Wednesday, August 10, 2011

How do you get from there to here?

Do you wonder how end up with a society where you can get massive rioting for 4 days throughout the capital city?

The latest BBC reports provide a clue:
The prime minister has said the "fightback" is under way, after cities in England suffered a fourth night of violence and looting.
This will come as great news to the families of Haroon Jahan, Shahzad Ali, and Abdul Musavir, killed while trying to protect their property
David Cameron said every action would be taken to restore order, with contingency plans for water cannon to be available at 24 hours' notice.
That's excellent! After 4 days of rioting, in only another 24 hours you'll think about dusting off the water cannons. As a backup plan, if you wait another 48 hours, there won't be much left to loot.

 So water cannon is the "contingency plan", huh? What's Plan A then?
But Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) president Sir Hugh Orde ruled out using water cannon or baton rounds for now, saying the tactics were not suited to the current unrest.
"Water cannon are used to deal with fixed crowds to buy distance," he said.
"The evidence... is showing very clearly these are fast-moving crowds, where water cannon would not be appropriate."
Okay, I can buy that for water cannons. But what about baton rounds (i.e. plastic bullets)?
He added that baton rounds would only be deployed when his officers' lives were under serious threat.
 You mean like here?

Or here?

When the whole edifice of civil society is collapsing around you, breaking a window is not an act of petty property crime like graffiti. And to treat it as such is to endanger far more lives, by encouraging events to spiral out of control, eventually requiring far more force to restore the order that you declined to enforce early on.

So according to the police, after 4 days the only answer is 'more of the same', combined with a dose of 'surely eventually we'll arrest them all'.

No, really. Listen to Greater Manchester Police's Assistant Chief Constable Garry Shewan:
He said the force was "absolutely intent" on bringing the rioters to justice and his officers were already studying CCTV.
"Hundreds and hundreds of people, we have your image, we have your face, we have your acts of wanton criminality on film. We are coming for you, from today and no matter how long it takes, we will arrest those people responsible," he said.
Buddy, let me give you the skinny on this: if you're in the middle of a riot, threatening that you'll arrest people 'eventually' is not an adequate response. If you don't have the manpower to do it, bring in the army. You might start by reassigning some of the cops 'studying CCTV' and putting them on the streets.

How about some bluster? How about a threat that looters will be shot on sight? Do you think that announcement, even if not carried out, might have more of an effect?

They can't even bring themselves to threaten the use of actual violence! If plastic bullets aren't appropriate when dealing with an insurrection, even as a threat, when are they appropriate? These aren't nuclear weapons we're talking about.

The police have for several days now manifestly lost control of the streets. They are unable to protect citizens property. They are unable to protect citizens safety. They are barely able to even protect themselves.

And worse than that, they have done all this only after abrogating to themselves a monopoly on the use of force. Apart from the rioters, that is.

The British Police were famous for tending to eschew carrying guns themselves. The whole community policing ideal, and not encouraging criminals to become armed, and all that stuff.

Might I suggest that a riot is a pretty good time to rethink that policy, at least in the short term?

I do not advocate just firing into crowds, or firing on everyone carrying a TV in the streets.

But boy howdy, it sure might help if the police turned up with guns loaded with plastic bullets and ordered the looters to freeze or they would shoot. And maybe fire a few warning shots at people.

The way the police would, say, in any major US city if you started throwing rocks at store windows and then throwing them at the police when they arrived. Except they'd probably have live ammunition. Even if it happened outside of a riot.

There is a principle older than due process at stake here, and that is this: if you gratuitously hurt somebody and break their shit, you deserve to get your ass beaten.

One way or another, it's about time this started getting enforced.

Update: Welcome, Blairites! So good to have you. Have a look at what the London Riots say about gun control, why computer programmers often don’t get economics, and why Standard and Poors is happy to give the middle finger to the US Government.

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  1. "if you gratuitously hurt somebody and break their shit, you deserve to get your ass beaten."

    Amen to that.

    You can reflect on the "why's" after the ass beatings.

  2. When it's you defending yourself or a loved one, exactly.

    When it's the police, in ordinary circumstances we'd probably prefer that they just arrest offenders. But these are not ordinary circumstances, and it's not like there's a credible option to arrest even a small fraction of the offenders. The choice to refrain from using force to restore order ends up getting more people hurt and killed.

  3. The problem in Britain seems to be not so much the arrest of these violent thugs, but what happens to them afterwards. If they're given a slap on the wrist and sent back home, what's to stop them from doing it again and again?

  4. RebeccaH, the lack of punishment sure ain't helping either. My guess is that this goes a long way to explaining the high rate of burglary that Britain experiences in ordinary times.

    In the case of a riots, I think part of what makes things escalate is that a lot of otherwise ordinary people see that the police aren't imposing any cost (either in arrests or ass kickings) on lawbreakers. As I put it during the Vancouver riots:

    The key dynamic in riots seems to be that there's a hardcore group of initial instigators who start breaking stuff, and a whole lot of average joes sitting around waiting to see what happens. The instigators on their own can't actually wreck a city, as there's not enough of them. The really dangerous point is when the average joes see that the police aren't stopping anything. At that point, they start thinking, wouldn't it be fun to smash a window and swipe some stuff? And there's a whole lot of them wondering this at the same time, waiting to see what happens. Average people start joining in, and the trickle becomes a flood.