Can we find the tipping point when protest becomes riot?

When some people have a serious grievance like an alleged (don’t foreget that “alleged”) wrongful fatal shooting, they rise up in their just wrath and –  trash the place.  A hideous non sequitur to you and me, a “protest”  to many  in places where we don’t live. 30 years ago I covered the Brixton riots which were sparked – not caused  –  by a minor misunderstanding and  false rumours. When I and my crew were packing up in a side street  after a very hot day in 1981, along came a bunch of alarming looking whites, dressed in punk S&M. I was sure we were for it. Then one of them, naked below his leather studded waistcoat, pulled it back and spoke into it … Agents provocateurs or what?

Much has changed, not least police riot techniques. “ Institutional racism” has been analysed and  much reduced.  But how much has really changed on both sides?   Ploddy cops and doublespeaking “community leaders.”  Crime is crime versus the police were at fault.  Sus and Broadwater  Farm in 1985, stop and search and Broadwater Farm in 2011. But this time, no police officer killed – yet.  “Doubts emerge” over the police version of the shooting of Mark Doggan on Thursday evening. Winston Silcott had his conviction quashed for the murder of PC Blakelock in 1985 but not for another murder. It’s all a grim reminder of how thin is the veneer of civilisation. What is the tipping point when aimless or angry youth  throws off restraints?  Local lessons apply. But what ones exactly?

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London