Riots in Tottenham

August 7, 2011

Whenever a big protest happens when property is damaged, I always find myself in a curious situation where I wonder whether I agree with it or not. There are always people who will support any riot regardless of what it’s about, because it represents some kind of rebellion against the state, and similarly there are people who’ll say things like “there’s no excuse for violence” and always condemn any kind of disorder.

Last night a riot broke out in Tottenham, a pretty working class area of London, after earlier in the week a black man called Mark Duggan was killed by the police in an arrest attempt. Police cars and a bus were all burnt out, as well as a fairly high number of shops in the area, and another nearby area called Wood Green. Should we condemn this? Let’s look a bit closer.

There are quite a few things you have to take into account when you’re not at the scene yourself. You cannot trust the media to give an accurate representation of what’s happening, and that’s not because it’s all a big conspiracy, there are some very good reasons behind it. The media like immediacy. They’ll crawl all over any kind of angle they can find to try and get one over on their competitors. They want pictures and figures and anything else to fill those excruciatingly repetitive minutes on 24 hour news channels, and the coverage on those news channels shapes the view of the protest that the next day’s papers and the public have about it.

Now the police and the government can provide those things, they can issue statements, they can (falsely) claim to represent the silent majority, they can give the news channels figures on how many officers were injured, and make it seem like they’re the victims. The protestors can’t do that. There’s no-one counting the protestors who get smacked around the head, unless they go to hospital about it, but if a police officer grazes their knee they can count that as an ‘injured officer’ and report it as such. The protestors don’t have spokespeople, and the people who are most involved are often too busy or riled up to give a well thought-out statement (or they don’t want to be identified), so you often get the news interviewing some twonk who’s got no idea what they’re talking about. This gives a biased view. It’s only a very long time after the event that the real facts come out, by which time everyone’s forgotten about the riot and don’t reconsider whether it was justified, if the facts come out at all. Alfie Meadows barely got a mention in the news until well after Millbank. You even still get people who condemn the Brixton riots in 1981.

The media toss-up between editorial independence and access also means that if they don’t seem pro-establishment (or at least painfully ‘balanced’) then they risk losing their access to government officials and statements, upon which they rely for their stories on a daily basis.

Right now the media have been claiming that Mark Duggan was some kind of gangster or drug-dealer, and implying that he shot at the police, which is why he was killed. But people who knew him are saying he was a normal bloke. If the reports turn out to be false, will people reconsider what they think of the riot? I don’t think they will, not for a long time. It seems a bit fishy to me that they shot him twice in the face, shouldn’t they rather be trying to disable a dangerous suspect rather than go straight for the kill?

How come the people who are condemning the “violence” aren’t focussing on the one death in the whole story? What is violence anyway? If you bully someone to the point where they kill themselves, is that violence? In that case, is cutting benefits to disabled people and pushing them to the point where half have considered suicide, is that violence? Does property damage always count as violence? Undoubtedly it does sometimes, such as if I punched the wall right next to someone’s head, but is that true in all cases? I don’t think so.

I think people also put an unfair emphasis on whether the property damage can be justified. They’ll often ask whether it will help the cause or whether it will just turn people against them, but that is asking a mob to have an unreasonably high level of forward-thinking. It’s not a useful distinction to make. I much prefer to think about whether what’s happening is understandable, and I think in this instance it is. It’s a reaction to the institutional and structural damage that is being done to the people in Tottenham.

So does that mean I agree with everything that happened? No, of course not, and in particular I think burning buildings down was fucking stupid. They had no idea if people were still in there, and they had no idea how far it could have spread. I don’t care about the property damage so much but they put lives at risk and I don’t think it was necessary. Neither do I think people were rioting because they disagree with the concept of a police force, as much as some people amongst the left would like to think so. But what I do think is that what happened last night was the inevitable consequence of pushing a community to the edge. The features section of a newspaper is often more important than the news section, because it focusses on long-term trends rather than individual events. The features section might have told us about the way black people are more likely to be stopped and searched by the police than white people. The news section will only tell us about the riot.

