Puzzled by Police 169

I have just been watching live BBC helicopter footage of a group of young criminals attempting over a long period to break into a bookmakers and other businesses in (I think) Hackney. Police in full riot gear were just down the street, watching and making no attempt to disperse them.

I have been on perfectly peaceful demonstrations and been pushed around by policemen acting far more aggressively – and in hugely greater numbers – against non-violent protestors than they are reacting against violent criminals against whom, frankly, the police should be reacting with force; proportionate, but force.

Very hard to understand this at all.

169 thoughts on “Puzzled by Police

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  • John Goss

    Jon, the pictures are alarming, because all of in this city know these very central shops. What has this got to do with the police shooting of a young family man in Tottenham?

  • Courtenay Barnett

    @ Mary,

    “Does insurance cover damage caused by arson and riot? I bet not.”

    Now that you mention it – I recall polices with exclusion provisons with terminology like ” civil unrest” ” war” acts of violence against Her Majesty’s Governmentpeace” and like phraseology.

    You are probably right on that one. It is a hard blow.

  • John Goss

    Technicolour, I see no connection between the looting of shops in Birmingham to extraordinary rendition. Do you know something I don’t know?

  • Ruth

    Technicolour, you’re right. When May is spouting out criminality, it has no meaning. When you have corruption at the top, it filters down. If the government can steal our money and give it to the bankers or secretly siphon off VAT and excise duty abroad or if the government can make war and kill a million to control the oil resources of a country, then what’s the difference between them and the rioters? In recent demonstrations the police have killed and caused serious injury.

    But then again the state might be using deprived people to introduce draconian measures to curtail protest

  • Courtenay Barnett

    @ Ruth,

    “Technicolour, you’re right. When May is spouting out criminality, it has no meaning. When you have corruption at the top, it filters down. If the government can steal our money and give it to the bankers or secretly siphon off VAT and excise duty abroad or if the government can make war and kill a million to control the oil resources of a country, then what’s the difference between them and the rioters?”

    Could not agree more – Bush in the trillions to the “banksters” and -Obama in the “trillions” to the “bansters”. So – why shouldn’t honest people be truly pissed off?
    A trickel compared to the torrent and deluge of corruption from on high!

  • Sam


    In my opinion, there is more than a bit of self interest in the police response. It’s a way of saying to David Cameron, ‘you want to see what police cuts look like’?. Plus riot police prefer bullying peaceful protesters, who don’t fight back. Why would you bother risking a brick to the head if you’re going to be redundant next year.


  • John Goss

    Courtenay, it’s so complex. I’m quite sure a lot of these kids have jumped on the wave so as not to be seen as outside of the circle. I’m sure a lot of them come from good homes and their parents would (will) be appalled if (when) they find out what they (have been) are up to. I’ve been young. I’m supportive of these kids, like you, I would fight for their rights, like you. They need help. One of the problems is lack of work or other pursuits but the economy is, as Craig put it, kicking on its back. Kids are coming out of university with debts and no jobs with which to pay off these debts. It wasn’t like that for you, or me, or Craig. My slant is that we’ve allied too closely to America for too long. Now we’re having to pay for everything, even things like dentistry, which I thought we’d paid for with welfare state contributions. We’re moving back to the days where privilege was God. What chance have these kids got? But there is no justification in wanton destruction and theft.

  • technicolour

    John Goss: I think the connection might be that our ‘government’ (of whichever shade) plainly don’t give a flying fuck about human rights; the people who are looting shops in Birmingham might possibly have absorbed this ‘do whatever you can get away with’ message. If you lead, you lead by example, I think. That’s what you get paid for.

    And more seriously, decry it as you will, there is a welling of resentment against the politicians who lied to the population and lied and lied and lied again. If you don’t give people the ammunition of education (and teachers are trying to; which is why the government keep trying to crush them) then one recourse is the streets, I fear.

    Has anyone on this blog ever been on Job Seekers Allowance and walked down a high street? It’s a mockery. You have enough for a tin of beans and JLB Sport is trying to sell you shoes for the price of your week’s food allowance. And all the ads tell you that if you can’t buy them, you’re nothing. Enough to drive people over the edge.

    No civilian has been hurt, so far, I see. My sympathies are with the decent police too, of course.

