Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Riots - Viewed from France

While the UK was, to its surprise, having its shop-windows kicked i I was in Brittany. The only UK daily paper I could get my hands on was the Telegraph which I grabbed as soon as the campsite shop opened.

You get an interesting line of sight from the the country you're visiting. A few years ago, following his election, Nicolas Sarkozy, the President of France, had to deal with a load of rioting in the outer 'banlieux' of Paris, home mainly to Arab and African people. Calling the rioters 'scum', Sarkozy sent in the riot police in full-on gear to, essentially, beat the crap out of anyone stepping out of line. This is, basically, how the police operate in virtually any other country to our own, in these situations. They are, quite deliberately, scary-as-fuck.

Of course, for anyone who remembers the Miners Strike or indeed the inner city riots of the 80s, our police, for a time, were as racist and brutal as any to be found in Europe. But that has changed and these days the big idea is that the police is no longer a 'force', it is a service, reliant on consent, relationships and all of that.

Which was working out quite nicely until last week when all of the work of the last 30 years appeared to count for bugger-all. Indeed, the absence of a fear-factor for the police - which has always had an effect on me - even as a law-abider I shit myself if I get stopped by a blue-light - seemed to somehow give heart to the looters. Nobody, as they queue-ed up for trainers seemed at all worried that a six foot-six helmeted rozzer with a night-stick mightcome and club them over the head or spray CS gas all over them. Because, of course, that isn't how the police work these days. So people, well, had a laugh. As we all saw.

My biggest laughs this week came when the Telegraph were reporting all these middle-class types being caught nicking from PC World or Argus. One was a female A * student at Exeter Uni whose parents were millionaires. Others were teaching assistants, estate agents, all manner of things. For these people, as with all of them, I am not sure the motivation was actually acquisition, or that purely. I think it was excitement. Action. Being in the middle of it all. Secretly, most of us crave this. We find it, if we're lucky, in our work and, occasionally, in our relationships. But we mostly do without it. Unless it's served up to us on a plate, that is.

The remaining laughs I had were, and this sounds a bit cynical, at the latte-liberals of Clapham and places such-like, brushes-aloft wearing 'Looters are Scum' T-shirts. In my view, you can't live cheek-by-jowl with the underclass (who you spend most of your life carefully avoiding) without expecting at least some collatoral damage from time-to-time. All of these people claim to love the 'edginess' of London. Well, darlings, the edges occasionally get rough and smash a few windows. Get used to it. And if you really can't live with it, well move up here to Bury St Edmunds.


James Hargrave said...

I don't agree with you that the idea of policing by consent is a recent idea. It has always been the way of policing in the UK not something made up in the last few years. Even Theresa May spoke about it the day after the riots.

In fact in recent years I think if anything we have moved away from this especially in big cities. Policing here in Suffolk is still very much like that and as a result the Police are by and large popular and respected. In fact this is one of the many things that makes Suffolk such as great place to live.

I don't think we need to ape the policing methods of the continent or the US. The Police need to feel free to protect the public but accountable like us all to the law.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your point about the Police no longer instilling the fear-factor in people who break the law. Many people do not worry about the consequences of their criminal behaviour because there is so often a soft response. The A* student of Exeter University with millionaire parents, for example, probably feels that her heritage, potential and lack of 'previous' will mean that she will be excused with a 'telling off'.

People will also justify their behaviour in various ways - maybe they took the latest trainers out of the shop but they didn't actually smash the shop windows - therefore, in their fantasy, they are not as guilty as the person who initially gained entry; 'It was a moment of madness...the opportunity was there and I took it...'.

We have a 'touchy-feely' culture in public services which, while very commendable morally, could destroy law and order in this country. We are urged to be 'proportionate', to only take action where the crime is either extremely serious (eg. murder) or has happened more than once despite repeated warnings. We have to give people who break the law 'chances'. So, no, people are not scared because the penalty is not high enough for people to BE scared.

The people who committed the crimes during the riots knew what they were doing was wrong and, through their behaviour, put people and businesses at risk. There is no room for a 'touchy-feely' response here.

You are right Craig, the Police forces in many other countries are terrifying. You would not mess around because, if you did, you would pay a high price. The Police in these countries are not there to 'empathise with your situation' or take into account your sad childhood which has left you with no choice but to commit crimes. No, in other countries, you break the law and you pay the price. I don't support Police brutality in any shape or form but we are living in a culture where parents feel unable to discipline their children, teachers are not able to discipline their pupils and the Police and Courts are not able to discipline the law-breakers.

We need to get tougher as a country otherwise the law-abiding citizens, not the criminals, will pay the price.

Rob 'Arris said...

I agree largely with you Craig (and anonymous). I was disgusted and disappointed at what happened last week. For me it really showed that the investments made by Labour governments havent really worked - some would argue this is the result of a country that has allowed its people to choose how they live without consequence. The Ministry of Justice needs to take a long hard look at how we deal with repeat offenders, youths that get in trouble; the lefty "there's nothing to do for these young people its a hopeless situation for them" sympathy all but died last week for the majority of the population. Tell that to the millions of successful people that grow up in the same social situations - the argument wears thin. I dont think its about just tougher policing, and i dont necessarily believe that the trouble wouldnt have spread the way it did if North London Police had been harder. There doesnt seem to be any sanctions to long term idleness (sorry unemployment), peoples benefits keep coming, commit anti-social crime including street robbery and assualt and receive extremely low level punishment (you get more time for tax avoidance). The only social investment i believe in currently is in parenting classes and support as we all know this is where the problems truly begin. Apologies if i sound a bit 'right of centre' - its not my familiar ground but we have to stop making excuses, forget politics, and spread the pain of the recession evenly across the population.