Can we ever have crowd trouble without the cries of “them’uns”?

Another day, another series of TV reports showing council cleaners sweeping up glass and the odd hangover-on-legs staggering about looking for a fry.
Could be any number of places on any number of nights, but one thing will be a constant on social media: armchair cops comparing the policing of the ‘event’ to whatever other occasion they can use to suit their particular brand of politics.
To unpick the worthlessness of whataboutery when it comes to finding a solution to the likes of the Holylands, let’s have a look at what is different about every big event in NI (all logical, but with thanks to a police officer friend who discussed): the people, the place, the risks, the potential to spread, the disruption, the local police chain-of-command and the prevailing situation across NI. To name but a few.
And that’s leaving an important aspect to last: the information known in advance about the trouble and those involved (ie, us back-seat observers will not hear what is being said in an officer’s ear-piece about all that is known ahead of time or occurring around them/ nearby).
And talking of officers, if we were able to see and hear what they see from their many angles on a situation (including CCTV) it would give a very different outlook to the selected photos and YouTube videos – which only show a single angle and point-in-time – placed online by those with an axe to grind.
In short: you can’t compare one bout of disorder to another. From what I see police use a light-touch when they can and move in heavily when they must, depending on all the information available to them. That appears to apply to all ‘sides’, every occasion being clearly different.
Overall, I am suspicious of those usually blind-sided to street trouble who grow a sudden sensitivity to the problem and of those who have a sudden change of position to shrug it off.
Myself? I think the Holylands will turn into a residents-only, armband-access area like Prince’s Street in Edinburgh each Hogmanany, with an organised open-air event nearby.
But that’s just one thought from an outsider.
Of greater interest is wondering when we can solve such issues in NI without clouding the issue with worthless comparisons and crocodile tears for our streets.

Conor Johnston – @CJohnstonNI – writes about subjects including culture (especially film/ cinemas), identity and media. He also blogs at

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