Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Riots in London

First of all, many thanks to those of you who messaged to check on my safety - your concern is much appreciated.  I'm fine, though I will admit that last night was a bit scary; hearing multiple sirens going past at midnight is somehow both worrying and reassuring.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, I think the best coverage of recent events in London (and now elsewhere as well) is the BBC.  The short version of the story of madness is this:

On 4 August, the police shot and killed a 29 year old man named Mark Duggan in Tottenham, London.  It's possible that he fired first or it's possible that the police were being antagonistic; we don't yet know.  His family claims that he was a pillar of the community and innocent of any wrongdoing.  Other reports identify him as the ringleader of a criminal gang and a drug dealer.  Regardless, on 6 August, 100 of Duggan's family and friends staged a peaceful protest at the police station to find out what happened and why.  When, after several hours, the police didn't acknowledge their concern, the protest turned violent, and over the past three nights that unrest has spread from Tottenham to Wood Green to Croyden to Peckham to Hackney to Clapham Junction to Enfield to Ealing and beyond to Liverpool, Birmingham, and Bristol.

The New York Times and The Guardian, in their infinite liberal wisdom, have pinpointed the underlying motivation for the chaos, which is mostly being perpetrated by disaffected youths:

For a society already under severe economic strain, the rioting raised new questions about the political sustainability of the Cameron government’s spending cuts, particularly the deep cutbacks in social programs. These have hit the country’s poor especially hard, including large numbers of the minority youths who have been at the forefront of the unrest.  NYTimes

I don't deny that this viewpoint might have some merit, but I don't think that it's entirely accurate to blame the conservative government (much though I generally like to) for this unrest.  Eyewitness accounts are telling stories of looters ransacking electronics stores, hiding their booty in residential gardens, and going back to increase their hauls.  Social media is apparently being used to incite and gather the felons to violence; their acts include not only ransacking and looting stores, smashing windows as they go, but also arson.  This isn't just a case of those who are at the wrong end of the government's policies protesting their lot.  This is also a case of the young criminal element taking advantage of a terrible situation to get their kicks.

I read somewhere that, on the first night of riots, the gangs who took to the pavement yelled, "These are our streets."  Clearly they didn't stop to consider that they were also the streets of the bystander whose car was set alight, the shopkeeper whose livelihood was ruined as his goods were stolen, the neighbor who was evacuated from his home to protect him from the violence.

These are the true victims.  Please keep London in your thoughts - its leaders, its residents, and especially its police who are trying to contain the devastation.


  1. I think it's an mixture of criminal opportunism and herd mentality taking over, but I won't deny that the feeling of disenfranchisement is contributing to fuelling this. When you seriously think that there is no better plan in life that to loot, smashing everything up in your path, something has gone seriously wrong. The youths may be disaffected; their behaving is still shameful and appalling.
    Glad to hear that you and others are safe!

  2. Very disconcerting indeed...I posted too. I am heartbroken for those who lost their lives or livlihoods. Such an awful night for London.

  3. As the father of an ex-pat in London, I, too, am concerned about what you all are going through. As the sign says, "Keep calm and carry on." If only those looters would take this advice.

    As to the motives of those who are now running amok, I see this simply as an excuse to "get what's mine," despite the obvious fact that the goods they are stealing are in no way "theirs." It is thievery, pure and simple. The thin cloak of "activism" or "consciousness raising" has long been torn aside to reveal simple thuggery.

    I have no sympathy for them.


  4. Megan - I'm wondering if it's the government's job, the community's job, or the job of the parents to teach these kids that this is not an okay option. What do you think?

    Sarah - would love to have your academic insights. Bet it's interesting (though sad of course) to see all you're studying put into practice.

    Rob - if you listen to interviews with the hoodlums (check out the two girls on the BBC saying that they're sticking it to the rich) or see statements from witnesses, you'll see you're so right. It's pure opportunism.


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