In the press reports and police statements surrounding what happened in Parliament Square on Thursday, we’re often told that “violent extremists” ruined it for “peaceful protestors”.
But the prepared troublemakers were a very small tiny minority. And yet the images you have seen of the riot in Parliament Square show police battling with thousands of protestors. So what happened?
Quite simply, ordinary people joined in. As I was not on the front row of the protest – or riot, as it quickly became – I stayed clear of the violence. But I’ll be honest: I was swept up along with the enthusiasm of the situation just like the thousands around me. Very quickly it became us versus them; the ordinary people dressed in plain clothes taking batons to the head and facing horse charges, and the masked riot police trying to get at and hurt people like us.
So how and why did the situation deteriorate so quickly? Because it was exhilarating to be part of it.
Insincere apologies for breaking the taboo, but this is a brute truth the pious po-faced tut-tutters of the media and political power dishonestly deny to be the case. Riots happen because they are exciting, because they are fun, because ordinary people who did not come for any violence or trouble suddenly find themselves in the fray and simply do not want to leave. The shackles of society are off, and the animal thrill of conflict is pumping through everybody’s system. And whilst fear and the instinct to run can get the upper hand – like when the horses charge you – adrenaline for the most part takes over. And hence people stand, and they fight.
Those who would now dismiss me as a mindless thug should be aware that this equally applies to the police on the other side. It is simply obvious to anybody who’s seen riot police in action that they enjoy the ruck every bit as much as those they are fighting. And why should that be a surprise? They are only human too; ruled by the same passions and suddenly unleashed animal instincts as the rest of us.
It is true that at 2pm on Thursday 9th November, the anti-cuts demonstration could be accurately divided into violent extremists waiting to strike, and peaceful protestors only there to march and sing. But by 3.30pm, after the batons and the horse charges, the flares and the missiles, such a distinction was spurious. The riot had started, there was violence on both sides, and we were suddenly all in it together.
We can have a simplistic discourse about “violent extremists” and “peaceful protestors”, if we want; an easy narrative in which the Bad Guys ruined it for the Good. But if we stay at that level we’ll never get beyond inaccurate platitudes, and never understand the dynamics of riots as they actually happen in practice. If the police are serious about stopping this sort of thing in future they’ll take this brute truth on board. But that is to assume that they really are interested in stopping this sort of thing in future – and there’s all sorts of reasons to doubt that.
Monday, December 13, 2010
Publicada por Miguel Madeira em 10:35