The sun is shining this Monday morning as I breakfast on the terrace. My garden has never looked lovelier – the roses in full bloom, the lawn fanning out lush and green, the plum trees laden with fruit. The mood changes when I open my newspaper. It is filled with pictures of riot police, looting and burning cars and buildings, in places a half-hour’s drive away.
What a country of dismal and frightening contrasts Britain has become and how great the distance expands between the nurtured image – a fool’s paradise it seems – and the intrusive reality.
On such occasions, all too frequent these days, my liberal instincts prepare to do battle with a brutish anger that wells up into a desire for harsh retribution. The anguished question, “Where have we gone so wrong to create the environment that produces such despair and resentment?” morphs into “How dare these people befoul and degrade this green and pleasant land” and back again.
As ever, the troubles – mainly in the inner suburbs of north London – begin with an ‘incident’ between the police and members of the local, largely ethnic minority. As usual, accounts of the incident diverge between the one put forward by the authorities and the one adopted by the community. The undisputed fact is that the police followed a black man named Duggan, who is alleged to have been a notorious gang leader and drug dealer, and shot him dead. The disputed truth is whether or not he fired on the police or whether they opened fire in panic – or worse in a premeditated assassination, as some community leaders seem to believe.
Only the inevitable independent enquiry will establish the true story, and even then the arguments will doubtless rage about whether the official report represents a whitewash. It is also so depressingly familiar.
Whatever happened to Mr. Duggan cannot justify the resulting violence and looting, much of it evidently organised by criminals and anarchists. But what is there to say that is original or enlightening? Deprived communities in our land – in any land – are always as greatly exploited by their own unsavoury elements as by the supposed neglect of society, or the supposed misconduct of the police.
We will no doubt be celebrating the Olympic Games next summer, but we may be hard pressed to forget that they take place not a stone’s throw from the scenes of mayhem we have witnessed this weekend.
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