August 09, 2011

So far at least 35 police officers and three others have been injured—which indicates the efficacy of police methods—and over 200 people have been arrested. Large parts of the area are still sealed off as a massive investigation begins and the police are tensed for more frolics. Home Secretary Theresa May and London Mayor Boris Johnson have even cut short their holidays so they can utter banalities from closer to home.

The events aroused raw memories of 1985, when Police Constable Keith Blakelock was hacked to death by a machete-wielding mob below the squalid towers of the Broadwater Farm estate. Bernie Grant, a black man who was then the Labour MP, remarked, “The police got a bloody good hiding”—which enraged the tabloids but endeared him to his co-racial constituents and the ever-responsible Labour Party. The killing led to life sentences for the “Tottenham Three” (not to be confused with Piscator and his chums), but the convictions were quashed in 1991 after it emerged that police might have tampered with Winston Silcott’s confession. (The saintly Silcott remained at Her Majesty’s Pleasure until 2003, serving time for another murder.) Since then, police have felt “community” pain and sought to palliate it through “dialogue” and “outreach.”

Like the fires that ravaged Tottenham, these protests will soon be tamped down. Somewhat ludicrously, the Guardian’s Claudia Webbe referred to Tottenham as:

…an area so fractured, steeped in inequality and disadvantage that a significant minority have no pride in their community and don’t want to protect it.

Is there a long-term future for Tottenham? It is plain that the present approach to policing has failed and that there is almost as much resentment of the police now as there was in 1985.

Responding to the weekend’s events, the rapper who calls himself “Scorcher” Tweeted:

25 years ago police killed my grandma in her house in Tottenham and the whole ends rioted, 25 years on and they’re still keepin up fuckry

Police R here 2 uphold the law leading by example, so when they openly abuse & brake the law its a natural reaction civilians 2 do the same

He added a helpful postscript to emphasize his appreciation of nearly 30 years of outreach:

F**k the police *RIPMarkDuggen.

While Scorcher represents an especially ignorant minority which cannot even count or spell, it only takes a rabble to riot. And neutralizing the numbskulls is not as easy as it might once have been. More robust methodology is invariably greeted by shrieks. A favorite target is “stop and search,” when police search anyone who may be concealing weapons or drugs. This naturally often means black youths. The fact that these disproportionate searches are disproportionately effective doesn’t stop the claims that they are, err, disproportionate. The police’s appetite to tackle these things has been considerably lessened by budgetary constraints.

And beyond these minor operational points are much wider and deeper questions about alienation, assimilation, and multiculturalism—questions which are difficult even to ask, let alone answer. All these kinds of questions should now be asked, but they almost certainly won’t be as another London summer fizzles out in drizzle and the ashes settle sadly over the gutted edifices of Carpetright and community policing.



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