In the wake of last night’s Tottenham rioting, a spokesman for Downing St is reported on the news today as stating:
“There is no justification for the aggression the police and the public faced, or for the damage to property. There is now a police investigation into the rioting and we should let that process happen.”
Oh, hear! hear! Is that the sound of Hooray Henry’s i hear clapping in the background?
Get ready for wilful misinterpretation
I know. What i write next is undoubtedly going to be misinterpreted, in some cases by the illiterate tendency (who are more than capable of reading “white” and hearing “black”) and in others by the mischievous: by right-wingers and police spokespersons who quite clearly hear “white”, but for reasons best known to themselves then claim to have heard “black”.
So here’s the opening caveat. I write about the police. Loads. Most of those at the coal face do a good job. Most are decent ordinary men and women who sometimes get things wrong and who sometimes also make things wronger because we live, nowadays, in a culture in which the slightest hint of blame for something going wrong is instant career death.
Incidents where a reasonable person might just go “ooops, sorry: we got that wrong!” and move on now become full-blown matters for inquiry, with demands for resignation and “serious consequences” if anyone DID do anything remotely wrong.
The lawless police
That culture is, itself, wrong. It means that a part of our society that ought to be cleaner than clean as far as probity is concerned now automatically takes refuge in obfuscation the moment any poor decision they make is questioned.
And the police track record in such stuff is not good. Dozens of people killed in error by police over the last decade: not one instance to date of any police officer rebuked for same. Reports of police wrongdoing instantly shut down by one of the sharpest sets of lawyers in town – those employed by rank and file Police Trade Union, the Police Federation. Police investigating themselves via the IPCC.
Police regularly breaking the law when it comes to matters like public photography – yet rarely apologising and, in some cases (step forward City Police) not even having the decency to admit that they have broken the law.
You get the idea?
The police – and the politicians behind the police – for whom not only the letter of the law, but also the spirit of the law ought to be seen as their ultimate moral beacon have instead descended into a culture of buck-passing, abdication of responsibility and let’s back the police right or wrong.
Which takes us where?
Well, it doesn’t take us into territory where people should advocate putting the boot in, throwing bombs or anything else. Though i thoroughly expect some people to misrepresent this post as saying just that.
Time for realism about policing
However, it does take us back into political ethics and political realism. First, the ultimate justification for direct action against the authorities has always been seen as those times when the authorities fail to allow for democratic processes that allow for them to be questioned. The recent record of the police seems to be drifting perilously close to same. And whether we have ACTUALLY reached that point, public perception is perhaps growing that we have.
Maybe in polite debating circles amongst the chattering classes, we can make nice distinctions proving we are nowhere near there. But on the streets of Tottenham, as the police shoot one more individual and people make the reckoning that, on past form, the chances of ANY meaningful investigation of that episode is next to nil, what alternative presents itself OTHER than to riot.
And second, it is clear that there is one law for the police, one law for the rest of us. Just flick back to events around recent protests and the way in which the police simply lied in order to clear protesters out of Fortnum and Mason.
Again, public perception matters: and if the public come to realise that the police can lie, abuse the law, and inflict violence with impunity, then the consequences are inevitable. More Tottenhams, more violently executed.
Against that, plummy-voiced condemnations from Downing St may make a certain sort of right-wing, self-satisfied politician feel better about themselves: but it says nothing to the reality on the streets today.