Sunday 12 August 2012

The battle of Tottenham - 1 year on

A year ago, the fatal shooting of Mark Duggan triggered the biggest riots in Britain since Brixton in 1981. Much heated debate ensued as to why it came about - various fingers were pointed at unchecked immigration, welfare dependency, gangsta rap, police brutality, institutionalised racism, the Great Recession, youth unemployment, a culture of materialism, the widening wealth gap, austerity, overcrowding, and many other factors. Most likely what happened was a perfect storm of a bit of everything. And there had been fears of repeat civil unrest in the lead up to the 2012 Olympics, which so far have not come to pass.

Paul Lewis of the Guardian, with assistance from the London School of Economics, interviewed various police officers of the London Met, who generally felt the initial police response was poorly organised and executed.

Some of society's more reactionary elements have called for even tougher measures to attack the symptom, such as packing the Bobbies with assault rifles. Well, that would be the easy part, and it's already been done before with limited success.

Irish comedian Andrew Maxwell succinctly described how riots erupt:
"Create a society that values material things above all else. Strip it of industry. Raise taxes for the poor and reduce them for the rich and for corporations. Prop up failed financial institutions with public money. Ask for more tax, while vastly reducing public services. Put adverts everywhere, regardless of people's ability to afford the things they advertise. Allow the cost of food and housing to eclipse people's ability to pay for them. Light blue touch paper."
Examining other major riots in recent history, Maxwell's descriptions seem to fit perfectly. It was definitely the case with Tottenham and other parts of Britain in 2011. It was also largely the case with Los Angeles in 1992, in wake of the fallout from the Savings & Loans Crisis and the acquittal of the officers who set upon Rodney King.

So, what chances of it happening in New Zealand? No one knows yet, but hopefully it won't happen here. Nonetheless, the conditions for Tottenham-style civil unrest seem fertile in these parts, despite NZ escaping much of the global finance sector malaise. NZ First leader Winston Peters seemed to think so, as did Canterbury University researcher Bronwyn Hayward and Sunday Star Times columnist had a bet each way. In any case, attacking the symptom gets good public relations but is ultimately futile in the long run.