It was little over a year ago, on 12th August 2011, that an article appeared in Splendid Fred magazine entitled ‘The 2011 Riots According to William D. Green’. We’ve come on a long way since then – we’ve heard the verdict of the courts on those accused of spreading mayhem and destruction across several English cities; we’ve seen blurry images of strangely self-satisfied individuals fleeing from the scenes of their disgraceful crimes with televisions, laptops and bags of basmati rice tucked tightly under their arms; we’ve been given a chance to hear rioters discuss their actions in their own words and desperately try to explain themselves away as tragic victims of the system; and we’ve even seen the country become a true laughing-stock, when footage of the riots was used to show a Britain in panic during a cataclysmic alien invasion which only American could stop in the overly-cheesy, unbelievably predictable and ultimately terrible blockbuster Battleship. It is in response to one year of accusations, convictions and hardship that I here write my own lowdown on what has been going on since the publication of the original article, in the aptly titled sequel, ‘The Birmingham Riots: One Year On’.
But why, you may be wondering, am I choosing to focus upon Birmingham, when the riots were in reality a countrywide thing? Well, partly, I suppose, in retaliation. Whenever the anniversary of the riots has been mentioned in the media, they have somewhat suddenly come to be known as ‘the London riots’, a moniker which I feel is particularly absent-minded. First, as a citizen of Solihull, I live only a thirty minute drive away from Birmingham City Centre, and I can faithfully inform you that the destruction witnessed within this smaller city is certainly on par with the occurrences in the Capital. We should never forget that whether or not devastation takes place across a more widespread area or a confined space, it is no more or no less significant to those who experienced the effects. Secondly, I can in reality only comment on what I have seen more frequently, and having never actually been to London, I cannot with any degree of accuracy represent the truth of what occurred there. Whether or not it is England’s capital city or not, it is my sincere view that London should not be singled out as the primary location for the wrath of these terrible demonstrators – it should never be forgotten that these glorious insurgents destroyed people’s livelihoods (and, indeed, in some cases, lives) right across the land.
Something which continues to baffle us all, of course, are the exact reasons which caused this event to occur in the first place. To begin with, it was believed that this was instigated by the police shooting of a man named Mark Duggan, who was shot on 4th August after reportedly resisting arrest after attempting to first shoot at police. Proof seemed to exist in the form of a bullet found lodged in a police radio. However, it was soon discovered that the bullet was a police issue hollow-point bullet and, after the discovery at the scene of a loaded pistol (wrapped in a sock which did not appear to have been fired), the IPCC admitted than Duggan did not open fire. Eyewitnesses further reported that Duggan was shot whilst on the ground, pinned to the floor by police.
Whether or not the police were guilty here of the worst kind of misconduct imaginable, however, is ultimately uncertain. What is certain is that, on 6th August, a protest march began. Eventually, a girl reportedly threw a missile at the police during the protest, and soon after members of the crowd attacked two police cars, setting them alight.
That was where it all, really, started.
It is easy enough, as can be seen, to blame the initial display of police brutality as the cause of the widespread violence; it is even possible to blame a ‘protest gone wrong’. But in all seriousness, neither of these reasons justifies what actually took place. Violence against the police instigated by a victimised and enraged community can, perhaps, be easily understood – I do not even begin to suggest it can be forgiven, but it can at least be understood. What actually took place in these riots, however, cannot – that was especially assured when people began to die, of course (Haroon Jahan, Shahzad Ali and Abdul Musavir, who were killed in Birmingham while attempting to protect their neighbourhood from looters, and Richard Mannington-Bowes, who was attacked while trying to put out a litter bin fire in Ealing, to name but a few).
What may have been anger directed towards the police quickly became something entirely amoral and brutish. When innocent bystanders begin to have their livelihoods destroyed, and in some cases, their lives taken away, all understanding has to cease. We have heard people recently who took parts in the riots attempt to justify their actions in their own words, including one man who claimed ‘what I did was wrong, but I’m not a bad person’.
