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above: protesters and police come together during a Black Lives Matter protest on June 3, 2020 in London, England (Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

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A Bit of British Virtue Signaling

Politics is downstream from culture—so said Andrew Breitbart, that somewhat uncouth American media man. Well, for us Brits, culture and politics are downstream from America, and sometimes it feels as if the currents run too fast. In recent days, Britain, taking after America, has been convulsed by a widespread rage against the perception of racial injustice. We’ve just about avoided the looting, so far, but we have had the big marches, in defiance of COVID-19, as well as the vandalization of public statues and the assaults on police officers.

As in America, our leaders, our institutions, our businesses, our sports teams, and our media have groveled before the mob. Politicians, corporations, and journalists played down the violence and talked up the importance of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) cause. One BBC News headline summed up the doublethink: “27 police officers injured during largely peaceful anti-racism protests in London.”

None of this made much sense. For better or worse, the unrest in the Unites States at least had a cause: the viral circulation of a video showing the death of George Floyd in Minnesota, which looked a lot like a vile act of police brutality. But what did that have to do with Britain? Outside Downing Street, near the prime minister’s residence, protestors soon assembled and chanted “Hands up, don’t shoot!” at unarmed British bobbies. They didn’t seem to realize how stupid that sounded. They waved “Justice for George Floyd” banners outside Parliament, as if the case of the Minneapolis man had anything to do with the British legal system.

The media told us that the marches were “in solidarity” with the BLM movement across the pond, as if America were an apartheid state. On the noisy left, people said that violent police racism was “systemic” in Britain, never mind how thin the evidence. Most establishment voices, meanwhile, tried to soothe the mood by saying that our law enforcers were nothing like those nasty brutes with badges on the other side of the Atlantic. 

That’s a very British reaction. When political disagreements spill on to the streets, or racial violence erupts, we always cling to a sort of blind faith in our multicultural exceptionalism. After every Islamist terror attack, we applaud ourselves for having successfully integrated most British Muslims. Whenever culture war issues erupt, we tell ourselves, “No, no, no,—this isn’t the British way! We aren’t like America, with its legacy of slavery and its nasty, orange, racist president!”

And so we build lie upon lie. We pretend that America is worse than it is so we can convince ourselves that we are better than we are. No mainstream voice in Britain dared to point out that America’s police are not in fact systemically racist—at least not in any way evident in its crime statistics. When I tried to tell some colleagues that only 15 unarmed blacks were killed by the police in America last year, compared to 25 whites, they looked at me as if I were mad and bigoted. The myth of endemically racist cops in the land of the free is too powerful to be gainsaid. Thank Hollywood, I suppose—the culture, again.

Our police, desperate to show they weren’t Derek Chauvins, were perhaps most craven of all. Officers across the country “took a knee” in front of BLM protestors. In London, Met officers, under strict instructions not to escalate racial tensions, allowed gangs of thugs to wreak havoc. Several embarrassing videos soon emerged of groups of policemen and women running away from boys in hoods throwing bottles and other missiles. The statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square was sealed in a box to keep it safe.

In Bristol, police stood by as crowds tore down a statue of 17th century slaver Edward Colston and threw him into the docks. “It felt right today that we allow protestors to make their point, to make their mark,” explained Constabulary Superintendent Andy Bennett.

The only incident that seemed to cause widespread condemnation among the media was when those supposedly peaceful protestors frightened some police horses. Cruelty to police is fine in 2020, apparently; cruelty to animals is a grave sin. 

What the American and British unrest had most in common was a peculiar sense of mania, brought on no doubt by the fact that both populations were emerging from the COVID-19 lockdowns. Who knew that ordering people to stay inside for fear of catching a deadly virus would make people behave strangely?

In the days after the riots, amid the general sense of lawlessness, the homicide rate in American cities shot up. In England, an insane Libyan man named Khairi Saadallah went on a stabbing rampage, killing three men, including a young American named Joe Ritchie-Bennett. The police were quick to categorize the crime as a terrorist incident, since authorities had been tipped off last year that the killer had planned to go to a jihadist training camp. The murdered men were gay, which may have motivated the young man’s crime, although journalists who reported that fact were accused of being prejudiced.

Still, at least we’re not as bad as America…                                                   

Freddy Gray

Freddy Gray is deputy editor of The Spectator.

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