The recent riots in the UK received worldwide media attention, from newspapers and television to the internet and blogspots. The theme of these responses varied from Schadenfreude through to chicken-licken. The English edition of the French newspaper Le Monde diplomatique gave perhaps one of the more empathetic reports on the riots in its article, UK riots: lessons from the banlieues? Le Monde compares the response of David Cameron on these event to that of Nicolas Sarkozy in 2005, when Sarkozy dismissed the rioters in the banlieus as ‘voyous’ or thugs. Le Monde goes on to say that if the British government can learn anything from the French case, it is that conclusions drawn in the heat of the moment, from a situation that is still fluid and evolving, are not ones upon which to base any longer-term response. In 2006, in his “hug a hoodie” speech Cameron argued:
“The first thing is to recognise that we’ll never get the answers right unless we understand what’s gone wrong. Understanding the background, the reasons, the causes. It doesn’t mean excusing crime but it will help us tackle it.”
There’s certainly no shortage of advice for the UK Government, mostly aimed at addressing social needs. It seems that the general consensus is that these riots are a result of urban poverty, something not being borne out by those rioters being convicted of an offence. A previous post on ‘urban poverty’, would suggest that first world democratic governments administrations have little understanding of the background to urban poverty. These Administrations think that simply throwing money at a problem is the cure. And perhaps here, the cloud of the current financial crisis has a silver lining, there is no mountain of money to cure or bury the problem with. This would suggest that any solution requires funding that would identify the problem and bring about effective long term changes. However, in the French case the class is still out and perhaps this is because there is no easy alternative to a money mountain and certainly no short term solution.
The alarm expressed by Anderton 30 years ago was that;
“from the police point of view… theft, burglary, even violent crime will not be the predominant police feature. What will be the matter of greatest concern will be the covert and ultimately overt attempts to overthrow democracy, to subvert the authority of the state.”
Cockburn concludes his article by saying that;
Emergency laws, rushed through by panicked politicians, are always bad. It will take America many decades, if ever, to restore civil liberties and approach crime rationally – and this will only come with courageous and inventive political leadership in the poor communities. Britons should study carefully the lessons of America’s 40-year swerve.
The primary objective of the police is always to prevent the authority of the State being subverted through civil disobedience, an objective that applies to both democratic and non-democratic States. It’s only in times of normality that perhaps their policing objectives diverge. In times of normality the primary objective of policing a democratic State is the protection of property and people, while for a non-democratic State the primary objective of policing never deviates from protection of the State. The democratic world should make sure that these abnormal times do not allow further erosion of civil liberties to take place such that , regardless of class, the authority of the State can go unchallenged.