Tottenham Riots Dredge Up Old Debates on Crime
London, preparing to host the 2012 Olympics, undoubtedly prefers footage of a royal wedding to the infernal pictures broadcast and tweeted from Tottenham, Enfield and Brixton the past two nights.
The riots and looting have reawakened old fissures and debates in British society, while the widespread use of social media by the hoodlums again demonstrates that social media, like any other technology, can be used by forces of mayhem as well as by forces of progress.
London's former mayor "Red" Ken Livingstone, who would like his old job back, was quick to blame the rioting on government spending cuts that created an atmosphere of despair in Tottenham .
He compared the situation with the 1985 Broadwater Farm riots in the same neighborhood. In 1985, the British prime minister was Margaret Thatcher who also cut welfare programs. As the government is committed to painful cuts to assure British financial solvency, statements by Livingstone mean either that Britain can expect a great deal more of the same or it can expect the left to condone such actions.
The right retorted that Mark Duggan, whose shooting touched off the riots, was no innocent and was under the surveillance of special police units. He was shot after he had fired at a policeman, who was saved when the bullets hit his radio instead of him.
If the police were to blame at all, they were at fault for succumbing to political correctness and refusing to go public with the statistics about who is overwhelmingly involved in gun related crime. The belated police response, that allowed the riots to get out of hand, represented the culmination of a policy in which the police have surrendered high crime areas to the street gangs.
In the era of New Labour, Prime Minister Tony Blair had come up with a compromise in which the Labour government would be tough on crime and on the causes of crime, thus pleasing both sides. With government resources at low ebb ,such a policy is not sustainable.
This is one of the first Facebook riots. Facebook brought together online mourners and protestors over the death of Mark Duggan and many promised to avenge him. By the time the riots commenced, there were 7500 people connected by Facebook.
During the riots and the looting, the hoodlums used smartphones, particularly the Blackberry for its private, instantaneous messaging service. The contact list was informed of the impending action and of where the "festivities" were occurring.
The Guardian published a choice message:
"Everyone from all sides of London meet up at the heart of London (central) OXFORD CIRCUS!!, Bare SHOPS are gonna get smashed up so come get some (free stuff!!!) (expletive) the feds we will send them back with OUR riot…so if you see a brother... SALUT! if you see a fed... SHOOT!"
The social media enabled the looters to commemorate the moment as they took pictures of themselves with their looted trophies. Some were so proud of their exploits that they put them up on Youtube Some of the pictures may have subsequently facilitated arrests, but this was small comfort to the looted storeowners and residents of burned down homes.