Wednesday, 10 August 2011

UK Riots - mindless thugs, but why?

Rioters in Liverpool/BBC

Like everyone else in England, I am trying to make sense of the mindless violence, arson and looting that have spread first across London, then to other cities throughout the country over the last four nights. Four people have died as a result of the mayhem.

Video footages show young men and women in hoodies torching local businesses and family houses, smashing windows, overturning cars, taunting terrified shop owners and residents, ransacking shops, drinking and laughing at the police, who were clearly out-numbered and overpowered.
The images are terrifying and unsettling – especially because the looting and violence are so brazen, and because many of the young people involved, some as young as 14 or 15, seem to have such a good time smashing up the place, like it is all a big joke.
Many didn’t even bother to cover their face. Some have even posted pictures on social networking sites, proudly showing off their haul.
Two girls who took part in Monday night's riots in Croydon, London, boasted on the BBC that they were showing police and "the rich" that "we can do what we want". 

Looters, Birmingham/AFP

 And that is what it looks like. In some areas, young people pillaged for hours before the police arrived. And when the police did arrive, they seemed powerless to do anything.  This new and unexpected feeling of having power and being in control must have been intoxicating to young people who are used to feel powerless. This acted as a catalyst for more violence. 

The devastating riots, which are still spreading across the country, first flared on Saturday after a peaceful protest in Tottenham, London, over the fatal shooting of Mark Duggan, 29, by police.

Commentators say the ensuing violence has nothing to do with the fatal shooting: the riots are not a social protest, but random opportunistic thuggery.

It is true that the riots don’t look like a social protest – the young people are not marching for a cause or rioting with a message; they seem to be looting, burning and smashing things up for the sake of it.

But this doesn’t mean there isn’t a deep underlying cause.

The riots started in deprived London’s boroughs hit harder with unemployment. And the recent cuts in social and educational services and programmes have only made things worse. 

The gap between rich and poor is ever growing here. Britain is now one of the most unequal countries in the developed world. And many young people, especially Blacks and Asians, see the police as adversarial and biased.

Many of the rioters have no stake in conformity and feel they have nothing to lose.
"They have no career to think about. They are not 'us'. They live out there on the margins, enraged, disappointed, capable of doing some awful things," says Prof John Pitts, a criminologist who advises several London local authorities on young people and gangs.

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