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Monday, August 15, 2011

What a Riot

Is London burning?

That's what the headline in some paper somewhere asked. I didn't think anybody still read the paper, like, the actual paper paper until I went to Dublin and saw a shit-ton of people in caf├ęs and on benches and just sort of hanging about, reading the actual paper paper.

Most of those people were reading about the riots.

They were reading articles about who burned or broke what and how many police cars were torched and who fucked who's shit up and how badly. They read about who communicated with whom and how they did so. They read about BlackBerry Messenger and Facebook and Twitter and Foursquare-- the means to the end. The modern-day, techno-handy rallying cry. The 21st century's bugle's call.

Zoot-Suit Riot.


As the riots quieted down, as riots do when people run out of vitriol and steam and gasoline for their petrol bombs and zeal and motivation and interest, the articles people read in the paper paper centered more around reporting the minute-to-minute fires and lootings, and switched to that more in-depth, introspective blame-assigning that journalists and politicians love to engage in, because, let's face it: it makes it look like they're doing something.

Also, it's fun.

Predictably, blame got assigned to the police. Scotland Yard. The Metropolitan Police Department. The bobbies on the beat. Once enjoying a trusted reputation among the GBP (Great British Public) the police are now perhaps the single most despised uniformed collective of fellows-- aside from the Pakistani cricket team.

A "New York Times" article tried to explore why that shift happened, but it didn't do a very good job.

I suppose assigning blame to the rioters would be too simple-minded. No-- wouldn't be much of a story there, I guess. After all, it's not open-minded, fashionable, politically-correct or intellectually-engaging to place blame for mayhem and destruction at the feet of mobs of angry young people holding fire-bombs and running into stores and carrying out electrical goods in the name of a young, armed man who died at the hands of the police.

Blame the rioters? But that's just crazy.

It's a sad thing: watching any community tear out its own asshole like a tick-ridden bloodhound because of poverty, racism, frustration, anger, fear, and blatant opportunism. These riots had nothing to do with the traffic stop and slaying of Mark Duggan (whose unfortunate death, it certainly appears at this stage, was the result of his own actions) and to couch violence, looting, murder, and wanton destruction under the guise of political unrest or protest is a despicable slap in the face to the memory of any man-- justly slain or not.

Could the police officers charged with keeping order in Tottenham and Hackney and other cities and towns have engaged in different tactics to minimize the devastation that occurred last week? Perhaps. Were they competently outwitted by tech-savvy, mobile and spry mobs? Most definitely. Will the department, bruised as it is, learn valuable lessons from these terrible days and apply them in the future? Certainly. Will we as a society continue to refuse to place blame in the hands of the perpetrators of violence in favor of clamoring energetically for academic and removed sources to assign culpability? Yeah. We probably will keep doing that.

Because we're petrified of starting a riot.

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