Having visited Tottenham and Wood Green on the Monday of the riots, on the Wednesday I went to visit those businesses that had been vandalized or looted in Crouch End and Muswell Hill. Thankfully they were very few in number and the shopkeepers were a) stoic and b) all open for business.
But where that had been more serious violence and looting the resounding message from traders who had lost everything – was where were the police? We all saw looting seeming to take place with impunity. There is a view that this early sight on TV screens across the nation acted as an invitation for others to follow suit – across London and beyond.
The police themselves faced a dilemma. They had previously faced huge public criticism of over-zealous policing of protests, the use of the kettling tactics (containing people and holding them for a long period) and of course – the ‘killing’ of the man who died at police hands during the G20. In an area like Tottenham – a black man being killed by the police is just about as sensitive as things can get. It was not surprising therefore that the police initially erred on the side of standing back and containing rather than intervening.
It is also the case that the trouble escalated beyond expectation at such a rapid rate that whatever operational decisions they made and for whatever reasons (maybe good ones – we wait to hear) left victims of violence and of looting feeling completely undefended. In fact the traders I met in Wood Green didn’t want to even restock and repair their shops. They felt there was no point as there was no guarantee that if there was more trouble the police still wouldn’t come and it could happen all over again.
Those people need answers – and by the time this is published I will have met with the local commander to ask for those answers. Policing itself is an operational matter and cannot and must not be interfered with by politicians. However, it is right and appropriate that the police should investigate what happened on that night and answer for operational decisions that they made.
So here we all are – shocked rigid by all we have seen on our streets – and if not in our streets in our living rooms. We wonder how and why and what on earth to do. The views are various – and of course – so are the answers.
It seems to me that knee jerk reactions are not the answer – despite the huge demand for instant solutions. In the short term the critical action was to restore law and order and bring those who had committed criminal acts to justice and for justice to be done.
There are no excuses for anyone involved in criminal acts – and the judiciary must be left to decide the sentence based on the individual case. The punishments need to be effective. Given that (as I write) six hundred of those charged were on parole from prison – and many others seem to have simply joined in – I trust the judiciary will use an appropriate range of punishments to fit the individual crimes.
The high media profile of the prosecutions – including via Twitter – may help make people who thought there was no risk and believed they would never be caught, think differently in future as this time the news is full of how many people are being prosecuted.
In the longer term – there are far more complex issues to be addressed amongst which are: gangs, parenting, prison life, poverty, employment, education, dysfunctional families, drugs, alcohol, nihilism, the ‘must have’ culture, effective (not simply vindictive) punishment, aspiration, generational worklessness, literacy and behaviour.
And that’s just for starters!
By Lynne Featherstone, MP for Hornsey & Wood Green
Tel: 020 8340 5459
She blogs at www.LynneFeatherstone.org and is on Twitter at twitter.com/LFeatherstone
Email: [email protected] or write to her at House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA