And so it was, with the police shooting Mark ‘Archduke Franz Ferdinand’ Duggan, that a flashpoint well and truly flashed and burned. A peaceful protest descended into a panda-car-toasting riot, and anger shifted within hours from cops to shops, whose temerity to stand around untorched was dealt with in short order. The dizzying fickleness of the geographically-disparate mob then saw the selfish smashing into shoe stores and supermarkets to steal shiny stuff, shedding any semblance of scrupled social score-settling. This continued for four days in a similarly sibilant style.
According to lazy journalists, looters felt ‘brazen’ and ‘fearless’ enough to leave their faces uncovered, in one of the most camera-saturated periods ever seen in a city full of cameras (some freshly looted). As if any more evidence of their bravado were needed, some even had the bare-faced cheek to brag about their hauls online, only to be hauled into line by the police, whom it seems have Internet access too.
The slew from peaceful protest to thoughtless theft left some in the dust, with the BBC referring to rioters as ‘protesters’ for a while after they had obviously ceased to be, as though Tottenham were Tahrir Square, and the local independent florist were one of Hosni Mubarak’s least merciful henchmen. On the other hand, it’s an easy enough mistake for a 24-hour pundit to make, given how rapidly the screens flick from the top story of UK-based naked-faced idiots with footwear envy, to the life-or-death struggle for basic democratic rights in Syria.
Even when they were saying the right words, some commentators were getting them in the wrong order. Sadly, the government did not pledge rubber bullets to cut short all utterances beginning ‘this is all about’, leaving the country’s liberals, hipsters and three eloquent rioters to blame leaderless, political-aim-less looting on everything from structural inequality to cuts that haven’t happened yet. Meanwhile, the right were free to pontificate more than the Pope about pathetic parenting and the lack of good gallows, because EU elf and safety is worried the condemned might get a splinter.
Lexical paucity has also proved to be a problem for the rioters, who seem to be referring to the police as ‘the feds’. This is irksome on three levels: firstly, its blatant rap-tastic Americanism; secondly, the fact that there is no legitimate reason to refer to any aspect of this utterly un-federated state as federal; and thirdly that, even in the US where there are feds to fight, they would certainly not be involved in the street-level quelling of civil unrest. The anti-establishment establishment already have access to some brilliant disparaging terms for the pigs…or, alternatively, ‘the Met’—replete with overtones of corruption, self-interest and shootings on the street—is surely insulting enough?
Sadly, the only people who come out of this well seem to be the families of those killed. Duggan’s brother, Shaun Hall, disowned the violence immediately on Monday: ‘What is going on is not a reflection of what happened to my brother…please don’t make this about my brother’s life. My brother was a good man.’
Similarly, Tariq Jahan, father of Haroon, a 21-year-old victim of a hit-and-run in Birmingham, called for cool heads from all sides: ‘Why are we doing this? I lost my son. Step forward if you want to lose your sons. Otherwise, calm down and go home.’
Although the riots are self-evidently selfish, and not in the name of socioeconomic and political problems, they are unquestionably a manifestation of them. Whether and where it will take lefty carrots or righty sticks to solve the underlying issues is and probably always will be unclear. But that is a dull ideological debate for us to ignore later. Because this week it is, as they say, kicking off. And it’s kicking off in new trainers.