Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre Anatomy of an Uprising

Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre Anatomy of an Uprising

Article excerpt

The Riots

Tricycle, until 10 December

The Kitchen Sink

Bush, until 17 December

They can't even be bothered to think of a decent title. Good thing too. The Riots, at the Trike, is a rush job, a gripping and pacey attempt to analyse the disturbances that engulfed Britain last August. Cops, criminals and community leaders have been interviewed by Gillian Slovo, who fashioned their statements into a dramatic investigation.

The riots might never have happened if more prudent tactics had been used at the start. The family of Mark Duggan, shot dead by police on 4 August, staged a demonstration outside Tottenham police station two days later. Police refused to speak to them, claiming that the independent investigation into Duggan's death obliged them to remain tight-lipped. The family didn't believe this.

Senior officers seemed oblivious to the dangers represented by a suspicious death and a crowd of dissatisfied protesters. The Duggans went home shortly after 8 p. m. and events swiftly span out of control. Two police cars had been left empty on the main road.

Kids began to pelt them with vegetables. The police did nothing. Emboldened, the kids smashed the windscreens and headlights.

Again, the police did nothing. The cars were set on fire. Same response. And as authority slept, the riot awoke. During the next few days disorder spread across the country.

The mob was very far from mindless. By its own estimate, it was pursuing an equitable correction to numerous injustices. One rioter points out that if society is content to sanction the predations of bankers, and the expense-account pilferings of MPs, then it forfeits the right to castigate street mobs for demanding the same privileges. Gerald Kaufman's widescreen TV, costing roughly 8,000 quid, is mentioned as morally indivisible from the ransacking of Comet.

The recession bears a measure of responsibility. With fewer people able to take holidays, the inner cities were heaving with populations of bored kids who would normally be overseas in August. As usual, aggressive policing and clumsy streetsearches in the months before the riots are blamed for stoking resentment. Some riot officers felt they'd never seen such levels of 'hatred towards the uniform'.

There are two sides to this. Stop-andsearch is a provocation that youngsters subtly invite by dressing in ghetto daywear.

Every kid knows that 'a preppie look', a suit and tie, will spare them the ordeal of the pavement pat-down and the kerbside pocket-rummage. …

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