What is even more shocking than the violent disorder on Britain’s streets over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis is the spineless reaction by those in authority.
Many police officers have been injured, the statue of Churchill in Parliament Square vandalised, and a flame held to the Union Jack on the Cenotaph. In Bristol, a statue of the 17th-century slave trader and philanthropist Edward Colston was pulled down and thrown into the harbour. Superintendent Andy Bennett of Avon & Somerset police said: “While I am disappointed that people would damage one of our statues, I do understand why it’s happened, it’s very symbolic.”
This was a jaw-dropper: a police officer minimising and even sympathising with the criminality he is supposed to prevent. Colston had a dreadful history as a slaver. But vandalism and thuggery are inexcusable, criminal and should be policed, not justified.
The demonstrations have been described as overwhelmingly law-abiding with only a few outbreaks of thuggish violence. Yet they have all involved mass law-breaking over rules about gatherings which potentially puts people’s lives at risk.
The Metropolitan Police commissioner, Dame Cressida Dick, said that she had feared provoking serious disorder if the police had tried to enforce the lockdown rules against these crowds. Yet on her own account, 49 officers were injured at the weekend, several seriously.
What’s happening takes us way beyond any criticism of hapless police chiefs. For Britain and the US, this feels like a revolutionary moment. If the police can no longer guarantee law and order, that spells the end of a free, civil society.
This may be where a liberal culture, flapping its hands ineffectually at the culture of rage and resentment it has brought into being through decades of appeasing cultural intimidation, reaps the whirlwind it has sown.
To read my whole Times column (£), please click here.