#Civil Rights
the London and UK public; newspaper editors
United Kingdom

This is a call for more understanding and less moralising, in the aftermath of the London and UK riots.


On Tuesday, 9 August, scholar and anti-racist activist Paul Gilroy tweeted: ‘When did ritual condemnation become the entry ticket into official public discourse?’
In the aftermath of the London and UK riots, we are disturbed by a situation where seeking to understand the bigger picture becomes equated with condoning violence, looting and gang culture.

In a way that disturbingly echoes post-9/11 America, it is as though you are ‘with us or with the terrorists’, as George W. Bush put it (20/9/2001). This sort of black and white thinking closes down debate and understanding, which is exactly what we need right now. It also makes it impossible to talk about poverty or inequality – one is put in the position of having to either condemn or condone, as Darcus Howe was on BBC Newsnight (8/8/2011).

There needs to be room to debate the causes, including poverty, unemployment, the destruction of accessible post-16 education, and media and advertising messages that continually tell us that we are what we possess (trainers, flat screen televisions etc). It’s a complex situation, and can’t simply be dismissed as mindless thuggery, or summed up by instant commentary by those with no relationship to the people who have been on the streets in these last days.

We are equally concerned about the narrow framing of the discussion in terms of ‘law and order’. It was legal for MPs to play the expenses system; it is legal for Vodafone to ‘avoid’ tax; and phone hacking and blagging were tolerated at the highest levels of our media, political and law enforcement agencies. Those in power make and enforce the law, and lines between legality and illegality aren’t as clear as we would like to think.

In terms of the media coverage, one lesson we could have learned from the phone hacking scandal was the damage profit-driven sensational journalism does to us all. We call for an end to easy black and white moralising; and to the sensationalism that fuels it.

We also call for serious questions to be asked about ending social segregation. Over the last year, another observation we have made is that our society, including our ‘progressive circles’, is a lot more segregated than we would like to admit. Notions of civic pride are being called upon in London right now. We must be careful that this civic pride includes everyone - and doesn’t divide the city between good and bad residents.

In Norway, after the brutal shooting dead of 70 young people, the Prime Minister called for more democracy, more openness, more understanding. In the UK there are calls for plastic bullets, water cannons, section 60 orders, the army on the streets and further cracking down on civil liberties. We urge people to think about the long term consequences for our society in following the second option.

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The A call for more understanding and less moralising petition to the London and UK public; newspaper editors was written by Sian Moore and is in the category Civil Rights at GoPetition.