Letters: How decayed communities fell to looting

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The Independent Online

There has been much focus on the performance of the police during the London riots. But the police are social dustmen. They deal with the results of social problems; they are not a solution.

What the riots denote is just how much communities in the inner cities have decayed over recent years. The latest cuts simply take away the last remaining bits of cement that had been holding the crumbling edifice together.

Hope for many young people has been taken away, yet at the same time the materialist celebrity culture is fed to them 24 hours a day – you are what you have. Once this dangerous cocktail of dispossession, hopelessness and shops crammed full of goodies is brought together, who can be surprised that, with a little co-ordination via social networking sites, a peaceful demonstration in Tottenham should have turned into rioting and looting.

It is time for politicians and media commentators to realise that community is falling apart in this country and we are closer to the abyss that anyone has been prepared to contemplate.

Paul Donovan, London E11

Your leading article of 9 August suggests that "it is spurious to draw a connection between [deprivation and the social marginalisation of inner-city youth] and specific outbreaks of violence of the sort we have seen in recent days".

Really? Is it so spurious to suggest that an economic and political system that stresses materialist wealth, which constantly exposes us to increasingly sophisticated and ubiquitous advertising, yet which oversees the breakdown of communities and the impoverishment of millions in order to increase the wealth of a minority of individuals and businesses, might be responsible for creating the sorts of individuals who have taken to the streets?

We do not need to argue that these people were explicitly politicised, or fighting for some sort of social justice – on the contrary, we can draw the opposite conclusions. Many of these people appear to have been acting selfishly, competitively, and without thought for the consequences of their actions. If only they had a middle-man in a developing country to do their looting, they would make fine capitalists.

When riots like this take place, it is spurious to suggest the social context is not to blame. I do not condone much of what I have seen, but it is perfectly understandable, when we reflect upon the sort of society more respectable thieves in suits have created for us.

Matthew Wilson, Lancaster

No doubt the liberal chattering classes will trip over themselves to blame poverty for the recent outbreak of looting and pillaging in London.

However, noting that some of the mob's main targets have been the purveyors of mass-market footwear, hamburgers and oversweet doughnuts, one can only blame a poverty of imagination and unquestioning acceptance of an aspirational lifestyle largely promoted by advertising. Real revolutionaries would have headed straight for the banks and in so doing might well have found support from a surprising proportion of the British public.

John Eoin Douglas, Edinburgh

Store blaze sparks fury

It was with fury that I watched last night's images of destruction. I am channelling that fury to constructive use in writing this letter and a cheque. I call on insurance companies to make use of this great publicity opportunity to show how quickly they can support private businesses to return to full activity and families to return to their homes. The best advertising for an insurance company is how they handle their claims.

The cheque? Over 25 years ago I decided I could finally afford my first new armchairs and settee. Reeves, a century-old family business in Croydon, sold me that suite at a competitive price. Three house moves and over a quarter of a century later the suite is still in daily use.

Last night I watched the flames rising from the store where I bought my furniture. My small cheque is going to Reeves as a gesture of protest against this violence and a small contribution to filling the gap that will certainly exist between the insurance payment and the actual damage .

I would encourage everyone to make their own form of constructive protest and give their custom to businesses damaged in this outrageous way. My sympathy and support to everyone in the emergency services and their families who are having to bear the brunt of this criminal activity.

Susan Acton-Campbell, Bristol

Role-models of corruption

The politicians and media are lining up to condemn the violence and looting on the streets, but from whom are these perpetrators taking their example?

Poorly educated and jobless, they have seen excesses of wealth gathered by "bankers" who avoid every opportunity to pay taxes, corrupt politicians, a corrupt media and a corrupt police force. Politicians give the impression of being wealthy spivs with equally spivvy friends outside Westminster. The newspapers have been revealed to be corrupt in their newsgathering operations and have corrupted the Metropolitan Police. Before any politician, pundit or policeman expresses their opinion they should ask themselves if they have any right to condemn.

Jonathan Reubin, Colchester, Essex

Poor excuses for mayhem

Why do news reporters, including those of The Independent, still report that the riots were sparked by the death of Mark Duggan. These reprobates would seize upon any excuse to cause mayhem.

We need to appreciate that these people are of no use to their communities or society at large, and probably never will be, but we are unfortunately stuck with them. However, effort still has to be made to educate and bring them into civilised communities.

As some form of recompense, and maybe helping some of them to train for work, they should be put to work rebuilding the properties they have damaged. Those caught should be put to hard labour, unpaid, on public show, rebuilding their community they have destroyed.

Jeremy Bacon, Woodford Green, Essex

I am so angry that areas of my home town are being destroyed by mindless criminals whom the police seemingly have no way of stopping. When will we cease to blame this behaviour on deprivation, "abused communities", "social disaffection" etc etc? What's been missing for too long is proper discipline from the start – in the home, in school, on the street and from politicians – without which any amount of support, youth clubs and voluntary schemes are doomed to failure.

What support and protection is there in Cameron's Big Society for the law-abiding, hard-working members of these communities who have to put up daily with this out-of-control section of society?

Ah well, at least the billions we're spending on the Olympics will do the trick and regenerate east London.

Jackie Whitehead, Upminster, Essex

Latest death at police hands

Between 1994 and 2010, according to Inquest, there were 749 deaths in police custody in the UK, 185 of which were in the Metropolitan Police area. Most of those who died were young men from a black and minority ethnic background. Mark Duggan's death is the latest in this long-running tragedy. Not one police officer has been convicted in relation to all these deaths.

