The Plastic Hippo

August 11, 2011

Riot and dishonour – Part One

Filed under: Society — theplastichippo @ 10:28 am

You have to feel a little bit of sympathy for poor old Henry IV. Wanting to get into God’s good books by joining the Crusades and taking Jerusalem for Christendom, he found himself stymied by Scottish and Welsh rebellions and the bad behaviour of a wayward son.

Young Harry, it seems, was more interested in carousing with Sir John Falstaff at the Boar’s Head Tavern in Eastcheap amid copious amounts of sack and capon. According to Shakespeare, King Henry, jealous of the reputation of the son of his sponsor and soon to be rival, the First Earl of Northumberland, said this:

“Yea, there thou mak`st me sad and mak`st me sin
In envy that my Lord Northumberland
Should be the father to so blest a son –
A son who is the theme of honour’s tongue,
Amongst a grove the very straightest plant,
Who is sweet Fortune’s minion and her pride –
Whilst I, by looking on the praise of him
See riot and dishonour stain the brow
Of my young Harry. O, that it could be proved
That some night-tripping fairy had exchanged
In cradle clothes our children where they lay,
And called mine Percy, his Plantagenet!”

Henry IV Part 1, Act 1, Scene 1 – William Shakespeare.

Parents in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Wolverhampton and West Bromwich will undoubtedly be able to relate to Bolingbroke`s disappointment with errant children.

Henry Percy, so admired by the King, was better known as Harry Hotspur and, as every football fan knows, gave his name to the football club that presently plays at White Hart Lane in the London Borough of Haringey. The association with a 14th century Geordie nobleman and a north London football team is due to the Percy family owning most of the land that is now Hornsey, Wood Green, Highgate, Muswell Hill, Crouch End and Tottenham. It would seem that the impulsive, hot-headed violent tradition of Hotspur is alive and well along the Tottenham High Road, Jarrow Road, Tynemouth Road, the Northumberland Park estate as well as the countless burnt out properties across this sceptred isle.

The circumstances surrounding the death of Mark Duggan are still unclear, but what is certain is that he was dispatched with a bullet fired from the gun of a specialist firearms officer working on Operation Trident, the unit that targets gun crime in the Afro-Caribbean community. Initial police reports stated that officers came under fire from the back of a mini-cab and so, justifiable, returned fire and killed the assailant. Witnesses, however, claim that the cab was stopped and Mr Duggan was dragged from the vehicle, forced to the ground and then shot dead.

The fundamental problem in all of this is who to believe. The Metropolitan Police, who are charged with maintaining law and order and the protection of the public, or members of the public who saw what happened. In a nation that was once described as “normal”, we would, of course, accept the police version of events as gospel. After all, the police are there to protect us and anyone that challenges police actions must be working to a sinister agenda. However, the Independent Police Complaints Commission have let it be know that Mr Duggan did not fire at the police and that the bullet found lodged in a police officers radio, thereby saving the constable’s life, was probably fired from a police issue Heckler and Koch MP5. The use of a “jacketed round”, or “dum dum” bullet, is illegal except for the execution of deer or “other vermin”. The inquest into the death of Mark Duggan has been adjourned for four months.

A peaceful protest demanding answers to some serious questions facing the Met was met with a line of implacably silent police officers in riot gear. Again it is difficult to know what to believe. Did the 16-year-old girl simply ask a question or did she throw a rock? We will probably never know what actually took place, but it would appear that sweet Fortune’s minion sparked the disorder. It seems that the girl was beaten with batons and arrested.

So, who should we believe? We should, of course, trust the police, but having unfortunately lost its Commissioner and Assistant Commissioner through resignations over the minor matter of systemic corruption and the failure to investigate phone hacking, the Met is content to wait for the outcomes of various investigations before revealing its true colours. Following the deaths of Ian Tomlinson, Jean Charles de Menezes and, perhaps more importantly, Smiley Culture, the Met continues to enjoy the trust of the citizens it has a duty to protect. Or maybe not.

Should we trust the media? The BBC is an impeccable news source but the “anchor” on News 24 on Saturday night was clearly out of her depth:
“We now go live to the streets of Tottenham. John, Tottenham has a history of racial violence, doesn’t it?” Given this level of meaningful analysis, breaking news rapidly became a broken camera. The following night, as the disturbances spread, BBC News 24, taking the advice of Falstaff in Henry IV, decided that “the better part of valour is discretion” and ran programmes about gadgets, the forthcoming Olympics and then switched its News 24 broadcast to a studio in Singapore to report on the far eastern stock market openings in reaction to the US having its battery size downgraded to AA. John, our BBC man on the ground in Tottenham, is still searching for his broken glasses.

Trouble, like cheap margarine, spread. Other London boroughs went up in flames and the madness visited other cities as violent looting went unchecked by a stretched police service. By Tuesday afternoon, the images of wanton destruction led to a sense of real fear and trepidation as the evening approached. Even in peaceful Walsall, the only topic of conversation seemed to be the approach of night. In a supermarket, a Molotov`s throw from the Civic Centre, people were stocking up on basics as if a nuclear winter was about to descend and the usually cheery check-out lady looked concerned. “Have you been in the town centre? Has it started yet?” she asked.

Mercifully, and thanks to an impressive police presence, Walsall enjoyed a safe and quiet night free from even the usual lawlessness. However, Manchester and Birmingham, particularly Winson Green, were not so fortunate and deaths occurred. This has now gone beyond trainers and plasma screens.

Henry IV and his wayward son who eventually gave up being bad to become Henry V and to rally his dispirited and outnumbered troops to victory at Agincourt, are now history. The circumstances that have led us to this current crisis of confidence, trust and basic humanity are similarly veiled in conjecture, interpretation and ignorance. What is important is the present and, more crucially, the future.

If we are spared, stay tuned for Part Two.

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