And that’s why the real news isn’t what happened last night in Tottenham, it’s what’s been happening there for the past few decades.

Property damage

December 14, 2010

This week I found myself defending the actions of people I’ve never met, actions that I probably wouldn’t have done myself in the same situation. There’s been a bit of a running joke in the pub over the last few weeks that I’ve been throwing fire extinguishers off roofs and stuff like that, and one of the regulars wanted a proper conversation about it, so we had one. We didn’t really get very far to be honest (and we were both kind of drunk by the end of it) but it’s a good topic.

He started off with a very legalistic opposition to what happened a Millbank, that it was criminal damage and that if we just choose what laws to follow then we’re left with lawlessness and chaos (actually he said ‘anarchy’ but that’s probably not the best way of describing it). I disagreed, and said that this argument has less to do with law as it does with morality and principles. Often they go hand in hand, but not always so. Everyone agrees that a starving man stealing food to feed his family is an acceptable violation of the law, and yet noone claims in that case that choosing when to follow the law leads to lawlessness and chaos. So clearly there are some situations where breaking the law can be justified. He said that the difference is the starving man has no other option. I’m not so sure that’s a vital part of where to draw the line, and I’m also not so sure that it’s a useful comparison to draw with what happened at Millbank.

As another example I said if there was a plane that was shortly going to take off and drop bombs somewhere, then it could be justified as a form of direct action to break the engine of that plane. “Ok so what if people came here and smashed the window of the pub?” he replied, “Would you give the police the CCTV footage?” And of course I would, unless the pub owner had really been shafting these people and they genuinely were targetting the pub for a good reason. And I think that’s the difference. Breaking the law can sometimes be justified if it’s correctly targetted and for a good cause. Which is why I think storming Millbank was justified, but if they’d stormed some other building instead, it wouldn’t have been.

So if I’d been in London this week would I have also been smashing the windows of the Treasury? Probably not. Why’s that if I think it’s justified? Because even though it can be justified, that doesn’t make it mandatory. Painting ‘NO’ on the grass outside Parliament was a good thing to do, bannerdrops all over the place were good ideas. Smashing the Treasury, meh, I suppose, but it seems a little bit superfluous. But certainly stupid things like this weren’t justified:

What good comes out of it? Did the bench hurt you in some way? Is attacking this bench doing any good for the cause? Nah.

But what about Charles and Camilla being attacked? Is that justified in the same way that Millbank was? No, probably not, they have nothing to do with the cuts agenda the government is pushing. But it’s certainly understandable. Maybe that’s a better way of looking at this, rather than justifying actions (which requires a level of forward-thinking that mobs don’t tend to have at their disposal) maybe we should look at how understandable an action is. If you have a group of people protesting against privilege and unfairness in the education sector, then how do you think they’ll react when the most obvious symbol of inherited privilege in society just happens to saunter down the road right next to them? It’s all been spun out of proportion of course, but I think shaking them up a bit without actually harming them will have won people over. Let’s face it, Charles and Camilla aren’t exactly popular, perhaps least of all amongst monarchists.

The more I think about these questionable actions, the more I start to think that the majority of them are not only understandable, but also an inevitable consequence of fucking around with people for too long. I probably wouldn’t do the same thing, but I refuse to condemn the majority of it. Let’s leave that to the right wing media and scared politicians.

Scientology Protest 2: Operation Party Hard

March 18, 2008

As this Saturday was L Ron Hubbard’s birthday, Anonymous decided to celebrate it in style with a full blown protest party near the Church of Scientology in Hunter Square. Admittedly I forgot about it completely, but luckily I happened to be crossing the road at the exact same second that Stuart was driving past (he didn’t run me over), and I was duly reminded. The protest itself was pretty much the same as last time. Plenty of signs, about the same amount of people but we were a bit more spread out in the square so it didn’t look as many, but I thought it was much better organised. People had learned their lessons from the last one and brought extra cardboard for signs, as well as tape, and we had balloons, party bags and stickers rather than just flyers. I’ll spare you the details.

