Archive for August 2011
Communities organising to defend themselves is understandable and even acceptable or commendable. Vigilantism, however, is categorically not. The idea of applying your own form of justice is approaching the same lack of respect for civilisation as looting your local shop or setting fire to buildings. It is counter-civilised.
So communities organising these defence groups should be careful to ensure that they are indeed acting in defence or as a deterrent. It would do each of us well to remind ourselves that we are all human and subject to the same fear, despair and rage as everyone else. In a defence group without proper training or controls you may be tempted to let your emotions get the better of you and forget what it means to be civilised, if for just a moment. At least if you accept that this could happen to you, you may then be able to guard against it.
If you are in one of these groups remember 2 further points. Firstly, this is your choice and you must take responsibility for it. You are putting yourself in the line of fire. If you do wake in the morning relatively unscathed you may well have broken numerous laws that govern the society you’re fighting for. Before you go out to defend your community you must know which laws you’re about to break and be prepared to be held accountable. To attempt to escape justice for yourself is to negate your reason for mounting your defence in the first place.
Secondly, you would do well to make attempts to assist and work alongside the police. Don’t just meet violence with violence. If you are going to defend yourself in the absence of police presence you may well be better off illegally detaining suspects until the police can arrest them. How about obtaining photographic or forensic evidence of who is attacking you and be prepared to testify in court possibly in the face of intimidation when the time comes.
Fighting smart and playing the long game is the wiser choice.
I think it is worth saying something as clearly as possible at this point. The following should not be exercised as punishment of anyone convicted of one of these offences
- being shot
- being tortured
- having their house burned down
- being deported back to their country of origin (except in accordance with UK law)
- stopping benefits (except in accordance with UK law)
- not treating injuries at a NHS hospital
Nor can any of the following tactics be condoned
- calling in the army
- issuing shoot to kill orders
- shutting down parts of telecommunication networks
These things cannot be put into place because they are illegal. Two weeks ago they were illegal and they still are today. More importantly, the reason that they are illegal is that they have been considered at least uncivilised if not inhuman.
I understand the flawed and mundane argument of ‘well what about the human rights of the shop owners or the families of the bereaved, where’s their special treatment’. This is a futile if not banal argument; our society is supported and defended by its laws, to break them because you’re scared, upset or angry would be to do your country and community a grievous injustice.
To identify special cases in which we may flout our laws would be a grave mistake with terrible consequences. It seems appropriate at this point to recall a short dialog between Sir Thomas More and William Roper in A Man For All Seasons
William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
William Roper: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!
Be very careful with this point, it is very serious!
Looking for the inspiration of positive people and community spirit is a relatively simple task. Obviously the clean up groups and the emergency services spring to mind, but also the people on Facebook that are naming and shaming the looters, sacrificing friendships and risking intimidation and their safety. And the people that will testify in court in the coming months, are they not worthy of our praise in advance?
Finally, it is all too easy to overlook all those people still posting messages about their newborn babies on Facebook, still taking their children to the park, living out quiet, contented and civilised lives. Far from mundane this is inspirational for me. Shouldn’t this contentment be an aspiration?
My time again has been filled with vastly important matters that had to take precedence over writing on this blog. A heavy workload, moving house, losing a partner, gaining a partner, touring the country on family visits, a death in the family, as well as spending time with friends and loved ones. These take precedence because I say they do – I’ve tried to fit an 8th day or at least 25th hour into my time – to no avail!
However, the riots and the mixed messages they have spawned on social media as well as news channels has forced this verbal hermit to break his silence and vocalise his opinions to at least clarify what they are if not because they may actually be of interest to someone.
The catalyst for this post (rather than a post about the shootings in Norway or the economic downturn 2.0 or the NOTW or …) is actually a personal problem with a lot of the conflicting views I’ve heard in the last 24 hours. Particularly alarming is the way people’s civic mentality seems to take a holiday as soon as the front page of the national papers shows a burning building in the nation’s capital (especially if the images are headlined by ‘Mob Rule’ or some such fear-mongering words).
Quotes I’ve heard today include
- ‘send the army to stamp those fuckers out’
- ‘send the <insert ethnic minority> back home’
- ‘put a curfew in place and anyone that breaks it should just be shot, simple as’
- ‘the little faith I had in humanity is slowly disappearing’
And these comments were from morally normal people with no extreme political views; it’s amazing what fear can do to a person.
