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Why I Took to the Streets with the Anti-Riot 'Vigilante' Group in Enfield

Posted: 11/08/11 03:50

If I hadn't been there to report on it, I would have gone along to the Enfield anti-riot 'vigilante' patrol regardless. Like many of the hundred-or-so people who patrolled the streets of the North London town on Tuesday night, I'd spent the previous night indoors watching nihilistic thugs rampage outside, looting, burning and smashing things up on the television. Also like the Enfield residents, I was frustrated by the police's complete failure to gain control of the riots and their kid glove, risk-averse approach, meaning looters could often carry on regardless of the police's presence.

On the train to Enfield, I had been reading dozens of tweets claiming the anti-riot patrol was a front for far-right organisations and an excuse for racist chants and violence. The reality was nothing of the sort. There were no weapons being carried and no violence erupted at all. Yes, the majority of people there were white and working class, but there was also a range of people from different ethnic backgrounds. Indeed I found, if anything, people on the patrol were overly awkward about the fact they were white. One guy told me he had been worried he'd be seen as a racist by taking part: 'There's no getting around the fact that a lot of the rioters are black,' he told me, 'but you can't just do nothing just in case someone calls you a racist.'

During the course of the patrol on Tuesday, which I report upon in detail here, I heard no racist chants and, while there was plenty of discussion about football, there was very little political discussion and nothing that could be characterised as 'far-right' (although I understand in other places, such as Eltham, this may have been the case). As a libertarian Marxist - on completely the other end of the political spectrum to groups like the BNP and National Front - at no point did I feel uncomfortable with the discussions that took place. The anti-riot patrollers were largely a boisterous group of working class men, aged between 20-40, who felt let down by the police and that they could no longer be trusted to protect their communities.

So why have there been such negative, knee jerk responses to the anti-riot groups and continual attempts to smear them and align them with fascist groups? The anti-vigilante attitude, in the media, by the chattering classes and among the police, reveals both their alienation and disdain for ordinary working-class communities. They see a crowd of people as a 'public order problem'. And they are scared of nothing more than the sight of groups of white working-class men - racist progroms-in-the-making - who speak in the wrong sort of un-PC language and who are loud and confrontational, and would rather they just dispersed and went home.

But why should they? Why should it only be institutions that have the blessing of the authorities, like the Women's Institute or Neighbourhood Watch Schemes, that get to influence their local areas and have a say? Why shouldn't completely informal groups get to do that too? In my view, the fact that these groups have no link to the state or to the political class is actually a positive thing. Rather than being driven by the outlook of political gain or point-scoring, they are instead often driven by a basic love for their neighbourhoods and a desire for peace and respect. In many ways, what better people are there than that to police these riots?

The idea of informally organised community groups taking a role in maintaining public order and taking on rioters are an anathema to the police and the political classes who would rather we stayed at home and depended on them. But the truth is, we actually don't need the police to run every aspect of our lives. The reason these citizens groups, such as the anti-riot patrol in Enfield, now look shocking to some is because we are so used to bowing to third-party observers - whether it's CCTV cameras, ASBOs or police mediation of community problems - that we have outsourced authority for our communities and our neighbourhoods to other parties.

Over a long period of time, the notion of looking out for each other, helping each other, has been undermined precisely by the rise of the interfering state. That is the only reason these so-called 'vigilantes' look weird. We no longer even expect people to care for, or look after, their areas. It now seems alien to us, weird, as if there must be ulterior motives.

Which is what makes the impulse behind locals patrolling the streets in Enfield; Sikh groups protecting their temple in Southall; the Turkish community protecting their shops in Stoke Newington, something that should be welcomed. Given the complete failure of the state to provide even the most basic securities to people in the UK over the past week, I'd rather take to the streets with these so-called 'vigilante' groups any day of the week than cower at home, powerless, and watch nihilistic thugs rampage through our towns and cities.

 

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