Communist Party of Australia

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Issue #1514      17 August 2011


London protests

Bullets won’t solve anything

For all the sense that David Cameron spoke following the Cobra emergency committee meeting, he might as well have stayed in his luxury Tuscan villa. Cameron tried hard to appear big and butch, warning people what his even harder mates in the police would do to them.

He accepted no responsibility for the conditions that gave rise to the riot epidemic and showed no understanding of why some people do it.

It is difficult to imagine a more wooden and meaningless formulation than his punchline, “This is criminality pure and simple and it has to be confronted and defeated.”

So the logical response must be to swamp problem areas with police, arrest more people, bang them up, throw away the key and, hey presto, job done.

The Prime Minister had plenty of advice from the usual law-and-order lobby for whom a major problem is misplaced concern for people’s human rights. Put the army on the streets, wheel out the water cannon and plastic bullets and let the police get stuck into rioters without fear of consequences, they chorus.

It’s so simple and, of course, it worked so well in Northern Ireland, didn’t it?

Police in Britain could have had water cannon and plastic bullets at their disposal during past disturbances, but their overwhelming judgement was that they would cause more problems than they solve.

If the government really is considering deployment of plastic rounds in response to the current situation, this would be a retrograde step. Those authorised to use them are given strict firing instructions, but things don’t always go to plan in the heat of the moment. How long after their introduction will it be before a youngster dies as a result of a plastic bullet direct strike on the head?

Cameron warned young people involved in these riots that they would “feel the full force of the law,” hinting at custodial punishments. The PM must know that the prison population is at an all-time high, placing additional pressure on overstretched prison officers who face privatisation of their service and attacks on their pay and conditions.

Similar problems confront those at the sharp end of the riots - police officers and firefighters, who are targeted by the government’s cuts agenda.

Cameron completed his speech without mentioning these false economies or the plethora of cuts imposed on young people, from funding for youth clubs, sports facilities, educational maintenance allowance, housing benefit and much else besides.

Add to that the fact that half of black youth aged 16-24 is unemployed and the wonder is not that riots have broken out but that they didn’t occur earlier.

It is meaningless complaining that many teenagers show no respect without appreciating the reality that they too are often treated without respect.

People with a job, a home and a future don’t riot.

Government should be investing in such an outcome rather than in overseas wars, nuclear weapons and tax breaks for big business and the rich.

If people feel excluded from society, there is no value in criticising them for anti-social attitudes.

Homes and businesses must be protected, which means that police have to have resources to contain violent outbreaks.

However, there must also be government investment for jobs, services and benefits to deliver a society at peace with itself rather than sharply divided into haves and have-nots.

[Editorial from Morning Star, British socialist daily.] 

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