When news emerged last week that the Wall Street protests were spreading to London, I dared to dream. Maybe I could inculcate myself among the protesters, I wondered, and persuade their leaders to target a Biglaw firm rather than a bank. Then, I fantasized, having obtained the relevant door-code from one of my disgruntled Biglaw contacts, perhaps I could lead the protesters inside to set up an encampment. At which point, I hallucinated, I’d be able to live-tweet my experiences and, as the only journalist on the scene, become a star.
Disappointingly, it didn’t work out that way. The protesters proved frustratingly unmoved by my suggestions that they target a law firm. Instead, they tried to occupy the square in front of the London Stock Exchange. Prevented from doing so by the police, they ended up milling around the adjoining forecourt of St. Paul’s Cathedral, where their hard-core was diluted by confused tourists. What the New York Times accurately described as “a picnic atmosphere” prevailed, with “people streaming in and out of a nearby Starbucks.”
Even an appearance by Wikileaks founder Julian Assange — who arrived mid-afternoon wearing a Guy Fawkes mask to deliver a sermon on the steps of St. Paul’s — wasn’t enough to kick-start some proper rebellion. Indeed, with his claim that the Occupy Wall Street/London Stock Exchange movement “is not about the destruction of law, but the construction of law,” Assange sounded less like a revolutionary, and more a regulatory expert in the U.K. on a business trip….
Last week it emerged that a British teenager had been jailed for two months for taking a photo on his cellphone from the public gallery of a courtroom. Now, I know in the U.S. you’d probably just have executed the kid, but to us effete Europeans it seems a little harsh to dish out prison time for such a minor offence.
The sentence — which drew criticism even from the right-leaning Times newspaper — follows the unusually tough terms given to those involved in the U.K.’s August riots. In one instance, a judge jailed two men for four years each for setting up Facebook pages inciting others to riot — despite the fact that neither page resulted in any rioting. In another case, a 23-year old electrical-engineering student with no previous convictions was given a six-month custodial sentence for stealing a £3.50 ($5.45) case of bottled water from a ransacked discount store in South London.
Brits are split on this new mood of authoritarianism….
Ed. note This is a special report on the London riots by Alex Aldridge, our U.K. correspondent. He previously covered the royal wedding for Above the Law.
When the London riots began on Saturday, few were overly troubled. The violence was, after all, in Tottenham, a poor neighbourhood up on the north edge of town which most middle-class people avoid.
But when it spread over the last couple of days to partially gentrified areas like Brixton and Hackney, we began to take notice. These places are our Lower East Sides and Williamsburgs, populated by young professionals who spend their weeks in Biglaw and other similar jobs, and weekends flouncing around in hipster uniform.
As you’d expect, the relationship between the young professionals and the Brixton/Hackney natives has never been great. But amid the current craziness — which has partly been generated by Britain’s awful record on social mobility — there’s been genuine fear that years of pent up anger could turn into blood-letting.
So it must have been with mixed feelings that Freshfields lawyers greeted the firm’s edict yesterday to leave work (and the relative safety of London’s financial district) early and go back to their riot-enveloped homes….
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