In any case from the last protest there’s been a few issues brought up. The student media saw it as pointless, or even discriminatory, and various comments were made such as “what are they trying to do?” and “what will an attack on the people they claim to be victims of the organisation actually achieve?”

It’s a fair question, but it’s totally missed the point of the protest. This isn’t an attack on the ‘church’ members, the protest isn’t about them at all! The whole point of protesting is to raise awareness to the general public that the building we were outside is a church of Scientology (misleadingly called “The Hubbard Academy for Personal Independence”) and that the ‘free personality tests’ and ‘free stress tests’ that they’re offering are actually ways of getting you into their cult and robbing you of their money. It is a public awareness campaign.

Before I wasn’t so sure it was necessary, but since the protests I’ve spoken to several people who have briefly fallen victim to it, or who have taken a test and not gone any further, and it’s entirely necessary and appropriate to make people aware of what they’re getting themselves into. They take advantage of people who are vulnerable or gullible and take their money away and it’s not remotely fair. That’s why Anonymous is protesting.
Captain Shamrock

Quality sign


Our Sign

Scientology Protest

February 10, 2008

Well, I was there, were you?

It was actually a really good turnout, we had about 150 people which was about as many as we could fit along the side of the road without blocking the pavement. The police were there to keep order and in case we decided to do anything stupid, but to be honest I don’t think anyone had any intentions of doing anything like that. One ironic thing was that one of my friends who turned up to protest has told me in the past that she’s a creationist Christian. She claims to hate scientology because it’s obviously a load of rubbish and it takes advantage of depressed people… bit strange really.

We noticed about 5 or 6 different people inside the building. They were photographing and videoing us, so we’ll see what becomes of that. All it’ll show is a big group of people standing there, singing and cheering when cars beep support. Nothing illegal there.

Although I don’t think it’s the most important or controversial topic at the moment, it was good to get noticed and have more people on board with the issue. Scientology is a cult, there’s no doubt about it. It takes people into it, separates them from their friends and family, takes their money away from them and resists letting them leave. It’s extremely secretive and exclusive, and they’re very hostile to people who oppose it.

Anyway I’m going to see if I can figure out how to upload the pictures. There are some great ones.





Knowledge is Free


War on Scientology

February 6, 2008

It’s been called a ‘cult’ by a judge in the US Supreme Court and the Germans won’t have anything to do with it. The more I hear about it, the more I’m starting to realise just how messed up Scientology is. As if the Tom Cruise video wasn’t enough to get me going (“When you’re a Scientologist, and you drive by an accident, you know you have to do something about it, because you know you’re the only one who can really help…”), the fact that the “Church” managed to get it taken off YouTube really peeved me off.

Why people believe in this bollocks is beyond me. It was written by a SCIENCE FICTION WRITER! It’s obviously a cartload of rotten tripe! I don’t understand why someone would believe in this rubbish when they know it was just written by some guy.

Further to this are the allegations that Scientologists were responsible for the death of Lisa McPherson. After she had a car crash and a mental breakdown, they took her out of psychiatric care to look after her themselves, which led to her death, basically through neglect. They have untrained people practicing medicine without licenses, which is downright dangerous.

Anywho I heard today that all this controversy has led to the birth of an internet group known as Anonymous, which has declared war on Scientology. So far this has been by hacking their website and shutting it down, sending them pizzas, and (my personal favourite) sending them black faxes to waste the ink in their fax machines, but this Sunday it will go one step further with a global peaceful protest outside the many Churches of Scientology.

One of these is in Edinburgh, near the Tron in Hunter Square at 11am (and there was me thinking computer geeks slept all through the day). I’ll be there, and I’ll be sure to take some pictures and try and get them up here. I urge anyone else who wants a giggle to come along too. Apparently there are Facebook groups and events but I’ve yet to find one for the Edinburgh Protest.

Listening to: Pink Floyd – Astronomy Domine