Tuesday, 1 November 2011

The Signal For Things to Come

The Height of the August riots in London, 2011

by Robert Edwards - ESA No 36

No one was prepared for the riots over an August weekend that spread from city to city, burning and looting on a scale not seen for decades. Parliament was in recess and the police seemed paralysed, like rabbits in a car’s headlamps, as they came out onto the streets to act as mere observers, standing by as looters emptied shops in full view. In one area, looting went on for over an hour in full view of police in riot gear.
The great British public also sat and watched, albeit in the comfort of their own sitting rooms on plasma screens that actually belong to them.
We watch famine and drought in Africa and NATO bombings in Libya; we watch rioting on the streets of Syria and severe storms and tsunamis in America and around the Indian Ocean ... but events on the scale of the August riots are now regarded in much the same way. News as morbid entertainment, so long as it is not in my backyard.
How many still remained secure in their homes while feral youth went on the rampage over several nights, burning out ordinary people who were as innocent and blameless as they could be? We were left wondering if we had a police force fit for purpose and it was becoming increasingly clear that we do not. Let us face it, they were completely ineffectual on the streets, seemingly incapable of knowing what to do under the circumstances.
The shooting of Mark Duggan in Tottenham by armed police officers is said to have been the spark that ignited the social powder keg. The local police chief seemed to ignore the requests from a peaceful group of demonstrators who waited for hours for answers outside the police station that evening. It was a prime example of the complete detachment of the police from the local community and more or less confirmed the feeling that the police treat young blacks unfairly. The peaceful demonstrators were snubbed by the local police chief ... then, later,  all hell broke loose.
Serious crimes were committed on that first night, and subsequently, the more serious being arson. The rioting was ferocious and a powerful force seemed to dominate the events. For moments it seemed parts of cities were to be razed to the ground as the mob pushed on with its criminal purpose.
The Prime Minister eventually got round to returning from his holiday, along with the rest of the Commons windbags. There was then some semblance of governing, along with the usual homilies before media cameras.
Cameron donned the persona of a hard line right wing Tory, dispensing with his customary ‘ethical conservatism’. They would be hunted down and punished, he swore. CCTV footage did the rest and the round-ups began. 
Fast-track court hearings were put in place after the arrests, based on CCTV mug shots. Entire families were evicted from their social housing as an added punishment.
To reinforce his new hard man image, Cameron decided to call in the expertise of US ‘super cop’, Bill Bratton, who is to meet our Prime Minister sometime in September. What does this say for our own senior police officers, some of whom clashed with the politicians, rudely interrupted on their holidays? They were informed they had gone about it the wrong way and so the politicians stepped in and sorted it out for them.
Those who advised Cameron on this option of bringing in an American cop may yet discover they have placed the Prime Minister in a somewhat awkward political dilemma since the introduction of his new ‘bang ‘em up and throw away the key’ doctrine, beloved of his old ‘hang ‘em and flog ‘em’ blue-rinsed brigade of old. Tories used to be hard on crime but not the causes of crime. They were not interested in what were deemed mere excuses. Social problems were of no concern to them other than to punish the poor for being poor. “It was their own fault” because they had not been thrifty and as hard working as their social superiors ... as most Tories saw it. Social deprivation was largely ignored and treated as an embarrassment.
Bill Bratton seems to look at these issues quite differently and, perhaps, with far more insight. Success claims by this tough American cop do not appear to be entirely truthful as this passage from an American report indicate:
“By now, almost everyone has seen one of the semi-amusing videos of black teen mobs rampaging through a store. Maybe we've even seen the non-amusing pictures of the victims, or heard their stories.
Most Americans have heard of recent violent ‘flash mobs’, which are the bands of black teens that attack mostly white victims and white businesses, as even the New York Times once noted. But the flash mobs, which are more accurately called ‘race riots’ or ‘racial mob violence’, are not the only interesting topic to cover in our national conversation about race.
There is also the ‘knock out game’, which is stunning in its brutal simplicity and stark racial significance. The knock out game involves ‘unprovoked attacks on innocent bystanders’, according to police who have had to deal with it. A retired officer explained, "Normally it was a group of black males, one of which would strike him as hard as he could in the face, attempting to knock him out with one punch", says retired Sergeant Don Pizzo.
The victims are typically not robbed, but simply punched with no provocation. Such attacks have been reported in Illinois, Massachusetts, Missouri, and New Jersey ... local media outlets have failed to report on the racial aspect of the attacks. At best, the media will allow the race of attackers to be revealed by mug shots or quotations from police or victims. This follows a conscious policy of self-censorship that has been openly admitted by major newspapers”.
Do we need these American imports and should we rely on advice from countries that have the highest crime rates in the world and the largest prison populations? Do we really need Dirty Harry?
“You can not arrest yourself out of the problem”, Bratton told ABC television, “Arrest is certainly appropriate for the most violent, the incorrigible, but so much of it can be addressed in other ways and it's not just a police issue, it is in fact a societal issue”.
