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London awaits American Supercop

Published: August 18, 2011

The writer is a lawyer and political commentator based in London

The question everyone seems to be asking in the aftermath of London’s recent riots is: why were they rioting? There is no logical answer to this question, but the politicians of course have found a new issue to politicise. For me, the most obvious reason is: they were rioting because they could get away with it. London’s policing leaves much to be desired. Hard-working, law-abiding citizens are often victims of burglaries, car theft and even assault. Hardly ever are the perpetrators of these crimes caught. Speak to anyone who has been the victim of these crimes and they will tell you about the ineffectiveness of London’s police. Compared to cops in other megacities like Los Angeles or Paris, London’s law enforcement simply does not have the aura of authority or the requisite preparedness.

On the other hand, while London lacks a respect for authority, it does have a welcoming feel to it, at least much more so than America or France. Land at Heathrow as a visitor and the process is far less intimidating than the gruelling secondary inspections many innocents must endure at American airports. One would be hard-pressed to recreate the immigrant-friendly feel of Edgware Road in a posh area of Manhattan or in the fashionable arrondissements of Paris. While other countries have ghettoised immigrant culture, the policies of the Labour government since the late nineties have made London more open and diverse, more tolerant and resilient than rivals like New York. This is a good thing.

But the attempted justifications of the rioting by some Labour politicians and their reluctance to embrace a new policing culture is not such a good thing. To blame capitalism for criminal behaviour, as some lefties have done, is simply nonsensical. Surely, capitalism has its failings, not the least of which was evidenced by the credit crisis and tragic home foreclosures. Yet the rioting in London may well be a failing of socialism. This has nothing to do with race or not caring for an underclass. Those who rioted are looked after far better by their government than many in other parts of the world. In fact, the immigrants and indeed indigenous English whose businesses and property were ransacked may have overcome far greater obstacles in life. Could it be that by providing freebies like government housing and benefits, people are encouraged to develop a sense of entitlement and expect goodies without having to work for them?

It is in striking that elusive balance between capitalism and socialism, in ensuring rule of law and avoiding police brutality, that London must show leadership. UK Prime Minister David Cameron thus had the right idea when he approached Bill Bratton, former American police chief who is best known for gentrifying the streets of Manhattan under former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani. Anyone who lived in New York pre and post Bratton’s term will attest to the reduction in crime. Yet insecure politicians like UK Home Secretary Theresa May insist on giving preference to nationality over expertise. Bratton, who has reduced crime in Boston, New York and Los Angeles, is willing to take British citizenship for the job, according to The Guardian. Not that hiring an American for a top job in the bureaucracy is new to London. Former mayor of London Ken Livingstone had appointed American Robert Kiley as commissioner of transport for London at a controversial sum of £2 million over four years. Expertise comes at a price. More recently, American Andrew Altman, former deputy mayor of Philadelphia, has been hired to help with the Olympics.

Bratton’s task would be far more difficult. Not only would he have to bolster the police force in the wake of budget cuts, but also tackle the lax policing culture which is far too accepting of criminal elements. As a fellow Pakistani who had to undergo facial surgery after being mugged in London a few years ago said to me, “They need to jumpstart the system, American style.”

Published in The Express Tribune, August 19th, 2011.

Reader Comments (9)

  • Noor Nabi
    Aug 18, 2011 - 10:57PM

    Have the Brits considered Punjab Police? A mild “laathi-charge” could help.


    Aug 18, 2011 - 11:58PM

    nicely written. I worked in UK for quite some time as medical doctor and know the society quite well. The shocking thing is that the three boys who were brutally murdered were Pakistanis. This American super cop will not be able to deal with the root cause of the problem which is Racism in British Society. I guess that this incident is the tip of the iceberg and many more riots will be coming to the super cop if he stays in Britain for long.


  • Aug 19, 2011 - 12:16AM

    but he hasnt applied for the position?


