Bleeding a little, I thought I might as well call 999. It was a recorded message. After four and a half minutes, a tired man answered. “There’s nothing we can do,” he said. “You know what’s going on. We have to give priority to saving people’s lives. I suggest you just go home.”
He was right, of course. I was in Hackney – which, that evening at least, was a law-free zone. That’s the worst thing about riots. Across much of London on Monday night, if someone had decided to break down your door and rape your daughter, there would have been nothing to stop them. There would have been no one to call. When I was mugged, I was on my way home from a day in Tottenham, listening to the stories of the people who had lost far more and been at far greater risk than me, burned out of their homes at 30 seconds’ notice. They called 999 too, frantically, desperately, as the riot moved closer. There were 100 police just up the road. The emergency operator could do nothing but listen to their terror. I finished my journey in a cab. Three or four times, we had to stop and skirt round hooded boys spilling into the road, our windows closed and the door lock on. If they had fancied my taxi, there would have been nothing I or the driver could have done about that, either. Even on Monday, the victims of Tottenham, black and white, were already tired of outsiders blaming racism, police brutality, or cuts. (What were they rioting about in prosperous, suburban Enfield – rising season-ticket prices?) The real reason for the rioters’ behaviour is much simpler: because they can. Forget BlackBerry Messenger. After seeing — on television — how much leeway the looters of Tottenham were allowed, every criminal and every excitement-seeking child in London took note. By the next day, critical mass had been achieved. Disorder had erupted on a scale much more difficult to suppress than the original outbreak.
And then this from the Daily Telegraph’s live feed:
09.52 I’ve just spoken to Eoin Clarke, a Battersea resident who is trying to organise a community defence programme to protect the area from rioters. I asked him about the ADC Kavangh’s call for “vigiliantes” to stay off the streets and he said: “That’s all well and good but when someone is torching your place and no one is around don’t you wish the police were there? I think that flash mobs are going to be around for some time in the future and I think they need a flash mob solution. If the police can’t protect you don’t you have to protect yourself? “
That’s a question that answers itself. The strange thing about all this is that these riots are unlikely to persuade Britons that they should be given the same gun rights that Americans quite properly enjoy. It is apparently safer to rely on the state that will disarm you, and then fail you.