The Tottenham riots diffuse throughout London. The cause of the riots – the killing of Mark Duggan by an armed officer – is almost forgotten. We are seeing that these riots have no political agenda. Rather, it is just low thuggery and criminality. Our politicians need to get tough, writes A.P. Schrader.
As I write this I am very tired. In fact, tired is not the right word really. ‘Weary’ is a better word; wearied from watching the news all evening, watching images of huge swathes of London burning to the ground, of hooded thugs smashing and burning anything in site, attacking police and fire crews, and listening to their callous chatter picked up on mobile phones as they size up the latest shops to raid, of listening to distraught small businessmen, innocent shopkeepers and ordinary residents voicing their despair as their homes and livelihoods go up in smoke and their communities are shattered. My mobile phone was pinging away all night like some kind of demented pinball machine as updates and comments flooded in from all the various social media I have plumbed into it. The sense of horror, disgust and outrage up and down the country is palpable.
The violence, which started in Tottenham on Saturday, seems to have escalated out of a protest outside the Tottenham Constabulary following the shooting of 29-year-old Mark Duggan by Metropolitan Police officers on 4 August. The protest was organised by family and friends of the late Mr Duggan accompanied by the usual complement of loudmouthed local community leaders keen to stick the boot into the police and get their pictures in the local paper. An Internet rumour seems to have sprung up shortly thereafter, alleging that Mr Duggan was ‘executed’ by the police, who supposedly shot him multiple times in the back of the head (something Rachel Cerfontyne of the Independent Police Complaints Commission was quick to deny in her subsequent press conference). From there the Tottenham riots began as local ne’er-do-wells poured onto the streets in prospect of a ruck and an excuse to pillage and terrorise.
Mr Duggan had been killed during a planned raid by police as part of Operation ‘Trident’, a specialist unit tackling black inner city gun crime. There have been various conflicting reports of precisely what happened and about Mr Duggan himself, though reports seem to suggest he had links to the infamous ‘Star Gang’ and may have been involved in drug dealing. Police allege he was in possession of a firearm and opened fire on them. Of course, at this point, none of this really matters any more. These riots stopped being about Mr Duggan some time ago. This is nothing short of a full scale rebellion against law and order on the part of an underclass of criminal yobbos who have been indulged by the powers that be for far too long.
The so-called ‘Tottenham riots’ soon descended into looting, vandalism and other criminality. It spilled into the neighbouring district of Wood Green later on Saturday evening and continued into Sunday, with looters ransacking shops and businesses. By Sunday night, the chaos had spread beyond Haringey to Enfield, Brixton, Ilford, Islington, Hackney, Lambeth, Southwark, Waltham Cross, even Oxford Circus. Yesterday we saw this orgy of mayhem take hold in Walthamstow, Chingford, Croydon, Brent, Tower Hamlets, Lewisham, Ealing and Barnet. Even an antiques shop in upmarket Chelsea was looted. Over the course of the evening, we heard various reports that copycat riots have now broken out in sites outside London – Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, Nottingham and Bristol. In my own neck of the woods, Essex, we have heard rumours of disturbances in Dagenham, Romford and even Southend-on-Sea!
It goes without saying that what we have witnessed on our television screens has been absolutely sickening. The primary motivation of the disturbances is no longer any sense of ‘outrage’ at a particular shooting but sheer criminal opportunism. These people are actuated by an opportunity for theft, pure and simple; thievery and a glut of animalistic carnage and destruction. ‘Yoofs’, who are usually content merely with smashing up a public phone booth or vandalising a bush shelter have simply taken advantage of a situation that is allowing them to trash entire streets.
Unfortunately, some of the more lily-livered elements are already playing apologists and trying to blame ‘social inequality’, as though this criminality is somehow the legitimate fallout from inner city deprivation (as though ‘poverty’ in this country is anything other than largely relative). Labour and the Left were quick off the mark with their latest round of cant, hypocrisy and shameless opportunism. Chris Williamson, Labour MP for Derby North, was soon salivating over Twitter, blaming the Tories. He was followed by Lee Jasper, former advisor to Ken Livingstone on policing and equality (the same man who recently compared Boris Johnson to Anders Breivik), who described the rioting and looting as “economic violence”. The common theme was ‘cuts’, ‘unemployment’, ‘disaffected youth’ and – would you believe – ‘police brutality’. Neither expressed any sympathy for businesses or ordinary members of the public being terrorised in their own homes. Mr Jasper even asked “When did Curry’s build a school?” [Good point, Lee. Selfish capitalist pigs! Burn it to the ground!]
