Riots In England (Part 2)
Finally a police line materialised on this high street, not before most of the shops had been dealt with. For a long time they were hanging back, just watching the rioters take their new property and punish the big companies. He was brave, braver than he had ever been before, freed from the controls and duties of earlier conformist life. No one could see him behind his balaclava. He and a few others threw a few things towards them, stones, some glass, some abuse. Then the implacable police line started to come forward and he became frightened at last.
All turned sour. He never intended to get into a war, and yet here he was facing what now seemed like a Roman Legion with their impervious shields. The other guys decided to run away. The call had come over to make for another street not far away, where they could continue some damage.
Unfortunately he was headed off and grabbed by police officers, shuffled into a cop van and carted off. He wasn’t the only one. He assessed his comrades; some ignorant teens who he wasn’t too impressed by now he was with them. The black guy who was quite cool, fancied himself too much, and bragged about the stuff he collected last night.
“Shit,” said one of the teens. “What are they gonna do to us? I didn’t think they could touch us!”
“We are just the unlucky ones who got arrested,” said the cool black guy. “They’ll probably keep us in for a couple of days at most. Then there will be a hearing and they’ll put us on a list for trials. Don’t worry. They can’t keep us locked up for long. Accept representation and we’ll be able to go home in half a day or so. Court cases can take months. By the time our cases come to court they’ll have forgotten these riots. We’ll get small sentences or fines and it will all blow over.” He was very self assured, as if he’d been in trouble with the law before, for petty offences, and knew how to handle it.
“Yeh,” said the other teen, the cocky one. “Listen to the man. He knows! Keep your head down, say what they want you to say, and it’ll all blow over. These police you know, they’re not allowed to punish these days. We have rights. Keep your head high, see what advice the lawyers give, and let them get you off, as much as they can.”
He wasn’t so confident. He hadn’t thought any of them would get arrested. He’d thought it was a revolution. The violence and looting could be justified by the cause of resisting the rich, the government, and the big companies. Now he felt afraid. They were among the few rioters who’d been picked up, so perhaps they would be made an example of.
When the police announced they were all going to court tonight he was shocked, they all were, even the black guy and the cocky one. “That can’t be right!” argued the cocky youth, but the police were insistent.
He listened to what one policeman said as he was being interviewed.
“Why were you involved in the riots? We have your name and address now. We know who you are. You never did anything criminal before, nothing we know about anyway! Why did you, an intelligent, educated and well behaved youth decide to get involved with this lawlessness?”
“It feels like a revolution,” he found himself saying, unable to remain uncommunicative for too long. “Big business is in charge of everything. They make the profits, they twist the government’s arms and operate the puppet strings. They decide whether we can lead good lives or not. And, at the moment we can’t. Young people are educated and then dropped. We compete for silly jobs that we don’t really want, dreamed up by managers who don’t want us to have a good place in the world. Where is the quality of life if all we ever do is compete, for the job, for the promotion. They make us work harder and harder, squeeze the last bits of self out of us until we aren’t ourselves any more!”
“Well that’s interesting,” said one of the officers. “That’s not what most of your colleagues are saying!”
“Why, what are they saying?”
“Some of them say they usually behave themselves, but because the police were not around and the stores were smashed open they saw their opportunity to help themselves to whatever they wanted. No talk of revolution, just opportunity and a bit of greed. Are you definitely saying you weren’t motivated by any of that?”
“No, I wasn’t. I have no interest in pinching anything. When others looted it was a way of wrecking the property system to me, making a stand against capitalism, a statement. I did help to wreck shop windows, so we could get inside and make our statement against all the profitmakers, not so I could get my hands on any goods.”
“Many of the looters were recognised criminals, we think. A lot of them seem to be gang members. Were you aware of that? Does that make you think differently about your role in the riots? Does it make you doubt your decision to get involved? Do you regret your involvement?”
“I regret being caught, but I don’t believe the rioters were criminals,” he made an effort to explain, despite a nagging awareness that some of what the police officers were saying might be true. “For a time last night we were comrades, showing the system up for its failures, taking the complacent smiles off the managers and the shareholders and the rich businessmen, and the politicians.”
