Pure fire

Aug
12
2011
by
Lynne McTaggart
/
0
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As you’ve probably heard, my adopted country, Great Britain, is on fire.  From Manchester to London entire communities have been set alight, stores and houses vandalized, people beaten up, and five murdered as of this writing. Last Wednesday, my sleepy suburban corner of London was crawling with policemen, acting on inside information that our area was targeted next. 

Commentators have been busy, trying to work out the collective significance of the anarchy on the streets.  Who is doing this?  Are they provocateurs, bussed in from the outside?  Or well organized protests against globalization?  Or perhaps the criminal underbelly of society?  

As you’ve probably heard, my adopted country, Great Britain, is on fire.  From Manchester to London entire communities have been set alight, stores and houses vandalized, people beaten up, and five murdered as of this writing. Last Wednesday, my sleepy suburban corner of London was crawling with policemen, acting on inside information that our area was targeted next.

Commentators have been busy, trying to work out the collective significance of the anarchy on the streets.  Who is doing this?  Are they provocateurs, bussed in from the outside?  Or well organized protests against globalization? Or perhaps the criminal underbelly of society?

The middle class joins in

Unfortunately, the answer is not that pat.  It is true that the majority of rioters are young men from poor areas. Nevertheless, there are also a fair number of middle-class men and women taking to the streets. The 1500 arrests thus far include a real estate agent, two college students of engineering and law, a teenaged ballerina and an 11-year-old girl.  

Last weekend, after a number of people from all backgrounds broke into an Evans bicycle store in Chalk Farm in north London, three Asian men in their 40s, who’d been guarding their own news agency, wondered whether they ought to take advantage of the fact that the law had been temporarily suspended and help themselves to a new mountain bike apiece. 

Natasha Reid, a middleclass young woman who’d just graduated from university with a degree in social work, had been passing by when an Enfield branch of the Comet chain had been broken into, whereupon she joined in and walked off with a flat screen TV. 

The following day, overcome with remorse, she turned herself in to the police and was convicted of theft and intent to steal, putting paid to her future career.

‘She doesn’t even know why she took it,’ cried her mother, pointing to the 27-inch television that hangs in her bedroom. ‘She doesn’t need a telly.’ 

So why on earth is this happening? Why do people raze their own communities? Perhaps we can learn from the experience of Watts, a district in Southern Los Angeles in America, which underwent two such riots in twenty-year intervals. 

Riots in Watts

In 1965, a riot was set off by the arrest of a black youth and his family on a trumped-up drunk-driving charge. Black residents burned and looted nearly 1000 mostly white-owned businesses.  Some 15,000 troops of National Guardsmen and Armored Calvary — more than had ever been deployed on the nation’s own soil — were called in, ostensibly to prevent Watts from burning itself to the ground. 

“Monkeys in a zoo,” is how the LAPD’s police chief William Parker publicly summed up the situation, sparking off another round of looting and arson only contained when Guardsmen cordoned off all of Watts from the rest of Los Angeles like an epidemic requiring quarantine. 

Thirty years later, Watts burned again after a tourist’s video captured policemen brutally beating black motorist Rodney King, and the officers involved were acquitted of all charges. This latest incident set off a six-day riot of arson, assault and murder, leaving fifty-three dead, thousands injured, and more than one billion dollars in damages. 

The very name of the district has now become synonymous with the most extreme face of racial discrimination in America. In the ongoing dialogue between the races in America, Watts is the place where no one is doing much listening. 

But the lawlessness had nothing to do with racism.  It has to do with unfairness: unfairness and a casual lawlessness was woven into the very fabric of society. 

In the mid-nineties, the street gangs of Watts formed the epicenter of America’s crack cocaine business. The white establishment’s solution, the creation of the special CRASH division (the Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums) within the Los Angeles Police Department, resulted in the largest internal affairs investigation of what turned out to be the largest incidence of police misconduct in America’s history — for unprovoked shootings and beatings, framing suspects, planting evidence, and the department’s own share of drug dealing and bank robbery. 

Watts burned itself to the ground as an extreme reaction to the fact that it was no longer a community in any sense of the term. It became okay in Watts for the people in charge to do anything they damned well pleased. The residents simply followed suit.

The cops become the robbers

It’s no accident that the British riots have broken out immediately following revelations of press and police criminality in phone hacking, MP expense scandals, government collusion with the press, irregularities within the financial industry and daily press stories about CEOs in corporations creaming off vast salaries at the expense of shareholders and company profits while hundreds of thousands lose their jobs.

 
In other words, as in Watts, in Britain it is no longer possible to distinguish between the law and the lawless, the cops and the robbers.  

 
It’s interesting to note that the stores that have been targeted, in the main, are the high-end commodity shops:  designer clothing and designer electronics.  In the view of the looters, they are simply following the lead of those in charge of our society: grabbing as much expensive booty as quickly as they can.

That riots are spontaneously breaking out and entire communities being razed is a measure of how many of the promises we have made to each other are broken. In most of our neighborhoods today, it is every man, woman, and child for himself. 

Britain is burning itself to the ground because the bond between society – our essential agreement to each other to care for each other, to take our fair share, to follow a common moral code, to live according to the way we were designed to live, not in competition but in communion – was broken by those at the top of our society. America is soon to follow suit.

The extent to which any society begins to fray relates to a deterioration of a sense of fairness and basic reciprocity.  If we want people at the bottom of our society to play by the rules, we need to play by the rules ourselves.

May the fires be cleansing ones so that we rebuild Britain according to a new set of rules – a bond of fairness, community and connection.

Lynne McTaggart

Lynne McTaggart is an award-winning journalist and the author of seven books, including the worldwide international bestsellers The Power of Eight, The Field, The Intention Experiment and The Bond, all considered seminal books of the New Science and now translated into some 30 languages.

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