Wednesday, 17 August 2011

What motivated the riots in the UK?

Riots don’t just start for no reason at all. Something has to jump-start a riot. In Tottenham, a community in Greater London, the fuel for the riot in August 2011 was the shooting of a 29-year-old black criminal. It’s not my intention to try and justify the shooting but I would be remiss if I didn’t add that the police were far to slow to publicly explain as to why the police felt compelled to shoot the criminal to death.

At first, 300 people stood outside the police station on the High Road peacefully demanding justice. While they were making their demands, no one in the crowd was advocating violence. They simply wanted answers. Unfortunately, they weren’t getting any answers from the police.

No matter how justified a protest can be; there are always hoodlums in a large crowd who want more than just answers. They want action. I am not talking about action from the authorities. They want action that will excite them. And to these hoodlums, nothing will excite them more than participating in a riot, especially one that they have jump-started.

Riots are not unlike contagious diseases. They spread in all directions and that is what happened in the UK in August 2011.

Shops in Tottenham were looted, with people seen pushing away shopping trolleys full of goods. A double-decker bus was set on fire at the junction of High Road and Brook Street while a shop on the High Road was also set on fire.

A BBC TV news crew and satellite truck also came under attack from youths throwing missiles. The youths had begun attacking another police patrol car before members of the TV crew were targeted and they were withdrawn in the interests of their own safety. The police car was later set alight.

The scenes taking place in Tottenham were not representative of the vast majority of people in that community. The scenes were representative of the sick, troublemaking individuals who will do anything to fight the boredom of their otherwise futile and meaningless lives.

The police station was suddenly surrounded by 100 police officers in riot gear and some of the hoodlums threw a wheelie bin into it and then started throwing bricks, street signs—anything they could get their hands on, straight at the police.

There was a police line of 15 riot police in front of the police station on the north side and then there were loads of uniformed officers on the south side of the police station.

"They weren't making any effort to go into the crowd. Every now and again they would rush the crowd and the crowd would run. That’s when the police should have made some arrests but instead, they chose not to.

Within hours, the rioting spread and the next few days, the rioting had spread to other cities in the UK.

One can appreciate the feelings of many of the citizens of the UK with the onslaught of unemployment being as it is but rioting is not the way to combat unemployment.

The people in Cairo had justifiable reasons to protest and protest they did in the hundreds of thousands but they didn’t riot and they got what they wanted—a change in government. The people in Syria have reason to protest but they haven’t rioted.

Sometimes getting revenge is the spark that ignites the fires of hatred. For example, during the riots in Los Angeles, the blacks specifically went out of their way to torch small stores operated by Koreans. Their reason was because when a black man purchased an item in one of those stores, the Korean proprietor then yelled at them saying, “Now get out of my store!”

Why is it that in countries such as the UK and Canada which have very just laws, have had riots also? The rioters in Vancouver didn’t riot because of unjust laws or police brutality. They rioted because their home team lost a match. I am convinced that they would have rioted even if their home team had won the match.

Fans in Montreal were hopped up on excitement, scarcely believing that their beloved Montreal Canadiens, who were not even expected to make the playoffs, had laid waste to the defending Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins on May 11, 2010 by a score of 5-2. The fans in Montreal were ecstatic. But at about 12:20 a.m. a few youths celebrating along with hundreds of others on Ste-Catherine Street began to break the windows of a government-owned SAQ liquor store near the intersection of Stanley Street. In a flash, dozens of looters had jumped through the shattered windows and were looting the store. Empowered by the sight of such impunity, several other rioters began to shatter the windows of a Foot Locker across the street. Again, people came from all directions, buzzed into the store and left with stolen merchandise. One young man’s booty was a pile of sports socks.

It just takes only one or several hoodlums to ignite the fuel with the spark of their actions to cause a conflagration of unrest the spreads like wildfire.

If we want to understand the London riots, we have to understand the nation itself—what it has become and its struggle to repair itself. It is a story of almost unrelenting grimness.

A map of the violence that spread across England’s nastier bits would explain a lot: Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool, Nottingham, Leeds and some of London’s most rundown areas, including Tottenham and Croydon. Some of these areas are so dire that it surely would take us back to the time when Charles Dickson wrote David Copperfield.

They’re the bits of England you don’t hear about. It is generally hidden from the tourists. This hidden part of the country is a sprawling collection of battered old housing estates, of red-light areas and inner-city ghettos, of crack houses and where many unemployed refuges live. To put it more broadly, it is the places where the poor people conglomerate.

Britain is a country where the poor just exist; the middle class is a fragile aberration and the upper-middle class live in glass houses. London itself is one of the most expensive cities in the world and is a bane to those who cannot afford to live in it.

The human violence of the riots was shocking but what struck me was the looting. We saw on TV looting in the Vancouver riot and noticed the anonymity and excitement of crowds of hoodlums participating in it. Those looters didn’t need what they were stealing. They stole the goods because they thought it was fun.

The London rioters were leaving cheap shops with carts of track shoes and flash clothes, smiling for the cameras. Yes, it was stuff they couldn’t afford but still, why did they risk imprisonment? They did so because they had nothing to lose.

I do not excuse the conduct of the rioters, but I will attempt to explain their behavior.

If you have a job or one day dream of having a job, you cling to a form of respectability that might pay off eventually. But it would appear that there will never be jobs for these some of these people. Most of them have never worked a day in their lives and without a job history to fall on for support; their prospects of getting a job are slim to nothing.

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher sold off public housing without envisioning what would replace it, which as it turned out was nothing. Her so-called economical plan turned London into a financial speculation factory for the speculators who themselves were churning out huge bonuses for their own coffers. House prices exploded, people who had bought their grimy houses from the government were suddenly rich and they then rented them out to people who were poorer than they were for outrageous rents.

Now we are seeing visions of families exiting London to camp by the side of the road because the rent money they were to pay to the owners went towards food. Try living in London on welfare benefits. Imagine losing them and spending your days in a state of semi-controlled desperation.

How do you feed your last grain of self-esteem? You riot, you shame yourself before the world, you steal junk that makes you feel posh, you are filmed pretending to help a bleeding boy while stealing from his backpack, you break windows and take what you think you need or are entitled to and you do other disgusting things. When arrested, you will perhaps not even be able to articulate your reasons for doing these things.

Nobody cares about the poor, especially when they turn thuggish, ungrateful and turn to rioting. Why do the members of the media even bother to speculate about what they did? It’s easier for the media to report on the flames and who lit the fire. But the question that begs to be answered is; why did they light the fire in the first place? However, even if we know the answer, it raises a more perplexing question. How do we put it out and prevent it from happening again?

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