Speculation can wait: The priority is to stop the rioting

There is an understandable rush to speculation about the causes of the riots and many theories – sensible and ludicrous – are already in circulation. But speculation, as tempting as it is, is not what is needed now. What is needed now is for the disturbances to stop.

By Rob Berkeley, director of the Runnymede Trust, a race equality think tank 

Events last night took an unprecedented turn. As streets across London went up in flames it has become clear that this is new territory. Saturday night in Tottenham was one thing, the events of the last two nights have mutated into a very different form of street disturbance. 

This is an unprecedented situation that raises a million questions; who is involved in these disturbances, is this about race or class, is this gang-related, what drives people to such extreme behaviour, how did we get here, how bad can it get?

There is an understandable rush to speculation about the causes of the riots and many theories – sensible and ludicrous – are already in circulation. But speculation, as tempting as it is, is not what is needed now. What is needed now is for the disturbances to stop.

 The damage to neighbourhoods across the country and to our sense of community is massive. On our current trajectory, the destruction of property, families made homeless, and people living in fear will culminate in loss of life.

No one can or should condone the actions of the looters, robbers and arsonists. The restoration of public order is in our collective interest.

Already, those looking to establish why these events have happened are being lampooned as apologists for criminality. Commentators like Ken Livingstone and Darcus Howe with legitimate concerns about the use of stop and search, the withdrawal of the EMA, or cuts to spending on youth services are in danger of being characterised as if they welcome the riots .

On the right, the hang’em, flog ‘em brigade are on the move, young people are being described as feral and mindless, Black people accused of not being British. Still the streets burn.

Runnymede warned of the impact of inequalities on our society. We highlighted the alienation and hopelessness among large swathes of young people facing discrimination, without prospects of employment, low levels of skills, and poor relations with the police.

But we never supposed that the despair was as widespread as it now appears to be or even that so many people simply do not care enough about the neighbourhoods and spaces where they live or the moral consequences of their actions to desist from destroying them.

We have to admit that this is a new phenomenon about which we know very little. Speculation is not helping. 

The scale and impact of these disturbances will require a serious and far-reaching inquiry in due course. We will be among those who will be seeking to find out what has happened and assess what the solutions might be. But first, the looting and violence has to stop.

We can then move from speculation to real evidence. Speculation is beginning to solidify into camps along political lines that will close down the attempt to find solutions rather than aid it.

Speculation in a context of mistrust between the police and the communities they serve marked the response to Mark Duggan’s death that provided the spark in this tinderbox.

Additional speculation about the causes may only serve to fuel further disaster. We need the violence to stop before working out how to make sure we never have to live through a city in disarray like this again.

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