Dross v. Slag

America elected George Bush and got what it asked for:  unbridled white-collar organized crime (see synonym), trillion-dollar thievery, and economic collapse (still in progress).  Britain elected a Tory government and got what it deserved:  misrule of the Murdoch dynasty and a slave rebellion.  In the latter case, is anyone likely to discern the similarity to WikiLeaks/Arab Spring?  Not if British state media have their way –let the scapegoating (and misdirection) begin!

Gangs are being blamed for last week’s explosion of riots and looting. But how do we know they were responsible?  The prime minister has promised a “concerted, all out war on gangs and gang culture”, in response to the riots and looting across English cities.  A gang taskforce is being set up, to be led by Home Secretary Theresa May and Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith. Bill Bratton, former police chief of Los Angeles and New York, is to advise the government on how to crack down on gangs.  But were gangs really to blame?

Following this preface, BBC correspondent Tom de Castella sets forth a litany of the yeas (4) and nays (3) in call-and-response format, relying for credibility on the authority (such as it may be) of “experts” and “witnesses.”

Here’s Lunghu’s condensed gloss of what the ayes-have-it have to say:

Claim: gangs planned the riots

  • Think-tank policy wonk Christian Guy (why isn’t this guy working at Fox News?!) “believes” the riots were  a well co-ordinated operation, which is likely to have been led by young people in street gangs. The speed and devastation with which the riots spread suggests they were organized.
  • Brixton social worker Daniel Weston claims that  gang leaders used Blackberry Messenger … to mobilize younger gang members.  Targets [for looting] were identified … and gang members directed to them. During the riots [gangs] ‘put [their drug-dealing business] to one side’ to turn their attentions to looting, [Weston] believes.

Claim: gangs did the looting

Journalist Andrew Malone (Daily Mail)  describe[d] a scene in which younger drug runners [sic] ferried the spoils to older gang members in nearby vehicles –BMWs and souped-up Golfs. “There were even vans coming down.”  And how does Malone know that these yooots were gang members?

There was a gang hierarchy at work, he believes.  The youngsters had the look of the “kids” he has seen cycling around [housing projects] selling small amounts of drugs.

Lunghu:  Ah yes, the tried and true looks-like-a-duck heuristic …  Can’t wait to hear the Crown Prosecutor try that one out on the appeals court judge.

Claim: gangs cooperated during the riots

Most gang violence is aimed at other gangs. But during the riots the gangs appeared to join forces.  Weston says gangs were given a “hood pass” –meaning that hooded youths were allowed to travel into neighboring areas.  “The gangs came together and forgot their rivalries,” he says.

Lunghu:  Mr. Social Worker Weston –or correspondent de Castella— just totally lost any credibility he might temporarily have had:  a  “hood pass” has nothing whatsoever to do with wearin’ a robbin’ hood –it’s an unwritten Casablanca-style letter-of-transit permitting unchallenged passage through another gang’s ‘hood (i.e., neighborhood).   At any rate, temporary suspension of hostilities is not the same thing as “working together” (been to Belfast recently?).

Claim:  gang culture is to blame

While gang members may be a statistically small part of the looting, a pervasive wider gang culture influenced many other young people to join in.  The question, says Professor John Pitts, is why a certain inner city section of society takes [the gangsta aesthetic] so seriously.  “My guess is that the kids most affected are those for whom it provides an explanation and an ennobling narrative to their life.”

And now for the naysayers.

Claim:  a wide spectrum of society took part in the riots

  • Author Gavin Knight remarks “People see a teenager in a hoodie and think it’s a gang [member].”  In reality, there are few genuine gang members.
  • Journalist Paul Lewis (Guardian)  says it’s wrong to try to put the blame on one group.  The only generalization that’s credible is that on the whole they were young and poor.”

Claim: riots are bad for gang business

Professor Pitts claims that  the primary purpose of gangs is to make money from selling drugs.  Riots are the last thing they want.  The attraction of looting pales when you could be making several thousand pounds a day selling drugs, he argues.

Lunghu:  the notion that “the primary purpose of gangs is to make money” isn’t substantiated by the extensive research literature on the subject of gang motivation.  For a certain Anglo-American social class, reductionist thinking that ascribes most human behavior to economic motives has become almost reflexive.  Convenient.  But that doesn’t make it a persuasive argument, let alone a convincing one.

Claim: rioting was primarily the result of friends looking for excitement

  • Gavin Knight asserts that when police lost control of crowds in Tottenham,  “It was random chaotic activity not a co-ordinated uprising.”  There was no truce between gangs, the looting was simply so chaotic that normal rules ceased to apply.
  • Paul Lewis (who was receiving many of the now-infamous Blackberry messages) says messaging  was not “directly determining” the action but “loosely influencing events.”  The messages were more likely to be sent between friendship groups than gang associates, he believes.

So what’s Lunghu’s take on all this?  BBC’s story is heavily laden with beliefs, suggestions and appearances, but pretty light on actual evidence.  Here’s a 10th-century lesson from Water Margin:  today’s bandits may become tomorrow’s defenders of a just society.  Just don’t expect them to defend the Ancien Regime –not without a genuine stake in it.  Long live the heroes of Liangshan Marsh!

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