Wednesday, August 14, 2013

I Predict A Race Riot

The England and Wales Public Order Act of 1986 defines a riot as being "where twelve or more persons who are present together use or threaten unlawful violence for common purpose and the conduct of them (taken together) is such as would cause a person of reasonable firmness present at the scene to fear for his personal safety".

Definitions of riot differ as do the numbers required to constitute a riot, but the generally accepted principles of riot are that there has to be common purpose and that there is violence, implied or actual. The numbers are, nevertheless, important in creating an impression as to whether there is or there isn't a riot. Do fifty people on the streets of Arenal really constitute a riot? In legal terms, they do; in perceptual terms, perhaps not. Riot implies masses. Hundreds rather than two score and ten.

Riots vary in their type, their definitions requiring an adjective to establish the type. Put "race" in front of "riot" and an emotional mix is formed, one that is as explosive as the race riot has always been. In Britain, the first race riots took place in 1958. Twenty years later, the location of those original riots - Notting Hill - saw more "race riots", but there was a difference between the 1958 riot and what happened over successive years in the late 1970s. The first one was the product of the classic and potent elements that foment riots - simmering and brewing tensions between opposing groups that finally break out into violence with the unpredictability of spontaneous combustion. The riots at the end of the Notting Hill Carnival were, on the other hand, more predictable.

The "sus" law was unquestionably a factor and the black community had legitimate grievances, but these grievances tended to be obscured. The riots came to be predictable because they masked a criminal intent, that of "steaming" (organised and mass muggings). They shielded acts of robbery with violence, and they involved considerable numbers of people. Around 6pm on August Bank Holiday, if you had an instinct for sensing trouble or intelligence from within the community itself (and I had both), you got the hell out of the areas around Ladbroke Grove and near the sound systems under the Westway. You knew it was all about to kick off, and it did.

Two years ago in Arenal, nine skinheads, eight Germans and one Austrian, were arrested following incidents in the resort. The skinheads, described as neo-Nazis, had been engaging in some racially motivated aggro. The incidents were described as having been a "race riot", even if the number of people was comparatively small. Nevertheless, it was a riot in that there was common purpose and there was violence. The common purpose was race hate.

Arenal has witnessed other such incidents, and at the weekend came the incident which involved, so it was said, some thirty German neo-Nazi skins and twenty black street sellers. Reports differ as to what actually happened. One suggested that the heat was taken out of the episode by the police and that there were no arrests. Another said that there were both injuries and arrests. Whatever the accuracy of the reports, the intent was the same. Here was a bunch of so-called German tourists who came, as they have in previous years, to start trouble of a racially motivated variety. Race riot perhaps, but utterly predictable certainly. Stage-managed. What occurs in Arenal has nothing to do with simmering tensions and grievances, it has everything to do with loutishness. One can call it a race riot, but it was really thuggery with a racial motive. And planned thuggery at that.

In a sense, it can be said that there are regular "riots" in Mallorca's trouble resorts. The incident along Magalluf's strip, captured on camera and circulated on YouTube, when a car was trapped by a horde of youthful tourists screaming "who are you?" and simulating urinating through the driver's window became a riot. There may not initially have been common purpose but ultimately there was. Personal safety was threatened. Violence was implicit.

Defining an incident as a riot might be considered an over-dramatisation and embellishing a riot with racial overtones adds further drama, but it isn't wrong to suggest that riots are not uncommon. These, though, are riots without any hint of justification that erupts from legitimate grievance. These small-scale Mallorcan resort riots are the product of drunkenness, thuggery or both. And the worst ones are those which are racially motivated and planned. This is not what tourism was supposed to be about. It was supposed to be about broadening cultural understanding. 

Any comments to please.

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