‘The police are just scratching their arses’

Patrick Hayes joined an anti-riot vigilante group in Enfield and discovered that they are not all racist louts.

Patrick Hayes

Topics Politics UK

Following riots, fires and looting in the north London town of Enfield, last night a group of up to 300 local men patrolled the streets in an attempt to ‘reclaim them’. Such community action has been written off by some observers as vigilantism, even as the work of white racists who just hate black rioters. In truth, the rise of citizen anti-riot squads in Enfield and elsewhere is testament to the absence of the authorities and the failure of the state to get a handle on the recent urban disturbances.

‘Why am I here? Because the police aren’t doing their job and someone has to’, said one of the so-called vigilantes in Enfield. ‘We’re here to stop people smashing up our town.’

A vigilante dressed as Wolverine
goes some way to cut the tension
in the deserted town.

Gathering at the war memorial in central Enfield, the men discussed their plans to march through the streets in order to prevent further rioting. One guy, who works on a local construction site, told me he had felt desperate to do something about the destruction of parts of Enfield, but he had also felt too scared to leave his house on the worst night of rioting. It was only when he saw messages on Twitter announcing that vigilante action would be taking place that he decided to take to the streets. But first he arranged for the removal of a skipload of building materials from his construction site. ‘You begin to see it differently’, he explained, ‘it’s a huge source of ammunition for rioters’.

In contrast to previous nights, however, the centre of Enfield was largely deserted last night. All but a handful of pubs, takeaways and small convenience stores were closed. Some buildings were boarded up, due to having had their windows smashed on the previous night or as a pre-emptive measure against any potential smashing of windows on this night. Police vans were parked in side streets and some officers were patrolling the town. To the north east, a cloud of black smoke continued to rise from the Sony warehouse, which rioters had torched the night before.

Cutting the tension somewhat, but also adding to the surreal nature of the evening, a masked crusader calling himself ‘Big Bad Chris’ was stomping round the town centre in a Wolverine outfit, saying he would ‘clean up the streets’. Though his main focus seemed to be posing for as many photos as possible with the girls drinking outside one of the few pubs that remained open.

The group of vigilantes wasn’t due to begin patrolling until 9pm. But some of them became impatient, especially after hearing reports of looting, so they ran towards the town centre. The others followed.

Many commentators, and no doubt many police chiefs, too, have been made very uncomfortable by the thought of almost 300 men, most of them white working-class lads aged between 20 and 40, taking to the streets to prevent trouble. Twitter was full of smears that this vigilantism in Enfield and elsewhere was just a front for a BNP or National Front march and that the participants had been shouting racist chants. I didn’t hear any such chanting in Enfield. There was much discussion about football allegiances, but none about political allegiances (although in other areas of London, such as Eltham and possibly in other parts of Enfield, there may well have been a bit of politics going on). There were certainly feelings of awkwardness on the Enfield anti-riot get-together: ‘There’s no getting around the fact that a lot of the rioters are black, but you can’t just do nothing just in case someone calls you a racist’, one of the participants told me.

Enfield vigilantes get word of potential
‘looters’ ahead.

It is testament to today’s snooty view of white working-class communities that many assume that any gathering of a few hundred white blokes must be a racist pogrom-in-the-making. In truth, the antics in Enfield were made up of high spirits and dashed hopes. After stopping at The George pub in the centre of town for a beer, and for a photo opportunity or two, the group of men heard a rumour that looters were planning to attack the local cinema to the east of town. So they collectively hopped on a double-decker bus – the sympathetic driver waiving the fare – but bailed en masse when the bus started to be followed and ‘escorted’ by a police car. The police monitored the group’s progress all night, but the only time they intervened was to tell the vigilantes not to walk in the road.

Finding reports of looting at the cinema unfounded, a rather long, directionless march ensued around the outskirts of town. ‘I drove to Enfield from Waltham Cross [three miles away]’, one guy moaned, ‘and we’re almost back there now’. After a few false looting alerts, leading to much energetic dashing down side streets, the citizen patrol group returned back to the centre at about 10pm, chanting ‘We love Enfield, Oh Enfield we love you’.

Despite causing quite a lot of noise, the boisterous patrollers seemed to be broadly welcomed by locals, who beeped horns in support, cheered from council estate balconies, and came out of local shops, fire stations and garages to ask how it was going. ‘You’re the good guys, aren’t you?’ a schoolboy said as he ran towards the group, before being told that he was too young to join the march.

There was great excitement when the group was collectively interviewed by Sky News. Some members instinctively put up their hoodies, before being chastised by the others: ‘That’s what the rioters do!’

After a long march through town, Enfield
vigilantes debate where to patrol next.

As one of the patrollers, Nick Davison, told Sky News and assembled journalists: ‘We’ve had enough of the police just standing there and basically scratching their arses while people are looting and ruining the whole area. Everybody here pays tax and we’ve all had enough of it. We’re sickened by the police doing absolutely nothing… If anybody saw anybody looting, we would’ve taken action. And that is why we are here – because they’re not policing our streets, [so] we have to police them.’

That the London riots have led to locals feeling the need to take to the streets to protect their communities and property reveals the complete failure of the state to provide even the most basic of securities. Used to consensual rather than conflictual policing, even large numbers of officers on the streets have proved ineffectual when it comes to preventing or offsetting nihilistic behaviour. Whether groups of locals parading the streets to ward off rioters can provide reassurance to residents remains unclear – but as one Enfield resident-turned-vigilante told me: ‘I’d rather be out here trying to do something than being cooped up at home watching everything go to shit on the telly.’

Patrick Hayes is a reporter for spiked.

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Topics Politics UK


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