Monday, August 08, 2011

Totally missing the point

Last October, I was at a rave party in central London. As we remarked at the time, these things go off all the time and nobody gets stabbed, nothing ends up in a blazing inferno and the buildings are left in a similar state to the way in which they are found. Only that particular event turned into a circus resulting in a toppled police van and a whole spate of muggings.

Normally at these events, they have their own door security, who know the troublemakers and do extensive weapons searches at the gate (yes, even illegal raves do that). Normally, they go off without a hitch and everybody has a great time.

What was different on this occaision was the arrival of the police. They immediately prevented the crew using their own door security, dismantled the perimeters in place and insisted the gate be left open. They blocked off the road leaving crowds to gather in the street, which then resulted in the riot police showing up along with the police helicopter. After that, they began a slow march with riot shields to corral the crowd which also happened to include spectators and anyone who found themselves unfortunate enough to be on the street at the time.

At this point I knew exactly what was going to happen so took my friends away for a Chinese in Chinatown until the trouble died down. By the time we got back, there had been a small riot, a scrap with the police. But the police lost the fight they had started.

The official line was they switched to a watching policy to facilitate the event. After that, there was no more trouble, other that the muggings which happened specifically because the event's own security had been disbanded and prevented from operating.

Now this is not to get into a debate about the rights and wrongs of squat parties. I know most of you will have your own views on such things. The point is that, by the time the police got wind of what was going on, they were too late. There was nothing to be done except watch. Instead they went in mob-handed, and were presented their own arses on a plate.

Then we come to the Bristol riots. We said as much at the time that the whole thing was mishandled by the police. It was their presence that became the catalyst for the riot. Something which was likely to run its course, with no more damage than an average Saturday night on any high street, ended up in hundreds of thousands of pounds-worth of damage and as much in police resources.

Then we come to this weekend's events. We have not as yet had time to review the evidence in such detail but here is a punt. It has been put to me that this has been planned by particular individuals for some time. But riots are not planned. They are spontaneous. They are simply an outbreak of criminal activity by those inclined to exploit the loss of order.

For there to be a riot, order has first to be lost. Both in the case of the London rave and the Bristol riots, that was not lost until the police turned up mob-handed, behaving like a bull in the proverbial china shop. Thus the police have become the catalyst of disorder. If this was planned, it was an ambush, in the expectation that the police would resort to tactics that have proved time and again to fail.

So while we do have to blame criminals for criminal activity, to say the riot was the fault of rioters is to put the cart before the horse. There is no smoke without fire, and you can always count on the police to find a fire and pour petrol on it. And if the locals are pissed off enough, and I can see why they might be, this utter farce was predictable and preventable.