  • Deb
    Aug 19, 2011 - 2:11AM


    “root cause of the problem which is Racism in British Society

    Having lived in three continents and five countries, my observation is that there are two kinds of ‘Racism’. Perceived (i.e imagined) and real (i.e. practiced).
    Assuming you are referring to the ‘real’ one, name any pluralistic society that is not racist.
    Though, admittedly it manifests in different ways in different societies.Recommend4

  • Khurram
    Aug 19, 2011 - 6:43AM

    Welcome back Ms. Khan after such a long interval I was afraid that we have somehow lost you. Your writings are not only refreshing but do always bring in a new perspective on the events taking place around and close to us


  • John
    Aug 19, 2011 - 9:46AM

    London is not New York and UK is not US. Bill Bratton and London Police have only one thing in common-police credentials. The root problems in London are multi-faceted which neither Bratton nor US have experienced before. I doubt very much if he will succeed. However he will gain from the London experience to teach the Americans to avoid similar conflicts in the future in the US which Europe in general is facing now.

    Local problems need local solutions. It has always been that way in all conflicts. London is no exception.

    Besides, generally police despise outsiders telling them how to run their business.

    The current London riot has all the similarities to the cause and effect of Rhodney King riot of LA a decade ago. Why no one is mentioning that is incomprehensible. In my opinion, gangs and criminals are not the precipitating factor. They joined in when the opportunity arose.


  • Aug 19, 2011 - 4:22PM

    Ayesha Khan should have read before writing her column about London Riots because Naomi Klein does not live in London but knows much better why the young people protested in London. Naomi Klein explains in her article published yesterday in the Daily Guardian, London, about the riots of London titled ,Daylight Robbery, Meet Nighttime Robbery:

    “Of course London’s riots weren’t a political protest. But the people committing nighttime robbery sure as hell know that their elites have been committing daytime robbery”.

    I hope Ayesha Khan would understand the real causes of the London Riots. Thanks.


  • Tahir Rauf
    Aug 19, 2011 - 9:05PM

    There is logical answer to London Riots. London rioting have causes of bad economy, high inflation and unemployment. There is widening gap between rich and poor. And Middle class is slipping below to poverty line. People are frustrated.

    Tahir Rauf


  • Aug 19, 2011 - 10:47PM

    @ Khurram—thanks

    @ John–the reason nobody has mentioned Rodney King is because there is no similarity between what happened in LA then and what happened in London now. Incidentally, I have also lived in LA and the Rodney King incident was a clear case of racism and police brutality. In that case, which was caught on videotape, and the subsequent racist verdict of the Courts, the black community had a justifiable claim to agitate. In the present scenario, even if you are alluding to Mark Duggan, there is no similarity with Rodney King. And those who looted were not limited to the black community—a lot of them were white. Most of them were 13-14 years old and they went out and specifically targeted shops where they could get free plasma tv’s and trainers. They had no political agenda.

    If there is a similarity here it is with New York pre-Giuliani when crimes like mugging, etc were very common and it was brought under control. The same thing can be done in London provided the right approach is adopted, an approach I think Bratton can bring to the table. It is too bad some people are preventing him from applying for the job. I have on countless occasions seen youths jeering at police here with knives, etc and the police altogether helpless. In fact often running away. With this type of approach taken by the police over the last several years, criminal elements have been empowered.

    @ Dr Salim Haidrani—I can quote to you several articles here that would disagree with what you are quoting. People may have different opinions about why this happened but I think the problem with Naomi Klein’s analysis may be that she doesn’t live here while I do. She may not be aware of the fact that crime was high in London even in 2000 when the economy was booming. It may be tempting and make good politics to look for higher meaning here, but frankly there is none. You should watch some of the interviews of comprehensive school teachers, where they have been crying about the lack of respect for authority that some of these children exhibit and it was these very children who were primarily responsible for the rioting. This is not a statement about unemployment or inflation or any of those things though no doubt they are issues that must be tackled.


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