  • mary

    Now old Gussie Fink Nottle is getting in on the act. Pathetic.
    BREAKING NEWS:Labour leader Ed Miliband cutting short holiday and says he is “shocked by the scenes we are seeing in parts of London”

  • Jon

    I’m a mile or so from the city centre, and having seen a report on the Guardian’s live blog that the unrest had spread to Birmingham, I went with a camera to grab some pics. I came into Victoria Square, and already there was a great deal of tension; a wave of youths came flooding into the square from New Street. I was on the bicycle at this point, and one rioter launched a flying kick at the bike – buckling a component. I thought I was going to be lucky to just lose the bike, but I calmed him down in a few words whilst pedalling away hard. At this point the square was filling quickly with people, and I discover it is not advisable to rely on the faster speed of a bike when a lot of angry people might be inclined to deliberately get in the way.
    I doubled back several streets away, where I could safely lock the bike, and came back into the city from the direction of Snow Hill. Corporation Street was looking a bit of a mess, and the Square Peg pub, which would normally be reasonably busy, was closed completely. From here I was able to get into the Bullring via New Street, and also around the back via Union Street. However after maybe 21:45, sporadic riot-police lines were being thrown up to check the flow of rioters.
    A lot of the police response felt like whack-a-mole, as some lines were set up, and people were only allowed to pass through one way, and then a commanding officer would shout his team’s code and they would run to the next flash-point. There were several charges from riot police going out of the centre on Corporation Street, into mixed groups of mainly black youths, but the latter would disperse in all directions quickly, and often the police would have to stand their ground to avoid rioters slipping back into cleared streets behind them.
    As you can see from the pictures, a number of shops were damaged; the Orange mobile phone store on High Street was missing one of its doors, rioters had clearly been inside, but police had their hands sufficiently full protecting the main Bullring, or forming spontaneous riot lines, or chasing after possible offenders. There were a lot of intrigued passers-by, who snapped pictures of various instances of damage on their mobile phones.
    However, having an SLR camera – and intending to looking like a photographer – was not entirely risk-free. I had hoped to blend in with the large numbers of professional media photographers there, but it seemed they at least were smart enough to know when to keep a sensible distance. On Corporation Street, going out of town, past Old Square, the tension increased noticeably, and one (white) thug snarled that “if this was a football match, we’d have had your f*cking camera off you already”, to some laughs of one or two of his (presumably equally violent) friends. I had threats from two separate individuals shouted at me regarding the taking of pictures – it seems any lone photographers at the scene of a looting were at risk of being attacked and deprived of their equipment, presumably with a view to removing sources of evidence.
    There were a number of flash-points, and one arrest in the Bullring garnered several popping lightbulbs’ worth of photographer attention. No broadcast camera crews were in evidence, so I’d guess that the assembled media were local BBC, local papers and assorted freelancers. To non-rioters, the police ranged from extremely friendly to hostile and jumpy; one PC said that if I didn’t hot-foot it out of the city immediately, my camera would be confiscated as evidence. Normally I’d be inclined to challenge this on the spot, but I didn’t want to lose the pictures I already had, nor have my equipment impounded out of spite! I will see if I can get a badge number, but the low light made some of the pictures quite grainy.
    At some point past 10pm, I decided that it wasn’t safe to remain, and disappeared back to the bike. There’s more here if you’re interested (I can’t vouch for it, but it looks on the ball): http://birminghamriots2011.tumblr.com/.
    [Jon – edited to merge two posts together]

  • Jon

    (Technicolour – it fell into moderation, I have released it. Always copy to clipboard before posting, is my rule on all blogs, for this very reason!)

  • Parky

    Mary – In the riots of ten years ago in the North of England, as insurance didn’t cover damage due to riot and civil unrest, there were claims made against the police as they have a duty under law to prevent a riot and as they couldn’t or wouldn’t the liability became theres’ and if I remember correctly they and or Home Office had to pay up. If the same rules apply today then the Met are going to have a very large bill to pay as well as egg on their faces. And all this with less than a year to the 2012 Olympics, how will they cope?

  • Anon

    I’ve just been watching it on the BBC. They play the same pictures over and over. The sequence is only two or three minutes long. I assume they must have more footage, but it doesn’t look so dramatic. Does this constitute propaganda?

  • John Goss

    The third test is at Edgbaston from Wednesday through to Sunday at the new impressive stadium, which admittedly looks good. I checked out the price of tickets. How can young people, if they’re lucky enough to get benefits of less than £60 a week, afford to pay £60 for a day’s cricket? They are forecasting showers too. It never rains but it pours!
    Away from Birmingham there are worries about the effect current events are having on next year’s Olympics. Which of these kids can afford to go and see anything at this momentous event? If I saw tonight’s riots abroad I might reconsider coming. Sebastian Coe, a great athlete himself, in his day, and from my home city, (though I could never share his political persuasions), is so proud of having sold out so many events under his chairmanship. But these were sold out at preclusive prices, and to whom? Not to youths on less than £60 a week who might have something else to believe in if they could afford a ticket. So, frustrated as these young people are at a two-tiered, age-segregated society, what do they do? But it’s no excuse. Rioting is wrong!

