My favorite image from the London riots was of the Sikhs guarding their stores with swords.
To tell the truth, I wanted to hug the Sikhs for standing up to mayhem-creating hoodlums. Of course, I’m not sure sword brandishing Sikhs are really that into hugs-but you know what I’m saying.
The riots were terrible. But they did bring one good outcome: few people are sentimentalizing these thugs and pretending that an unjust society is responsible for their actions. Nope, for once, everybody seems to be pointing their fingers in the right direction. This is a victory for the law-abiding elements of society. For too long we’ve sentimentalized and excused those who kill and loot, regarding them as victims of society, when in fact society is their victim.
Peggy Noonan captures the healthy reaction to the London riots:
The British press, left, right and center, was largely united in a refusal to make political excuses for the violence. Almost all agreed on the cause and nature of what happened. The cause was not injustice; this was not a revolt of the downtrodden masses, breaking into stores looking for food. The causes were greed, selfishness, a respect and even lust for violence, and a lack of moral grounding. Conscienceless predators preyed upon the weak.
Noonan does point out that some of the mob came from what we used to call “broken homes,” and it’s only right to recognize the role of decent parents in turning out decent kids-and vice versa. But she doesn’t sentimentalize the mob. She also recognizes that the plight of kids from loveless environments can’t, alas, be solved by government (and some kids from awful homes turn out well–it’s up to the individual). Hadley has some good thoughts on the need for family and community among millenials.
Even if some of them are lacking in stable families, they seem to have developed an overwhelming sense of entitlement. Noonan shows how this played into the violence:
At fault in the riots were the distorting effects of the welfare state and a degenerate British popular culture: “A population thinks (because it has often been told so by intellectuals and the political class) that it is entitled to a high standard of consumption, irrespective of its personal efforts; and therefore it regards the fact that it does not receive that high standard, by comparison with the rest of society, as a sign of injustice.” Much of what they have is provided by others, but they are not grateful: dependency doesn’t encourage gratitude but resentment.
My oh-so-civilized liberal friend chastised me for arguing that London police should be using real bullets rather than rubber ones. She thought this was a barbaric notion. Well, in this case I know who the barbarians are, and I must say that I regard society as having a right to defend citizens who obey the law–and their property. Max Boot says that the police need to do a better job of maintaining order:
Whatever flaws may be exposed in the state of contemporary Britain, to my mind the reason why the riots have raged of control is fairly straightforward. It is the reason why nearly all riots occur: a failure of effective, aggressive policing.
Boot compares the effectiveness of the London police to the U.S. cops in the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles in 1992 and the Crown Heights (New York) riots in 1991. Both times the rioting grew out of a sense of grievance on the part of a minority:
But-and this is the critical point-that discontent would not have resulted in out-of-control rioting if the police had stepped in firmly and massively to restore order at the start. They did not. In all three cases, the police response was half-hearted and delayed, thus allowing the disorder to build on itself. When young men see other young men running riot through the streets, breaking shop windows and helping themselves to whatever is inside, they will make a quick cost-benefit calculation: is it worth it to join in? If the police are largely absent from the streets, the decision is a no brainer. Only the probability of arrest will curb their runaway id.
Clearly, the current crisis has revealed-even more than the furor over tabloids tapping voicemails-the utter failure of Scotland Yard, just as the previous crises revealed the failure of the LAPD and NYPD.
When I was in school a frequently-assigned short story was William Carlos Williams’ “The Use of Force,” about a doctor who realizes that he had experienced a perverse pleasure at having to force a child to give him a throat culture.
We all absorbed the notion that the use of force was somehow suspect. It is time to re-orient ourselves and recognize that the use of force, applied for the innocent in our society, is often required by the demands of justice. It is too bad that it takes so much violence for us to see this.