In the first weekend of August, a shocking trail of destruction took place across huge parts of London, with other strife occurring in urban areas of the UK as well. Unlike previous riots and protests, these actions have been far more violent with no clear political message. Gone were the chants for affluent businesses to pay taxes, the anger directed at banks, and the placards against rising tuition fees and public sector cuts. Instead, we have seen a reckless crime wave take place, spurred on by anger, greed, frustration and ignorance.
While upsetting, counter-productive, unfair and dangerous, these riots cannot be wholly dismissed as “pointless violence”. The event that has sparked this unrest is the murder of Mark Duggan, who was shot dead by a police officer. To make matters worse, the IPCC were extremely inefficient while investigating the matter, and a string of lies regarding what actually happened were revealed. Duggan was armed, but the bullet lodged in the officer’s radio was fired from a police gun, not a firearm belonging to Mark Duggan. In fact, the only bullets fired were police ones – including the shot to Duggan. For many disadvantaged youths and disillusioned Londoners who already feel marginalised, this seemed to be the trigger they were waiting for to make their point. Most of those who have been rioting on the streets feel as though the system has failed them, the police don’t trust them, and the politicians don’t care about them.
When asked by a television reporter, “Is rioting the correct way to express your discontent?” the man on my television screen responded, “Yes, you wouldn’t be talking to me now if we didn’t riot, would you?” The interviewer gave no response, so the young Tottenham local continued, “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.”
He has a valid point, but his frustration at being ignored has been overshadowed by those who were hell-bent on using the riots as an excuse to indulge in an anarchic free-for-all, where they could rob their own neighbourhoods, help themselves to electrical and sporting goods, and get drunk on looted alcohol. One Youtube looter impatiently snapped, “We just gettin’ our taxes back!” Two Croydon girls interviewed by the BBC claim it’s the fault of local businesspeople that the riots have happened. Yet it is hard to see where a small furniture company like Reeves, which was burned to the ground, fits into the bigger picture of Biritish political unrest. These girls have made fools of themselves, but they’re not the only ones who have seized their opportunity for crime and rebellion; among those arrested for looting were also teachers, graduates and musicians.
People have lost their houses, cars, businesses and livelihoods. Innocent citizens are left scared, homeless, and heartbroken. Stupidly, those who claim they’re fed up of police brutality, bullying and racial discrimination have worsened the situation by attacking other people who also do not deserve it. Essentially, the rioters and looters have proven themselves to be hugely hypocritical and, conversely, public sympathy has shifted towards the police following the disastrous consequences that looting has brought. What could have been a justified public outcry has become a juvenile display of disgusting human behaviour. The greed of the rich and the jealousy of the poor led to an orgy of nihilism and selfishness. Shopkeepers in Dalston and Whitechapel stood guarding their property like soldiers, while those who had no foresight, such as the octogenarian barber in Tottenham, forlornly assessed the wreckage of his ruined shop.
One thing the public and the protesters seem to be able to agree on, though, is that our politicians have let everyone down. Not only the hateful youths at the heart of this, but also those who needed protection, authority and organisation. While London burned, David Cameron and Boris Johnson decided that it wasn’t worth their while to return home, before hastily realising what a huge faux pas this initial decision had been. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that the message this is sending is, “We care more about our leisure than your lives.”
What can we learn from the mistakes of Boris Johnson and David Cameron? One lesson is that your problems don’t just go away by themselves, and hiding from them allows the situation to unfold in even worse ways. Another is that when you choose to bury your head in the sand, the reaction will always be that of disrespect. Imagine how much these two politicians could have boosted their public profiles if they had dropped everything to return to England to do what they could to halt the damage. It doesn’t matter that their presences may have been a little impotent; the people of London, Liverpool and Birmingham weren’t expecting a dramatic iron fist to put the unruly rioters in their place. It just would have shown that our politicians care enough to be here in a time of crisis and show solidarity. If the government do not do more to communicate and compromise with Britain’s people, then more of this will follow.