I enjoyed and was humbled by Aaron R.’s great post today about the London riots. We live in neighboring wards in London’s eastern outer boroughs so we have both experienced the riots first hand, though thankfully my particular neighborhood was not touched, though others in my ward were more affected. His post reminds me once more that he is a better man than I — and he’s a sociologist, so I understand the charitable and analytical place that his post is coming from. I am grateful for his good example! He reflects well on Latter-day Saints with this perspective.
The riots are still fresh and, in truth, it is not certain that tonight will be free from trouble. Unlike Aaron, I do not have any charitable or sympathetic feelings toward the rioting thugs at this time. I hope that reflecting on his post and more broadly on the Gospel I can develop such a perspective in the near future.
Right now I am fuming about what has happend over the last four days. This is nothing like democratic protests (even those that can turn violent) in situations where protesting is the only possibility for addressing grievances.In contrast to the Arab Spring protests that have recently occurred, the London riots are simply an embarassment — no trace of courage or nobility is associated with the criminal youth who engaged in a very materialistic temper tantrum over the last four days. My observation today is that this was purely about opportunism, greed, wanton destructiveness and simply letting loose because there was an excuse.
So Much for Civic Pride or the Rule of LawAt this point (and I hope that Aaron’s example softens my heart), no matter how one looks at the situation, the riots reflect very badly on the perpetrators, implying that the only thing preventing them from doing this more often is their perception that they are likely to get caught and punished by the police. They are only complying with the law at the minimum level possible and only because of the threat of arrest, and not for any bigger reason, such as basic morality. There is no independent commitment to the Rule of Law as a principle or basic human morality as a guide visible in the marauding actions of these criminal youth. Rather, with the perception of the threat of being arrested for lawbreaking lifted on this occasion because of the sudden, widespread nature of the hooliganism, something sinister lurking barely beneath the surface in the rioters emerged. (I hesitated to describe it as “hooliganism” because that does not adequately describe the bad behavior, which far surpassed youthful mischief and vandalism and descended into real evil as the youths committed arson, burning down shops and apartment buildings in their own neighborhoods.) The perception of impunity was an illusion because they will be prosecuted.
Criminal Behavior, not Protesting Turned ViolentThis isn’t LA in 1992. There was no quasi-legitimate grievance that served as the initial basis for the rioting to begin. (Of course nothing justified what the LA riots ended up becoming either, but the spark was a legitimate grievance that could have led to more meaningful democratic protests but devolved into even worse rioting than we have seen here over the last four days.) Instead, opportunists seized upon the chance for bad behavior as they cynically exploited a grieving family’s peaceful protest at the shooting of their son during his attempted arrest. The family is on record denouncing the riots and disclaiming any affiliation.
Social networking then allowed this to happen in this way as gangs of youths texted, blackberry messaged and twittered about where the next “fun” and “free stuff” could be had. Gangs of rioters consisted of twenty-first century digital boys (and girls) who apparently don’t know how to live in the real world, but they’ve got a lot of toys. The perpetrators were urban and in some cases suburban youth (and adults) wearing designer clothes and using their blackberries and iPhones to conspire about their next crimes.
Law and Order
The police handled this admirably in the sense that they exercised restraint in resisting the urge to charge in and start beating the robbers with nightsticks. But it shocked all of us to watch them standing in lines while, in their view, kids smashed into shops and ran away with armfuls of stolen goods.Or to see them standing in full body armor while buildings burned. To be fair to them, they would have surely stopped the thugs from throwing petrol bombs at shops and buildings if they were actually present in that moment (we in the public are assuming). But some media coverage wasn’t helpful as from watching it on the TV it appeared that police officers were standing by as buildings burned and fires spread. One media report claimed that three fire trucks appeared at a burning city block and simply turned around, heading elsewhere, giving the building/block up as a lost cause. It is anyone’s guess as to how factual this (and other anecdotes) is. But I think people are feeling less confidence in public services today and are wondering if the Law part of this episode (where the perps go to court for their crimes) will be more fulfilling than the Order part.
Outrage and British Stoicism Mingled in the Aftermath
As to the feelings of residents of the neighborhoods hardest hit, I watched an interview on BBC where a woman whose shop was smashed and robbed in Clapham (or maybe it was Croydon), angrily stated that the perpetrators were “feral rats” and that their parents bear a lot or most of the responsibility for what has happened. I admit that this strikes me as legitimate outrage, even as I applaud the stoicism that saw hundreds from the local communities turn out to clean up the mess left by these criminal youth.