  • technicolour

    Text from a friend:

    Wow it’s a “shopping” revolution! Awesome – who could have thought of that? X

  • Courtenay Barnett

    @ Moderator and Jon,

    Moderator – the continual playing of the same footage serves the purpose of getting one message out there. That is the sort of exerise one can safely call – propoganda.

    Jon – “My slant is that we’ve allied too closely to America for too long. Now we’re having to pay for everything, even things like dentistry, which I thought we’d paid for with welfare state contributions. We’re moving back to the days where privilege was God. What chance have these kids got? But there is no justification in wanton destruction and theft.”

    Indeed – what chance do these kids have. And with no chance – no real lure to go the straight way – why not just smash a shop window – take the DVDs, have a TV, a mobile phone – and what ever else the fuck you can get your hands on – what the fuck do you care or have to lose.

    Craig – they are not “mindless” – they are with less opportunity and not totally without a mind to process the options and make a decision accordindly. You, or Jon or I may not like it – but it is what it is mate.

    Tell me I am wrong – and when doing so – tell me why so.

  • technicolour

    Courtenay: totally agree, of course they are not ‘mindless’. But not all of us have the privilege of working with these young people so I guess knee jerk responses are to be expected.

  • OldMark

    ‘The cops have very sinister priorities.’

    There’s nothing sinister about it at all, and there is no reason for Craig to be ‘puzzled’. The police will crack a few heads just for the hell of it at a student demo attended disproportionately by white trustafarian wankers – they are low hanging fruit.

    Da Yoot in Tottenham, Croydon, Deptford & Lewisham are a different proposition altogether, so the cops mind their backs, hold the line & let the places burn. No wonder the Reeves brothers (whose furniture business in Croydon goes back over 150 years) are devastated, as Mary noted.

    Interestingly (and not reported on the Beeb) the Hackney riot today was quelled in part by the Turkish shop keepers of Dalston, who armed themselves and fought back the would be looters, putting the Met to shame.

    Theresa May is going to have a hell of a task in convincing ordinary Londoners that the Boys in Blue are ultimately in control of the situation. They are more akin to a routed army than an effective presence- outside of the well guarded West End, of course.

  • John Goss

    Technicolour. As you can see from my last comment I was coming to a similar conclusion. I have been on Jobseeker’s allowance, and I know what you say. In those days when I listened to Radio 4 I used to keep an eye open for the regular patrols of the detector-van, which used to stop outside. They don’t believe people can live without television. But they can. Males, but young males in particular, have the lowest income of all groups.

  • sid

    Clearly the police are orchestrating this. They are just sitting back….what i don’t get is, if these people are genuinly aggrieved, why are they not targetting big brands and govt buildings….why attack businesses of ordinary people….police need to start getting tough

  • Courtenay Barnett


    You use the word ” privilege” in reference to these young people. Here is another and alternative word – “pain”.

    But, if you care about change ( shit – did someone say – “that word means Obama?”) – then, despite Obama, you press on – riots, fires, corrupt governments, imploding markets, wars, illegal aggression against Libya – you just press on.

    Aluta continua!

  • Tom Welsh

    How long before we hear the BBC expressing sympathy and support for the “British opposition” and NATO bombs London to prevent civilian casualties?

  • John Goss

    Anon. It probably doesn’t constitute propaganda. It was covered live on BBC News Channel as it happened. The editing might constitute propaganda, but then if I was the editor it probably would have done too. Have you seen the unedited pictures by Jon?

  • John Goss

    As to Craig’s comparison with police inaction now, with these really serious events, and overuse of force on peaceful demonstrations, I’ve witnessed it too. Perhaps, the Jean Charles de Menenez catastrophe, and other over-reactions, have made the police too cautious. Those who have been posting that the police may have been instructed to stand back because of recent cuts may be right.

  • Parky

    Next thing we will have Charles and Camilla caught out on a late night shopping jaunts to Camden and Croydon.
    I’m sure when Dave gets back there will be much posturing and angry words uttered as would a headmaster at a posh school’s morning assembly in the aftermath of a punch up with the local state school.

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