Riots on the streets of Tottenham. Photo credit: Nico Hogg, http://www.flickr.com/photos/nicohogg/6018692165/
The summer riots and looting in England were mainly fueled by anger at the police, a new study has found. According to the Guardian/London School of Economics (LSE) Reading The Riots report, other causes included the opportunity to get hold of free goods and frustration at economic injustice. But the key motivation was resentment of everyday policing, including the stop-and-search tactic, said The Guardian. And the August riots may only be the beginning: according to the report, 81 percent of rioters interviewed said there would be further disturbances.
In the aftermath of the riots, which brought areas of major cities in England to a standstill, The Guardian and the LSE interviewed 270 rioters from around the country and analysed 2.5 million tweets.
Can the report really aid our understanding and help to prevent future riots or is this just a question of playing the blame game?
Riots were a form of protest. “The rioters were far more politically conscious than even many on the left, myself included, first thought,” wrote Gary Younge on The Guardian’s Comment Is Free, arguing that although the riots were incoherent and destructive, they were nevertheless a form of protest against injustice – particularly perceived humiliation by the police. Younge said the disturbances in English cities over the summer should be put in a wider global context: “In a year that started with the uprisings in Tunisia and is ending with police raids on occupations protesting inequality across the globe, only a naïf would understand these disturbances as a random, isolated moment of mass social deviancy particular to Britain,” he wrote.
“It was just common criminals taking advantage of the situation for their own means,” said Simon Reed of the Police Federation of England and Wales, according to The Daily Mail. “To blame police is just the easiest thing to do.”
Rioters had nothing to lose. Many of the young people interviewed for the report “feel they have nothing to lose because they are told practically from birth that they have no serious career opportunities,” said Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams on The Guardian’s Comment Is Free. Williams wrote that the rioters belong to a class of young disaffected people who just want to be “taken seriously as workers, as citizens”, and that “demonising” them is not the solution.
Police should be polite. The BBC’s Mark Easton focused on the report’s finding that rioters resented the behavior of the police on a day-to-day basis: ”There is a growing body of evidence that, if you want people to obey the law, then the police must treat communities with courtesy, friendliness and fairness,” he said. Easton suggested that the key point to be drawn from the riots could be “the importance of the principle of policing by consent”.
“The police need to work a lot harder to convince some people that they are on the same side as the communities they serve,” said Brian Paddick, former Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, according to The Guardian.
Police blame police. According to The Independent, Chief Constable of Manchester Police Peter Fahy said that London police were to blame for the spread of the riots because they did not respond quickly enough to the violence. “A certain group of people saw what was happening in London and decided they seemed to be getting away with it,” said Fahy.
Rioters were not the victims. “The irony here is that everyone blames the police,” wrote Philip Johnston in The Telegraph, arguing that police are being criticised first for not taking strong measures against looters and now for not being sensitive enough to deprived communities. Johnston said that The Guardian’s Reading The Riots report is another example of the Left trying to rewrite the “narrative” of the riots. The “real victims”, Johnston argued, were not the rioters but those whose livelihoods they destroyed and those who were seriously injured or lost their lives, and the explanation for the riots is simple: “A bunch of criminally inclined hoodlums took the opportunity to loot, pillage and rob because they enjoyed doing it.”
What do you think? Were the rioters motivated by social injustice, anger at police or the desire for free trainers?