These two clowns were later followed up by ‘Red Ken’ himself. Mr Livingstone was quick to raid the TV studios to ply his usual brand of trite left-wing bilge, trying to paint these (largely teenage) thugs as “young black men” rioting out of frustration at not being able to find jobs to support their “wives and families” on Newsnight last night. Of course, ‘Red Ken’ completely ignores the fact that the Government’s cuts have not even started yet and he chose to overlook the massive investment that has gone into places like Tottenham and Hackney over the past three decades, under both Labour and Tory governments. He also conveniently glosses over the notorious mismanagement of, for example, Labour-controlled Haringey Council. But that is to be expected from that noxious nasal-voiced newt fancier.
The only Labour MP who comes out of this whole episode with any dignity is David Lammy, MP for Tottenham, who condemned the violence with considerable pluck. Unfortunately, if we might have hoped for a more robust response from our Conservative leaders then we were to be sorely disappointed. It seemed to take an inordinately long time to get the Prime Minister and the Mayor of London to come back from their holidays. Our intrepid Home Secretary gave a particularly stomach-churning interview this morning, where she waffled meaninglessly about “community policing”. The word on the electronic grapevine – from people I know, serving in the police – was that the armed response units were poised and ready but that Theresa May was reluctant to ‘pull the trigger’. In this reporter’s opinion, she needs to man up!
It now seems pretty clear that the Metropolitan Police Service (one notes this really needs to be changed back to FORCE) have totally lost control of the situation and what we are now witnessing is the complete breakdown of the Rule of Law. Acting Commissioner Tim Godwin looked particularly rattled when speaking outside New Scotland Yard last night. Businesses and livelihoods have been obliterated. The air is thick with disgruntled reports from ordinary law-abiding citizens complaining with some justification that the police were too hesitant to engage these hooligans and did little or nothing to protect businesses and property from being looted. The police are being seen to fail in their duty to protect the public and to maintain law and order.
Some areas will have been set back years as a result of this devastation. Images of our capital city aflame are being broadcast around the world. No-one has even yet mentioned the potential economic fallout, which will surely be horrendous. It is obvious to anyone observing this apocalyptic nightmare that the Met is hopelessly overrun. The BBC have reported that up to 450 arrests were made last night. Considering the sheer numbers of people on the streets, this seems a pathetically low number but then I gather the cells are all now full, so where to put these hoodlums once their arrested is a vexing concern.
There is no point Labour blaming “Tory police cuts”. The MPS still rivals the NYPD at over 32,000 officers. The problem seems to be the incredible fluidity and sporadic nature of the rioting – their movements apparently interconnected by regular bulletins to each other via Twitter, Facebook and BlackBerry Messenger. The rabble sense the police are in disarray and this only draws more of them onto the streets, keen to take advantage of the situation and nab themselves a five-fingered discount at Debenhams. That people are essentially prepared to burn down the place they live in order to nick a new pair of trainers or a widescreen plasma TV is depressing in itself but we can leave the whys and wherefores for another time. Right now, the priority for today’s Cobra meeting has to be the question of how to restore order.
First and foremost, the Met need to establish a curfew and enforce it vigorously. There will be no room for bleeding hearts. Anyone breeching the curfew should expect rough justice. There has been some talk about whether or not to deploy water cannons. Somewhat idle talk, at this point, as the Met does not actually possess any water cannons. They would need to be shipped over from Northern Ireland. Acting Commissioner Godwin needs to stop messing about, get on the blower to Chief Constable Baggott at the PSNI, and get the ball moving on that one. Now that our senior politicians have been coaxed back off their holidays, we need strong political leadership from Mr Cameron (and Boris needs to get in front of a camera pronto and knock ‘Red Ken’ off their airways!) unless we are to see an English version of what happened in France in 2007.
At the time of typing, the PM has just made a statement outside Downing Street and announced that Parliament will be recalled. The elephant currently occupying the room is the controversial question of whether or not the Army should be used or whether or not it should even be considered. One suspects it is still early days to be speculating about this but that it unlikely to stop people from doing so. Certainly, social networking and the blogosphere are alive with calls for Mr Cameron to do just that. It would certainly relieve pressure on the Met and allow them to regroup.
For my own part, I would still be extremely loath to recommend deploying soldiers to quell the unrest. One might question whether an overstretched Army would be up to the challenge, though I have no doubt they would be. Moreover, apart from the issue of how this would look internationally, there is a principle at stake here: namely, that civilised nations do not use their armed forces against their own people. The idea cannot, however, be entirely discounted. It may be that the rioters will tire themselves out. If, however, the unrest continues into a fourth, fifth or even sixth day then all and any measures, however extreme, will have to be considered no matter how unpalatable they may be.
All eyes are now on the PM and the Home Secretary. The broad mass of the British public will expect a firm and unequivocal response. This is the PM’s first serious challenge. He cannot afford to flunk it.