Sadly, what was witnessed in London last night was the downside of social media: orchestrated criminality. ‘Rioting’ spread from Tottenham to Enfield, Walthamstow and Brixton. An estimated 200 ‘youths’ took to the streets for a night of vandalism and exchanges with the police in Enfield, wantonly trashing shops and cars. The Guardian reports that looters gathered under cover of a festival in Brixton and stole goods from Footlocker, H&M and Vodafone, removing their bounty in cars and on scooters. Unrest in Brixton continued into the early hours.
You will hear many media voices in the days, weeks and months ahead, claiming that this outburst of criminality is in some way connected with ‘youth disaffection’, ‘lack of opportunity’, ‘discrimination’, ‘poor police-community relations’, ‘economic deprivation’ and so on. It is not. This violence is a simple manifestation of criminality; criminality facilitated by the new social media and mobile phones, bringing together likeminded criminals and thugs who hitherto would not have been able to coordinate their actions. Interestingly, The Guardian notes that the looters' phone of choice may be the BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) because
'Unlike text messaging or Twitter, BBM is a free, private social network where almost all messages are encrypted when they leave the sender's phone – meaning that many messages are untraceable by the authorities.'Some of these criminals are primarily interested in opportunistic looting, some in gathering for a ‘ruck’ with the police, and others for a bit of both and whatever other opportunities should offer themselves up when law and order are suspended: vandalism, arson and random assaults upon members of the public.
They have realised that such coordination allows them to outmanoeuvre the police, and by latching onto a ‘protest’ about the death of an armed drug dealer in Tottenham, they attempt to pass off their wilful antisocial acts as somehow ‘legitimate’ in the eyes of certain media commentators and politicians. The dominant meme at play in the media and mainstream political parties is that the actions of such people can be explained through reference to social and economic marginalisation and ‘powerlessness’. The looters and rioters are thus dignified with a political status that they do not deserve. Those individuals who have chosen to take to the streets to attack people and property have done so because they have made a conscious decision to act in that way. They have not been compelled to indulge in violence, they have willed themselves to violence. It is the individuals conducting this violence, and they alone, who are responsible. Any governmental response which seeks to lavish taxpayers’ money upon those areas that have witnessed this disorder would not only be myopic, but immoral and utterly ineffectual. It is time for ‘community workers’ and ‘leaders’ also to stop behaving opportunistically by using such criminality as a pretext for bidding for more regeneration and ‘social-cohesion’ project funding. Deal with the criminals through the legal system and confront the attitudes underpinning the criminal subculture: this is the correct way to deal with this problem.