So I’m trying hard to remain objective and concentrate not only on what happened but why it happened too. It seems that attempting to point to one single cause of the riots is futile. There have been many events over at least the last few years (and some things that have been festering for much longer) that have caused tensions to build within societies and within neighbourhoods. Combinations of at least the following
- increased homelessness and unemployment
- the economic downturn leaving everyone poorer coupled with expenses scandals and bank bosses receiving big bonuses
- the ‘celebrity culture’ encouraging people to have the latest smartphone, designer clothes, trainers or haircut whilst simultaneously not being able to afford it
- a lack of trust in a Tory/coalition* government (*delete according to personal political viewpoint)
- difficulty understanding the in depth complexities surrounding simplified news stories that use buzz words like ‘Al Qaeda’, ‘Islam’, ‘Taliban’ interchangeably and maybe some confusion about how the Norway shootings and the BNP and EDL fit into all this
- the Arab Spring, riots affecting Syria, Lybia, Yemen, Morocco, Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi, Kuwait and more being publicised on TV
- the disasters in Japan – again the images on the news seem to demonstrate how easily the population of a country can be wiped out and civilisation brought to a standstill
The list could easily be made much longer than this but as the tensions have increased alongside the plethora of disaster stories over the years, and as the news stories seem to have tended more towards ‘end is nigh’ over the last few months. Then it is quite possible that all that was needed was a catalyst – a single spark to release the pressure cooker.
And so Mark Duggan is shot and killed, that single bullet triggered protests. The protests did turn violent and that violence has spread. It is fairly certain that the majority of rioters in Liverpool, Birmingham and Croydon wouldn’t know Mark Duggan’s name.
To Be Clear
I’d just like to make it as clear as possible that none of this, not a word I’ve written so far, nothing, legitimises a single act of violence, vandalism or theft.
Not a single one of the problems can be solved with this violence, nor does a single one excuse it. These riots will not, and never will, solve a single thing. (Though I realise that in all likelihood they are not intended to solve anything anyway).
To be as clear as possible : There is no excuse.
The very basic principles of a free and democratic society demands that every single offender must be sought out, every act should be dealt with firmly and fairly. The law must be upheld and applied. Justice cannot take a holiday in order that some totalitarian martial law can be imposed – the next few months are not a period for Lady Justice to hide but a time in which she should shine.
Each one of the acts of violence or vandalism must be traced back to its perpetrator and that person should be prosecuted as an individual, to the full extent of the law. This process may take months but the police are well equipped to carry out these investigations and they will. We as a society should support them in bringing each individual to justice.
What Should Be Reported
The newsreels are full of images of rioters in balaclavas – described as ‘youths’ almost without exception. This extensive imagery can only do more harm than good, it could act as a roll call, a recruitment drive for tonight’s potential rioters to get a piece of the action, or simply as an advert for opportunist looters.
What seems to be getting missed however is the brilliant, brave and fantastic work of the communities who are now out on the streets cleaning them up. Knowing that their efforts will likely get trampled over tonight, I’d put my money on them being back out tomorrow cleaning the streets up again.
Just stop for a moment during this time of panic and fear. Just stop and look around. Look for some of the wonderful things that individual human beings are doing as organised groups. Log onto Facebook and Twitter and read the 100,000’s of messages from Britain and around the world condemning the rioters. Read the pages on the same social media sites organising community clean up operations (most of which started within hours of the riots) and supporting the people and the police in the affected areas and search out images of the individuals cleaning the streets of their communities.
Think again of the police officers who have the frightening task of going out onto the streets tonight and the arduous and critical task of investigating the hundreds of crimes over the next few months.
Sure there may be dozens or hundreds of rioters but there are many thousands of people in our society willing to fight against them, not with violence but with the same civilised community spirit we’ve relied upon for centuries.
This is a time for the human spirit to remain strong. A time to remain ardently altruistic. A time that those of us who stay vigilant and selflessly promote, defend and support our society will look back on with pride. A time to stay true to our belief that human civilisation is a real thing and worth fighting for.
- show your support for the police on social media sites
- do not enter the affected areas, primarily for your own safety and also to help the police do their job
- ensure any photos or video footage you have is handed to the police (do not edit in any way before sending) and be prepared to give evidence in the face of possible intimidation
- report anyone you know who has committed these crimes to the police and again be prepared to give evidence
- be prepared to go to one of the affected areas at least one day this week during the day and help with the cleanup process
- reassure those living in London and those doing what they can that the country is in fact behind them regardless of what the news broadcasters would have us believe
We would do well to listen back through the centuries to the words of the great Thomas Paine, as he wrote in his Crisis pamphlets
These are the times that try men’s souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.
And of course the words of Douglas Adams – Don’t Panic!
Stay safe and I wish well all of those people fighting on my behalf tonight