What strikes one as missing in the media analysis both during and in the aftermath of the London riots is the aspect of feasibility. It is one thing to condemn the riots, once in full swing, as lawless, mindless behaviour - the jargon of incomprehension - and have it countered by the vindication of deprived youth in British society taking a stand, to avail itself of otherwise unaffordable goods; to loot and torch business premises, so as to bring home an awareness in the public of youth’s own level of hopelessness.
What escapes mention is the feasibility of the form of riot, which is its own vindication of right in those who would so act. Indeed, it was Cardinal Manning in the 1840’s who asserted, ‘Anger is the executive power of justice.’ Of course, his model was God; but he was referring to personal anger that spurs action, to be subsequently that of oppressed groups in society in the struggle for justice. To riot is a reaction of anger to a wrong seen to be perpetrated by authority, fronted by the police, against a felt to be oppressed social group, in the case of London riots, the youth of Britain. It was the shooting of Mark Duggan that highlighted a critical lack of concern or respect for youth in British society, and sparked off the latent anger which was to burn itself out in the form of the riots as a feasible action.
It is a common observation that law and order in society is something that is maintained through respect based on fear of consequences of its breach. The police are not so much an actual presence in a busy city, with its hundreds of streets teeming with people generally behaving themselves, as a virtual presence in respect of the capability to respond to an incident: the police are called, and a car, siren wailing, is sent to the specific location. In the case of an organised group of rioters, not only is the incident far more violent, as in the kicking in of glass display windows, but in the time frame of response of the police remotely contacted and journeying to the scene, looting is accomplished and the looters fled. This disparity in police response time to organised rioting in an urban context is something systemic, and thus viewed by the looters as somehow vindicated as a method. The very fact that a large premises such as PC World in Croydon can be looted by hundreds of youths in an organised attack and left before the police arrive shows a form of feasibility which, not forgetting the anger in the looter’s mind at a violated principle of respect, is its own evidence of right.
The idea that the only means of stopping further incidence of looting is an ubiquitous police presence, given, of course, that it has raged unchecked for a few days, completely misses the point as it is unsustainable. It puts one in mind of the London bombings by terrorists in July 2005, where after the incident had occurred maximum security was put in place, as if to prove effectual in retrospect: a huge exercise in vanity, only further inconveniencing the public.
Of course, nothing happens, and the authorities take the credit.
Like the London bombings, the solution to ending the riots is inherent in its form as an action of anger in the fight for justice: no external application of method, even violent suppression, which British authority refrains from at all costs, can prevail; but the riot itself exhausts the anger of the rioters, which once expressed impels no further action. Justice has been seen to be done. The rioters in the main revert to being decent citizens, even while they are hunted down. As one young commentator said of the London riots in the ensuing lull, ‘It was the best ever protest.’