I may be biased, but I have to entirely disagree.
Whatever label you put upon these terrible events, whether it be retaliation for a wrongful killing, or anger at an establishment which has recently been grossly mistreating its less well-off citizens, what occurred was still horrendous and entirely unforgivable. What it ultimately boiled down to was a clash between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’, but the majority of people who fell victim to machinations of the rioters were those who had worked hard to have what they had – store owners had their businesses destroyed; businesspeople were attacked for merely owning a car or wearing a suit; people who weren’t even outside had their homes burnt to the ground; even injured students – some of the poorest people in the country, whose only crime was trying to get a further education – were subjected to brutality and theft. And all for what? To take back what these criminals (for such they are) deserved from a society which took and never gave? No. Check the CCTV footage of the incidents – the majority of the rioters were there for no other reason than that they saw an open opportunity to loot and unleash their destructive desires upon an unsuspecting world. It’s easy to be able to tell that by the simple fact that many rioters are clearly smiling and laughing while being caught on camera.
The only just thing behind all of this chaos grew out of the fact that many people were too stupid not to photograph themselves committing their heinous deeds and post it all on various social networking sites – if it wasn’t for those simple acts of idiocy, it is readily conceivable to see that there would be have been no justice at all for the true victims. If the allegations regarding the death of Duggan be true, there can be no support for the officers who killed an innocent man, and there can likewise be no hatred aimed at the relatives and neighbours who attempted to stage a peaceful protest in response to the death of loved one, who ultimately only wanted answers. But when violence spreads away from the scene of the original crime, and begins to affect people in locations as varied and as far away as the London districts of Battersea, Brixton, Bromley, Bury, Camden, Chingford Mount, Croydon, Ealing, East Ham, Hackney, Harrow, Leicester, Lewisham, Liverpool, Manchester, Peckham, Salford, Stratford, Waltham Forest, Woolwich and Woodgreen, and other cities as far apart as Bristol, Gloucester, Gillingham, Nottingham, Wolverhampton and even my own area of Birmingham, Coventry and Solihull (among others, including a reported attempt to start a riot in Southampton and Winchester), there is no possibility of recognising within the chaos anything other than malice and selfishness. Just as with the recent Student Protests, once a few inconsiderate idiots begin to escalate the situation to one of violence, the message becomes totally obscured and all that is remembered is the destruction; the same goes with the 2011 England Riots – if there was a message in there somewhere, it will now be lost forever. As I have always believed, violence never makes things better – it can only make things worse, and for those who claimed they committed these acts because they had been unable to get employment and money, it has to be wondered how they will ever do so now with that on their records and, indeed, upon their consciences.
Of course, it isn’t all doom and gloom. Since these riots took place, there has been a great amount of community spirit resounding up and down the country. If this article has seemed angry or bitter, it is only in response to an unforgivable wave of violence, but I will always be enamoured with the selfless few who decided to help. The ‘Big Clean Up’ in Birmingham, in which people took time out of their own lives to help make the city beautiful once again, is just one example of the countrywide sense of camaraderie (or, as Cameron would like to say, Big Society) which really came to the fore during the mornings after. We have seen society joining together in the most damaged areas in attempts to get businesses back on their feet. It is things like this, I’m sure you will agree, which really re-instill one’s sense of pride in humanity. We are told continually what a terrible creature we are – we have wiped out entire species, we have caused war and suffering and, as I have explored here, are capable of creating terrible destruction for the most pathetic and self-centred of reasons; and yet, I will whole-heartedly oppose any further comments on the baseness of humanity. A select portion of humankind commits the acts we are all accused of, and yet the vast majority of us really do care. If the society which went out of its way, unpaid and unasked, to help those whom the riots hit the hardest, when most of the time they didn’t even know the people they were aiding particularly well (if at all), then it can hardly be denied how wonderful and how noble people can be. Forget the cruel dictators and wanton vandals who spread fear across this globe – there will always be those willing to help.