He recommended, “... a co-ordination of very assertive tough police tactics but also a lot of community outreach, a lot of creative, innovative programmes such as a significant use of gang interventionists”. Sounds like typical American socio-babble but he does touch on a point that Cameron is currently ignoring ... the origins of violence in social deprivation. There are no excuses for crime but their are causes and reasons for it.
Before you all think I am turning into a bleeding heart liberal, as they were once called, we must consider solutions while not constantly ranting on about punishment. It is clear there is a massive problem regarding social cohesion and that problem is largely economic ... the haves and the have-nots ... the massive gulf between the rich and the poor.
While not dismissing the criminality of the rioters, there is evidently a strong case for recognising a process of alienation that has been going on for some decades now, effecting more than one generation. British society has been disintegrating ever since our industrial base was eroded and the working class betrayed and thrown onto the scrapheap of English social history. Once-valued manual skills became as redundant as the massed ranks of industrial workers. Youths today, both black and white, will never have known the old pride in labour and to have belonged to the brotherhood of the working class. My father, a miner for most of his life, was an example of that esprit de corps felt by all who toiled and laboured together. Youths today, and I am talking of the disenfranchised and alienated, often do not have that essential feeling of ‘belonging’ that even a proper family gives of right and so they become feral, that adjective now recurring whenever this section of youth is given media attention.
The sense of ‘belonging’ is as natural and essential as anything in the animal world. In the Qur’an it says, “Even the animals have their community”, which emphasises the universal occurrence of it, overriding all other instincts and needs. Governments do not do anything to remedy this situation because, first of all, Margaret Thatcher said there was no such thing as society, that we are all individuals urged on by selfish greed. Global capitalism is driven by it and the bankers positively worship greed as a god. Mammon rules Britain!
Four masked youths, all black, were interviewed after the riots by a Sky News reporter on the banks of the Thames near Greenwich. They were asked why they engaged in the riots and one said clearly, “We did it for the money because we haven’t got any”. One stole nappies and Johnson baby products for his tiny son. Standing there, he pointed over at the City with its tall office blocks and then to the nearby block of council flats. He clearly understood this world whereby the super-rich get hold of large amounts of money easily through speculation (gambling) while the occupants of those council flats sometimes had no idea where the next meal is coming from. This feral youth understands, alright. They understand that bigger criminals lurk across the Thames in Canary Wharf and further down the river in the House of Commons. They do not need lectures from hypocrites.
As Britain lurches from one economic crisis to the next, the Government tells us we must learn to do with less because a phantom debt needs to be paid to the faceless bankers who lend it out of nothing and than want it back at interest. It is amazing how many people are duped into believing all this is aboveboard and perfectly legitimate. We owe nothing because money is phantom currency which exists in the form of figures on a database only. It is nothing more than that. Then there is the bond market where debts are traded ... buy cheap and sell when they go up in value. Roulette capitalism at its worst and most unethical.
An economist once wrote: “Money is the NOTHING you get for SOMETHING before you can get ANYTHING. To acquire money, its legitimate owner must give up something in the here and now - property, personal services, etc - for the nothing of money. The money serves as a claim to an equivalent share of real wealth to be produced and consumed sometime in the future. It represents society’s debt for wealth surrendered for the inherently worthless forms of modern money, hence the nothing of money”.
What do we get out of this system? Only war and growing poverty with periodic bouts of speculation-induced prosperity followed by economic collapse, as Frederick Soddy, the Nobel Prize winner, put it. He believed the explanation was in the way society distributed wealth and not in its ability to produce it.
It is very clear that science and technology can provide all that we need in abundance. Oswald Mosley always said that. With government leading, we can raise our standard of living and purchasing power as science increases the means to produce.
But we are not in control and there is the rub. The crux of all our problems. It is the reason for poverty, for a lack of social cohesion, for social deprivation and for the fact that large swathes of alienated youth do not ‘belong’ ... other than to gangs and other peer groups. The connection has gone ... with society, the police and the politicians. It is time for anti-politics and anti-money. After all, the power that the high and mighty wield is all relative. They are powerful because we believe they are powerful. Money exists because we believe it exists. Our national debt exists because we believe it exists. Take that belief away and the whole show could collapse like a house of cards.
Ask yourselves why the police simply stood by and watched the looting and burning going on. The answer is, they did not believe they could do anything about it. It is all about confidence ... as the bankers often claim.
So let us all have confidence, my friends. Confidence in overthrowing this system and replacing it with something better so there will never be the need for burning and looting because there will be an abundance for all.

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