Today, according to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, black men are at least six times more likely to be stopped and searched than a white person in England and Wales. If you are Asian you are twice as likely to be stopped and searched as a white person.

Perhaps this may help to set in context why young people in predominantly deprived areas of London have acted in such a destructive manner with such terrible consequences for local residents.

The real perpetrators, the police, large sections of the media and a government run by multi-millionaires and inflicting massive cuts on the poorest in society, are appearing to get away with it once again.

Dave Clinch, Torrington, Devon

J H Moffatt writes: "The mere fact that this thug was carrying a gun means he should have been shot on sight." (Letter, 9 August.) This truly cheered up my day. It is evidence that one person still believes what the police say about people they kill. After Jean Charles de Menezes, Ian Tomlinson and so many others you'd have thought nobody would call Mark Duggan a "thug" just on the say-so of the Met.

It is also reassuring to learn that at least this one supporter of capital punishment is consistent. Not for him namby-pamby nonsense about due process of law and finding somebody guilty before offing them. He'd save us the flummery and cost of courts. Instead we'd have summary execution on the street by any plod who thinks you look like you don't have a certificate of saintly perfection. If you could sell tickets it'd probably be self-financing.

Nik Wood, London E9

Time for a British CRS

It is surely now time to consider the creation of a paramilitary police unit akin to the French CRS. This unit should be under Home Office control and should be equipped with water cannon and plastic baton rounds, as well as personal riot kit and firearms for issue when required. It could readily be recruited from ex-service personnel facing redundancy.

Over time, it might pick up other policing tasks where firearms are routinely issued, and where in some instances specialised armed police units already exist – air and seaport security, securing of military and nuclear facilities, support to the intelligence services and the like.

This would clarify responsibilities in these various areas of armed policing and quite possibly reduce cost – as well as freeing the civilian police services to concentrate on effective "policing by consent" in the long-standing British tradition. I have today submitted an e-petition seeking a Parliamentary Debate on this proposal.

R S Foster, Sheffield

Many readers must wonder why water cannons are not used on the British mainland. The possibility of a thorough soaking would be a good reason to disperse. If a dye were to added then those within range would have some washing to do. Additionally parents might then discover that their sons or daughters were not tucked up in bed or playing computer games in their bedrooms.

Peter Erridge, East Grinstead, West Sussex

Thatcher's children

The Tories take office and, as night follows day, hundreds of thousands of jobs are sacrificed, welfare services are slashed and rioting returns to the streets of our major cities. People who feel they have a stake in society do not riot and loot.

It is a sad reflection on 99 per cent of the media that it has failed to connect the events of the past few days to news of another round of obscene bankers' bonuses, projected tax cuts for the wealthiest and another round of "quantitative easing": that is the squandering public money to placate the financial markets.

If you want evidence of "mindless" looting and vandalism look no further than the Government's fiscal and social policies.

Dr Mick Wilkinson, Lecturer in Race & Social Justice, University of Hull

Why is anyone surprised? Thatcher achieved her wish to destroy society, and here we are again – another Tory government bent on destruction.

People are losing their jobs in droves; those growing up are hopeless that they'll ever get a job. The Government's solution: reduce the rate of tax for the rich from 50 per cent to 45 per cent!

At the heart of any solution is the young. So why do we pretend that Mum's at home and Dad's at work and it's OK for the school day to end at 3.30pm. The reality is, if they can get a job, both Mum and Dad are working to make ends meet – and they won't be able to get home until about 7pm. Three to four hours for our kids to look after themselves and become streetwise.

Finella McKenzie, Brighton

We live in the culture of Greed is Good. The wealth of the rich has spiralled out of all proportion; the poor have generally been left to rot. What on earth did we expect to happen?

Rib Davis, London SE10

London has been here before

The modern London riot originates with the campaigns of a former Mayor of London, John Wilkes, in the 1760s and has not changed fundamentally since.

The mix of the riot invariably includes some political element, not always, (as with the Gordon riots) progressive, and a good deal of inchoate factors. The authorities have usually struggled to cope. In one case supporters of Wilkes rampaged in central London while what then passed for the police were occupied in west London.

None of this may be much help to those who have lost homes and possessions in recent days, but it is useful to understand that London has been here before many times.

Dr Keith Flett, London Socialist Historians Group, London N17

Revolutions on the net

Many will have looked on with amazement and satisfaction at the events of the Arab Spring, enabled by the ease of communication through social networking and the mass availability of mobile phones, connecting together a group of the dissatisfied who might be termed the Fifth Estate.

The events in London, where the actions of this mutant Fifth Estate are well removed from legitimate democratic protest, are a wake-up call for all politicians. This genie cannot be put back in the lamp.

John Harris, Richmond, Yorkshire

Useless, but not mindless

"Mindless" violence (leading article, 9 August)? When it is co-ordinated by social networks? When it results in a handy stock of plasma TVs, Playstations, DVDs, trainers and track-suits, taken away in the boots of smart cars? I would have called it very mindful.

Even the torching of an icon of commerce like Reeves of Croydon has a point, in venting the punitive jealous rage of those who cannot be bothered to seek similar achievement themselves.

Christopher Walker, London W14


How quickly can it be made illegal to cover your face when outside your home? Thugs on their way to make trouble could be instantly detained and identified.

David Pounder, Northwich, Cheshire