have previously thought themselves as law-abiding became opportunistic looters.

So what’s so annoying about the Guardian article is how it cites many factors behind the riots but the story that is being run, including it’s own headline, is that it was the fault of the Police. No, I don’t think so. Yes, the misinformation that came out from the shooting of Mark Duggan from the start was wrong. The fact there have been so many problems within the IPCC regarding its inquiry into the incident is definitely not helping either. But you cannot take that one tragic, fatal incident, look at the sheer hell that ensued, and then make it all about the Police. It is much much bigger than that.

I saw the play The Riots at the Tricycle Theatre. (According to the website it is sold out but here if you are interested.) This has been based on conversation from many different people involved in the riots, in all senses. It was moving, well done, and at times incredibly irritating. However, one part of it that stays with me is a rioter talking about Tottenham and how they were egging the Police on, first by damaging cars, then by pushing them out into the road, then by setting them on fire. That’s not protesting against the Police, that’s deliberate vandalism with a view to trying to get into a fight!

Why did the rioters do it? Because they could. I think that’s the main reason anybody does anything. Then, when the streets were saturated with Police and the weather changed, they saw they couldn’t and went home.

So many lives were changed, damaged, some even lost during the riots. My own life became fucked beyond all recognition but that’s a different blog post for a different time. Let’s not trivialise something so massive and so serious by jumping on the ‘let’s blame the Police’ bandwagon.

I’m sure much greater and more well-informed writers than I will write on this topic. And, let’s face it, with so many inquiries and reports ongoing, this subject is going nowhere fast. However I am very interested to hear your thoughts on this so please drop me a line in a comment box-shaped postcard.



ps.sorry for the predictable song lyric but it was inevitable…

3 thoughts on “The Riots

  1. I think the police being blamed is an all to easy answer. They are a target that is acceptable to dislike and blame. When the riots started spreading, the media were reporting that it is because Britain’s youth have no future, that people are becoming disenfranchised, yet if you look at the reporting of the first of the court appearances, there were a school assistant, a charity assistant, a millionaire’s daughter.

    Rather than look at themselves, rather than look at what ‘normal’ people class as honest and decent, it seems the police are to blame. Yes, there are officers who are more, erm, robust in their approach, but by and large, if you just go about your lawful business, you won’t register on their radar.

    I am 40 years old, with no criminal record. Am I better than them? No, I am no better than anybody, I just choose to abide by the law (generally that is, it was only a few miles an hour over, officer, ‘onest) so if I do wrong, it is me, it isn’t the police.

  2. We’re all pretty good at coming up with post hoc excuses to justify bad behaviour, and I’d guess that some people are using anger at the Police to justify (to themselves as much as to anyone else) something that they know was pretty stupid and that they probably did more or less on the spur of the moment. So some of the statements in the article should be treated with caution.

    On the other hand, there’s probably almost as many motives as rioters, and probably a lot of genuinely felt resentment against authority of all types.

    I’ll be in the corner wringing my liberal hands if anyone needs me…

  3. I was duty solicitor when Boston was hit by a “riot” on the night France beat England during Euro 2004. The fall-out of that night took up much of mine and my colleagues time over the next few weeks. We dealt with the majority of people arrested that night and over next few weeks, and I think I’m in a good position to identify what happened and why people acted as they did.

    The incident started when the final whistle blew. A group of people in a pub, who had been drinking for a lot of the day (it had been a warm day) were angry that England had lost. A few bottles got thrown.

    Several people then spilled out into the Market Place. Suddenly, someone then started to chant “I’d rather be a Paki than a Turk” and this group started to walk out of the Market Place appearing to head towards a road where two Kebab shops were open. There were no more than about four or five to begin with, but several other people, all in drink, joined in.

    The police reacted quickly, as the Market Place is covered by CCTV and the station was only miunutes away. Two police cars arrived, parked in the Market Place, and the officers blocked the road to the kebab shops. Unfortunately, this was the main pedestrian thoroughfare out of the area, so the crowd in front of the officers started to swell as curious onlookers arrived.

    Those at the front of the crowd then became angry because the police would not let them through. Several people tried to push past the police and were arrested as more officers arrived. At this time, the group was still occasionally bursting into a racist chant.

    Texts flew. Phone calls were made. More and more people started to arrive in the Market Place to see what was happening. Most were bystanders, come to see what was happening.

    The police cars in which the original response officers had arrived in were now parked in the middle of the crowd. Someone climbed on the roof of one. When he got off, it was turned on its roof, then the other followed suit. The cars were kicked and the windows put in.

    Darkness fell and the standoff continued. Police reinforcements from other towns were still some way off. Some kids appeared – aged 13 and 14. Whilst the shouting went on around them, they started putting newspaper into the broken windows of the police car and set one, then the other, alight.

    Most people, even around the cars, were not involved in anything. One woman sat on a bench, eating fish and chips, whilst people around here were destroying police cars.

    By now, many more people had arrived to see what was happening. I was one of them, as my office was just off the Market Place and I’d had a call to tell me there was a riot going on. The vast majority of people there were mere onlookers. A lot were parents looking for their kids to make sure they were not involved. The atmosphere, incredibly, was akin to that of a street party. People were actually excited by what was going on. The mood, certainly on the periphery, was jocular.

    Then the looting started.The first shop to be looted? Past Times, a shop selling retro videos, games and other artefacts. Why Past Times? No idea – always amazed me. The next shop to be broken into was Superdrug. Bizarrely, the two biggest shops – Boots and Marks & Spencers were left alone. Finally, Threshers – an off licence – was broken into. Cigarettes and booze was stolen, then the stock started to be destroyed by simply smashing the bottles.

    Someone set a fire in the off-licence. As the smoke came out of the store, the vast majority of the onlookers realised this had stopped being “fun” and was now serious. The crowd melted away almost as quickly as it had formed. The police regained control and the Fire Brigade was able to access the area.

    Within 30 minutes, no one was left save for police officers and fire crews.

    Many people were arrested and charged over the next few weeks as the CCTV evidence was examined. Most already had criminal records. The few who had never been in trouble before were extremely remorseful and at a loss to explain why they had done what they had done. The only explanation was that they had just “got caught up in what was happening”

    The most popular reason put forward for this cause of this disorder was social tensions caused by the increasing number of immigrants moving to the town. This was nonsense, and was merely a peg to hang an explanation for what went on. Yes, there had been some racist chanting, but this was only buy a tiny minority. We have a much larger immigrant population now – over 20% of the town are migrant workers – and there has never been a repeat of that night.

    No, the cause was people getting caught up in something exciting, something out of the ordinary, and then getting carried along with the mob. It was simply just typical human behaviour – something that has been happening for thousands of years. There is always a catalyst, but that catalyst is often unrelated to what then transpires. In this instant, the catalyst was Zinedine Zidane scoring twice in injury time when it looked for all the world as if England had won the match.

    I strongly suspect that the riots in England this year, initally sparked by the death of Mark Duggan, had absolutely nothing to do with his shooting, or the state of the economy, or anti-police feelings. It was just a chance to be rebellious, which is why so many normally law-abiding citizens got caught up in it. It was, and I may well get slagged off for saying this, just human nature.

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