I was chatting yesterday with a friend who was questioning why the police in Britian had been “cautious” in their policing of the riots, why they didn’t use teargas and rubber bullets.
Although I have to admit that if I had been in charge, well, I just might have authorized far greater use of force than was used. But, I would have done that just because I was angry, not because of any great logical decisionmaking.
Under pressure, in extreme circumstances, such as those riots clearly were, sometimes it is more important THAT a logical decision get made, rather than the substance of the actual decision. There is no “right” decision. Surely, it is more important to act, and to be able to explain your actions later. Whatever the British police did or did not do in the riots will be the subject of scrutiny and debate. I think that they were likely trying to choose long term relationship building over short term effect. Not everyone will agree with that approach, but they can defend it with honour.
On the other hand, no one who participated in the riots will ever, ever be able to justify their behaviour. There are various social commentaries that are explaining the riots with arguments about social exclusion and growing inequalities. There may be some truth to those explainations. But, I also have no doubt that there are lots of “socially excluded” young people in Britain who did not participate in the riots and many young people with priviledged lives who did.
Why is it that as humans we will do terrible things as part of a mob, actions that would be unimaginable on our own?