Monday, November 14, 2011

Unanswered Question

I spent this morning in a church in Tottenham that had been taken over by BBC Radio 5 Live for a Victoria Derbyshire Show discussion of the summer riots. The debate did not get near my particular expertise, so I decided to hang back from contributing. The audience of 150 people included victims who had lost their homes or livelihoods, senior police fire and ambulance officers, and local representatives, as well as Tottenham's MP and a government minister.
Unsurprisingly some people's contributions generated more heat than light, and a common thread among some locals was the claim that the riots were a product of anger felt by 'the youth' at police oppression, especially stop-and-search. A number of speakers spoke passionately and angrily to denounce the 'murder' by police of the man whose shooting sparked the riots, as well as reeling off a list of people who had allegedly died while in the hands of the police. I won't attempt to summarise a two-hour programme, but I came away feeling that the question that Ms Derbyshire posed several times went unanswered:-
If you are aggrieved by the way that the police behave in your neighbourhood, how does it help to burn people out of their homes and steal luxury consumer goods?
One disturbing fact that did come out was the unacceptable delay in paying compensation to victims who have literally lost everything - nobody appears to have received a penny so far.
Thus far, and pending a definitive report, I remain convinced that the riots were at bottom recreational, offering young (mostly) men the thrill of broken glass and huge fires, the chance to have a go at the police (who were caught badly off balance in the first couple of days before they finally put enough officers on the street to bring the riots to an end) and the lure of free stuff that looked at the time to be risk-free. That last assumption turned out to be wrong.

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