Just a week before the riots in London began, I watched a TV film I had long wanted to see. Although hard to gain a DVD of it, it can be found on You Tube. It’s the 2002 ITV modern retelling of Shakespeare’s Othello, written by Andrew Davies and starring Keeley Hawes, Eammon Walker and Christopher Eccleston. It begins with rioting youths in London sparked by a death caused by police.
How Othello dealt with those riots is in stark contrast to how the real life Met are taking on the looting going on this week. Othello faced the crowds alone. His speech won them round and made him the new Police Chief Commissioner. He could see that there was a reason for the rioters to feel angry, and he held true to his pledge to investigate. He discovered that the death which set off the riots was a racial attack by police, and the matter went to court, as he vowed such behaviour had no place in the police force.
I am appalled to read today that the police use of plastic pellets have been authorised with water and gas being considered. To meet violence with violence is strategically and psychologically unsound. It only serves to escalate matters and the only peace comes with subjugation by an act so terrible that wounds continue to bleed for far longer than the fires rage. We ended the last world war that way.
I am not surprised at rioting as the tightening pressures of cuts after recessions, the exposing of various professions, an increasingly unpopular leadership by a government not voted for all mount public tension. I do not advocate violence at all – but that means on both sides. Those (sadly few) newspapers who ask why are there riots are better than those who call names and fuel the fires literally by some frankly shocking invocations. But asking why isn’t getting those questions to the rioters. It needs the police and prime minister to call a ceasefire and find out what is at the bottom of all this, rather than try to contain through weapons and toughness. It concerns me that leaders cannot see this and use such incendiary strategies that cause further harm.
But what they harm the most is their own image and public faith, because these riots seem to come out of an all time low relationship with our authorities, and the response by them serves to make that low greater. Trying to control angry citizens will ultimately lead to a loss of power – for those who hold power by force never retain it.
I’d exhort the police to watch Othello and try that response to quelling the riots by those methods instead.