Theodore Dalrymple on a recent article by British author China Miéville in the New York Times Magazine decrying the cruel, disproportionate sentences handed out to London rioters:
Some figures: in 2011, there were 12,699 knife attacks in London known to the police (up 13.6 percent from the previous year); 58,160 burglaries (up 8.8 percent); and 68,754 street robberies (up 13 percent). The average national detection rate for burglaries is about one in 12, though even this is an overstatement, due to police manipulation of the figures. Approximately 800,000 domestic burglaries took place in Great Britain in 2009; this means that some 67,000 were detected by the police. In that same year, 6,136 people went to prison in Great Britain for burglary (for an average of 17 months each). Considering the 800,000 burglaries annually, a domestic burglary attracts on average four days’ imprisonment: hardly indicative of judicial ferocity, and not much of a deterrent to burglary.
One cannot say often enough that the victims of crime are, like the perpetrators, more likely to be poor than rich. For example, single-parent households in Britain have a more than one-in-20 chance of being burgled in any given year; and since most burglars are recidivists, indeed multiply so, it follows that the class of victim is much larger than the class of perpetrator. Leniency toward criminals is not therefore a form of sympathy for the poor, but a failure to take either their lives or their property seriously. For Miéville to talk of “panicked reaction” in these circumstances is a form of moral exhibitionism. He is showing off in front of his peers.
The notion that the disorder in London (and elsewhere in the country) is a protest against injustice — a thread that runs through Miéville’s article — is both crude and laughable. It is true that the British police have, after years of liberal-inspired reform, become simultaneously bullying and ineffectual, a disastrous combination.