It was becoming evident the revolution had failed. He was beginning to realise most rioters were just in it for kicks and loot.
“Okay you’re due in court, in half an hour,” said a police officer, looking in to the cell.
“Court?” he asked, shocked.
What, at this time of night? It was already late, very late, still the night of the riot, which for him had been cut short so quickly by his unfortunate arrest. He had imagined he would be sleeping in the cell now over night, but had assumed they’d send him home in the morning, with a court appearance on some future date. Perhaps this was where they’d decide to let him go, as there were so many of them, or send him home on bail pending a future court appearance, which might never happen when the court system got bogged down with the weight of other rioters.
“Do you need a solicitor or will you answer for yourself?”
“Do I have to pay for one, or do I get it for free?” he asked.
“That depends on how much money you have. If you have a low income you will have it paid by legal aid.” His dad was quite rich, but his own income was as yet non existent, as he had failed so far to get a job since leaving university. He didn’t know where that left him, but perhaps his dad might pay for him if he was not eligible. Although dad was likely to be rather angry at his behaviour last night, and might not be willing to pay any legal costs.
“I had better have a solicitor,” he accepted, fearing some miscarriage of justice if he did not receive some support and advice.
One came, a solicitor, male businesslike and efficient, and a bit too clever. Everything seemed straightforward, simple to the solicitor.
“You’re charged with breaking and entering, two shops, and with criminal damage and rioting. They did not find any contraband upon you so they haven’t bothered to charge you with theft.” The way the solicitor said it made his actions seem like simple crime, when in fact his actions were motivated by notions of revolution and taking the streets back for the people. Didn’t they have a defence of revolution or political stance?
He was remanded in custody until a further brief court hearing in a couple of days. They had decided to process the rioters as swiftly as possible, to give the clear message to all potential or actual rioters that this behaviour would be swiftly and efficiently dealt with, and that none of the rioters would ‘get away with it.’ The evidence against him was straightforward and easily proved as he was CCTV.
He had no legal leg to stand on. The court sentenced him to three months in prison, and no account was made of his political justifications. There was a fine as well, which his father felt obliged to pay, but his dad insisted he must pay it back out of future earnings and all his current savings had to be used first.
He had to serve his time just as the more criminally motivated rioters who were caught did. His time in prison was not a pleasant time in his life. He found he had little in common with any of the prisoners who had been sent there like himself for their part in the riots. They were less educated than him, he felt, although they were clever enough in their own ways, streetwise, seeking to show him how clever they were by showing off. But he saw through them. They were just showing off because they liked to pretend they were better. He could see how empty they were, like kids in the playground, without higher ideals or motivations. What oh what had led him to think these guys were worth following or that they had any answers to the big questions of the world.
He came to see the police had been right all along. Most of these young men were opportunists who sought mayhem for its own sake. Now there were no hardworking teachers to wind up they turned their sights onto the police and the law abiding shopkeepers, the big corporations and the collective taxpayers of the nation. If they had not been intent on screwing up the system, many of them he found had been purely motivated by the desire for easy pickings of goods and equipment, so they could use them at home, or to resell and make some money.
He did his time and that was enough to know he never wanted to go back there again, unlike some of the others who seemed to learn nothing from their plight.
Good revolutions cannot be achieved by simple violence or destruction, or by theft. By allying with the forces of chaos and destruction real revolutionaries give away their own cause. He was not part of a movement. There was no maturity amongst the rioters!
Every few years humans whip themselves into a state and go on the rampage, wrecking their own streets, wounding their communities, smashing rather than building. They blow off steam, remove the shackles of daily life and behave in ways that are not sanctioned. Some of the perpetrators are brought to heel, punished, sometimes severely. People relax, become complacent and the circle turns again, until the element of savagery in the human race again shows itself. The shock of these outbreaks of violence and lawbreaking is soon reabsorbed by society, all becomes calm once again. Normality takes control again and another few years go by.