Why police fear a long hot violent summer – Tom Wood

The Black Lives Matter demonstrations have been mostly peaceful, but some among the crowds with ulterior motives and some counter-protesters pose an unwelcome challenge for our police, writes Tom Wood.

Bottles are thrown at mounted police as members of far-right groups gathered to guard statues in Parliament Square. Picture: Getty

A series of tragic events could herald a long hot summer of discontent for the UK. Policemen and women all over the country are praying for more rain, and a brisk east wind, anything to bring down the temperature – to cool tempers and clear the streets.

This summer has all the makings of a perfect thunder storm, anxiety about our health and jobs coupled with three long months of house arrest have combined to slowly ratchet up the pressure. The valve had to blow, even the most compliant population will eventually break.

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There is usually a trigger incident for a breakdown of public order but this summer a series of events have conspired to confront us with what could be a long hot summer of discontent.

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If there was a single tipping point it came from an unlikely source, the killing of a black man, George Floyd, thousands of miles away in another country. Suddenly allegations of racism were everywhere, we were not only being blamed for the sins of our fathers but our great-great-grandfathers as well.

Activists with a superficial grasp of history insisted that the very foundations of our society was built on the subjugation of others and if we did not recognise this and repent – well it was only further proof of our endemic racism – our statues and street names were the very proof of our original sin.

Meanwhile the Black Lives Matter movement took to the streets with marches and demonstrations across the land. Despite the ban on public gatherings and the obvious health hazards these illegal events posed, they were tacitly approved. No one dared oppose them for the fear of the smear of racism.

Like most demonstrations the BLM movement were for the most part peaceful and genuinely motivated by their cause. But, as always, sprinkled among them were small groups with ulterior motives. In Bristol, the police stood back while a statue was pulled down in what was clearly an organised ploy.

It was open season, the subtleties of history were unimportant, with a basic plan and a decent length of rope you could expunge the past. The fashion spread, from Baden Powell to Harold Wilson no one was safe from the revisionists’ zeal. Dig deep enough and you can always find a reason to take offence.

The relentless recriminations went on for weeks and quietly many ordinary folk switched off. If BLM aimed to win hearts and minds, it mostly missed the mark. Many believed it was over the top and fell silent with a shrug, resentful of the attacks on their history.

Others decided on direct action. The ban on assemblies became a very hard sell. If BLM can ignore the lockdown why not a counter demonstration, why not a beach party or an outdoor music event, why not publicly celebrate your football team’s success? And stuck in the middle as always were the young men and women of our police service, sweating in their protective kit, holding the line in a mood of increasing violence – a hiding to nothing, literally.

The vast majority of our people have shown remarkable discipline over the past tough three months. We have shown that we can stick to the rules if they are sensible and fair. But they must be fair. If public assemblies are banned then they must all be banned. If we try to pick and choose, we could be in for a long hot violent summer. And if we can’t do that – then we should pray for rain.

Tom Wood is a writer and former Deputy Chief Constable

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