On the riots.

08 August 2011

It's almost impossible to blog about current events anymore. Situations evolve so rapidly that unless you're plugged into a constantly moving flow of information like Twitter anything you write is going to be out of date sixty seconds before you click "Post Entry." In case you haven't guessed, I speak of the riots in London and to a lesser extent the protests in Israel.

So.. assuming that you don't have a prosthetic lobe of your brain constantly connected to the global Net (which isn't as much fun as it sounds - DDoS attacks a few fibre runs over give me such a headache..), the question you're probably asking is, "What happened in London that caused riots, looting, and arson that Tintin and the gang would be proud of?"

Like many such questions, that's not an easy one to answer. The fuse was laid when a study about police brutality in general and deaths while in custody was published. Long story short, a watchdog group in the UK counted 333 people who died while in custody under shady circumstances. This includes people beaten to death while in custody, some people were murdered outright after being released, and a surprisingly high number of deaths attributed to "natural causes" while in custody in an irritatingly vague manner. After the investigations and trials were over, in no case were police officers ever convicted. Ever. Statistically speaking, that's highly unlikely in any sample set of people. Then a couple of days ago a man named Mark Duggan (who was no angel by anyone's admission) but by some accounts was working to clean up his life so that he could give his wife and children something better apparently got into a firefight with London police when they tried to arrest him. A police sharpshooter reportedly was nearly killed when a bullet stuck and lodged in his police-issue radio, which caused London's finest to open up on Duggan; London's world-famous public video surveillance grid mysteriously doesn't seem to have any recordings of the firefight.

Then the police admitted that the bullet which nearly killed the sharpshooter was in all probability fired from a London police-issue pistol and not the revolver found near Duggan's corpse. The situation is still evolving, which is a politically correct way of saying that all hell has broken loose. The peaceful protest, at which the chant "We want answers!" began turned to violence when the London police department refused to address the protestors, and then one young woman was beaten by police in front of the crowd. If you want get an up close and personal view of what's going on there is no shortage of video online, all of it very recent. So, you're probably wondering why protestors turned out to demand answers. The reason is simple: Mark Duggan was known in his community as a devoted husband and father of four who worked as hard as everyone around him. When you consider the fact that so many people had died in police custody, that tends to make communities wary of police because that makes them look as if they abuse their authority. Sometimes this perception is accurate, and as we all know perception is 90% of what we normally consider reality on both sides of the fence.

At one time, people who turned out to protest were sending a message to the powers that be: "We don't care if you spit on us, sic the police on us, or have us beaten and thrown in jail. We're here to make our voices heard because we have a right to gather to air our grievances because you won't listen to us under any other circumstances." If a few people gathered publically it was often the impetus for others of a like mind to join them. Humans are, ultimately, pack animals and our perceived social behaviors are self-reinforcing. During the civil rights movement and even as far back as the time of Gandhi and the doctrine of utterly nonviolent civil disobediance that he practiced, this was the message sent. It worked for a while.

I think it was some time into the twentieth century, probably before I was born, that a current was stirred up in which amassed crowds became perfect cover for people who just wanted to bust shit up. Protests became excuses for violence and destruction and now people take bets on how many stores will be smashed and looted, or how many fires will be set. The dialogue on the other side of the fence turned from "Wow, that many people are so angry that they're lining up outside to yell at us, we need to find out what's wrong," into "Sooner or later that crowd outside is going to turn violent. We've seen it happen before, so we'll call for the riot police." Ultimately, it doesn't matter who started it first because once the cycle was set in motion there was nothing that could derail it. All that is required is for one side to have a preconceived notion or a particular perception in mind (reflecting reality or not) regardless of what's actually going on, and the remainder of the story becomes sadly predictable. Crowley, LeVay, and Webb were all wrong - the word of the aeon is SNAFU.

All it takes is one person of many to throw a brick or smash a window; all it takes is one police officer to get twitchy and smack someone with a baton or open fire. It matters not who or why. Both reason and reasons become irrelevant as fear switches the second circuit of consciousness overload and we turn into a bunch of rampaging monkeys. I daresay that primates would look at us during such times and say to themselves in whatever internal narrative they posses, "Wow. What idiots!"

Unfortunately, mobs don't listen to reason or common sense, whether they're wearing street clothes, black clothing and masks, or riot armor. At this point there is little hope that a meaningful dialogue will be opened in the forseeable future. I think it unlikely that the reasons for Duggan's death will be made public in any way such that anyone will ever hear of it. Tottenham was largely ignored until the riots began last weekend, and once the fires burn out and the people go home it will probably be forgotten once more. The people throwing bricks will continue to be safe and sound, secure in the knowledge that they "scored a victory" for whatever causes they support (all the while secretly reveling in that uniquely human pleasure of having wrecked something) but likely never stopping to ponder what they actually accomplished. The rest of the protestors will continue to lose trust in the police and the government that claims to be there for them, and the probability that the next protest will turn violent will go up a few more points. The dead will remain dead. The police will be a little more inclined to trust that protestors will turn violent if given half a chance, and the probability that the next protest will turn violent will go up a few more points.

The real issues at hand: classism, racism, arrogance, rage, and resentment go unchecked. So long as the people who give you the willies because they're your Other cause you to look down on them, treat them as less than human, ignore them in the street, or pretend they don't exist so that you can feel better about yourself, this will continue to happen. So long as the powers that be are seen and treated as mortal enemies, they will continue to sic the dogs on you. So long as the masses, proles, consumer focus groups, or whatever you choose to call them are mere digits on a spreadsheet or little more than the source of your paycheque, their protests will never cease, and the self-fulfilling prophecies of riots and violence will continue. If you secretly feel guilty about what you have and what you've worked so hard to achieve when you think about your Other, you're on the right track but if you do nothing to help people who need it you're still a part of the problem. The ones who do have their heads on straight - the ones who think, and feel, and plan, and try to communicate meaningfully with what they perceive as the other side, and sometimes decide that a course of action is not a good idea - need to be the ones to stand up and out as in the times of yore. Crowd vs. crowd is ineffective and potentially dangerous to everyone. Crowd vs. crowd with spokespeople speaking in the voice of the people for the people is what gets things done. Look to your past to guide your future. Remember Mohandas Gandhi, Linda Brown, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Junior, and Malcolm X.

After all, it's not a war, it's a rescue mission.

This work by The Doctor [412/724/301/703] is published under a Creative Commons By Attribution / Noncommercial / Share Alike v3.0 License.