Sunday, August 14, 2011

Roundup: the UK Riot Edition

You're probably as tired of hearing about the UK riots as I am, but as the situation dies down I thought I'd share some interesting posts I've come across lately. I also want to recommend checking out The Grasshopper for a point of view from someone living in the UK. Everyone has their own opinions on why the riots occurred, but Anthony's are particularly interesting.

1. Riots Q&A: What really happened? And, what happens next?
Why did this happen?

The million-dollar question. Everyone has a theory. Chronologically, it began on 4 August, when Mark Duggan, a 29-year-old father of three, was shot dead by police in Tottenham. The handling of the shooting, particularly by the Metropolitan Police and the Independent Police Complaints Commission, seems to have made a bad situation worse. About 100 people staged a vigil on Saturday 6 August, marching towards Tottenham police station. It escalated into outbreaks of violence, looting and arson, but there was nothing inevitable about what followed. A perfect storm of school holidays, rising living costs, warm weather, cautious police tactics, rolling TV news and social media arrived, with deep-seated social and cultural problems, including poverty, failing schools, gangs, joblessness, materialism and poor parenting, playing a part.
This post has loads of information in a very straightforward and no-nonsense way.

2. Big Brother isn't watching you:
This week's riots are sad and frightening and, if I have by virtue of my temporary displacement forgone the right to speak about the behaviour of my countrymen, then this is gonna be irksome. I mean even David Cameron came back from his holiday. Eventually. The Tuscan truffles lost their succulence when the breaking glass became too loud to ignore. Then dopey ol' Boris came cycling back into the London clutter with his spun gold hair and his spun shit logic as it became apparent that the holiday was over...

These young people have no sense of community because they haven't been given one. They have no stake in society because Cameron's mentor Margaret Thatcher told us there's no such thing.
Russell Brand brings attention to the class issues that are at play here. Something a lot of people like to ignore.

3. Don't blame the looters – blame our hypocritical leaders
I find it a bit rich when Cameron and the London Mayor, Boris Johnson, blather about looters, when they both belonged to the Bullingdon Club at Oxford University, where no evening was complete without a bit of pointless destruction. Even Nick Clegg admits to setting fire to things as a youth. Johnson's alleged marital infidelities hardly make him the right person to pontificate about broken homes. As for antisocial behaviour, politicians and bankers are both guilty of diddling the taxpayer – and I didn't see many of them go to jail for nicking a bottle of wine or a television set on expenses. Journalists can't be too self-righteous either, as the number of arrests in the phone-hacking scandal reaches 12, with more expected.

Talk of moral decay is just as pathetic. These children are the product of the Blair years – even Ed Miliband admits that Labour was better at reshaping the fabric of society than instilling ethical values. Citizenship classes seem a sick joke these days. Cameron's big new "responsible" master plan should be implemented from the top down, and never mind enforcing it, jackboot-style, on the lower orders.
4. Panic on the streets of London:
Riots are about power, and they are about catharsis. They are not about poor parenting, or youth services being cut, or any of the other snap explanations that media pundits have been trotting out: structural inequalities, as a friend of mine remarked today, are not solved by a few pool tables. People riot because it makes them feel powerful, even if only for a night. People riot because they have spent their whole lives being told that they are good for nothing, and they realise that together they can do anything – literally, anything at all. People to whom respect has never been shown riot because they feel they have little reason to show respect themselves, and it spreads like fire on a warm summer night. And now people have lost their homes, and the country is tearing itself apart.
5. On the UK Riots, Part Two:
I feel like I'm stating the obvious here (although this idea appears to be anything but obvious virtually everywhere the riots are being discussed), but "hundreds of youths" don't go on a "rampage" without any reason, even if that reason is simply having no incentive not to. And, truly, feeling utterly devoid of any reason to not take to the streets of your community and destroy it is a profound injustice.

That sort of collective apathy, or antipathy, particularly when marked by a stark generational divide, is indicative of a cultural failure to provide something to young people worth personally investing in. Most observers claim to see no connection between black Londoners rioting against police oppression and white Mancunian teens "rampaging for no reason," but there is an overwhelming—and evident—plume of dispossession, neglect, marginalization, purposelessness, voicelessness, disconnection from the life that Britons are supposed to have, and supposed to want, emanating from every street upon which are running rioters dismissed as incomprehensible animals.

"People are all at home—they're scared," London convenience store owner Adnan Butt is quoted as saying by the AP. Sure. Except for the people who are rioting. Who, at best, are not considered to be People Who Matter, and, at worst, are not considered to be people at all.

I keep coming back to that "disused library* in nearby Salford," and it just seems to hang there like a symbol of the plague of neglect that creeps across any nation in the shadows of robber barons who hoard bootstraps and champion austerity measures.

And I am reminded of the video to which Kevin Gosztola linked, in which teenagers from Haringey in London are interviewed by The Guardian about the closing of 13 youth clubs by the local council and express their concern about how they won't have anywhere to go and no more creative outlet, and the idleness and boredom will fuel violence between gangs set adrift.

When parents neglect their children, we (rightly) call it criminal. When governments neglect their people, well, we might call it criminal if that government is a dark-skinned warlord who's stealing food intended for his country's starving citizens. But when a "civilized" government neglects to provide choices, resources, options for meaningful work, opportunities for participation in conversations about national needs and identity, cultural inclusion, some basic sense of being valued, to its citizens, we call that "democracy," and call criminal any display of frustration, despondency, rage at that grotesque injustice.

We pretend that "almost everyone has food and can scrape by, and anyone who can't is just a shiftless waster, anyway" is good enough, and we pretend that the government and upper classes in wealthy countries aren't constantly conspiring to wage a civil war of economics and access against people living lives of quiet desperation who are accused of being irrational and crazy and savage and uncivilized by their oppressors if they have the temerity to object to their oppression, and we pretend that a sustained campaign of marginalization and denial and subjugation doesn't amount to a lifetime of abuse committed against vulnerable people by their own government.

And we pretend that a government in service to an ideal that ostracizes many citizens by virtue of poverty and others by virtue of indifference to its ostensible rewards is a functional government and not simply a tool of privileged elites.

Those pretenses are going up in smoke across the UK.
I have a strong dislike for Shakesville, but Mellisa hits the nail on the head here.

6. Police revolt against David Cameron's reform agenda:
Despite the scale of the riots, and claims that the police mishandled the initial disorder in Tottenham, public trust in the police seems uniformly strong. Overall, 61% of those polled say they are confident that the police enforce the law fairly, uniformly and without prejudice, while 36% say they are either not at all (10%) or not very (26%) confident.
Interesting. 30% think David Cameron responded well and 54% think police are under resourced.

7. UK riots aftermath: live updates


  1. Not necessarily related to the post, just curious as to why you dislike Shakesville so much.

  2. Because they're exclusionary, reactionary, and often hypocritical. This is not to say that they don't do good work or that I don't agree with them on most issues. I just don't like Shakesville's atmosphere and their obsession with the blog being a "safe space" seems like a tool to silence people who disagree with them too often for my taste.

    Admittedly, I haven't been to the blog in at lest a year so things could be different (though with Melissa I doubt it). I only caught this post cause someone posted it on tumblr. They do have some really great posts (the ones on rape culture are the best I've come across). I just can't wade through the self congratulating bullshit to get to them. But that's just me. To each their own.

  3. Great stuff alana.. some good links and thanks alot for the link to my blog aswell cheers!

  4. i would also add this to the list....

  5. I almost added that one originally, but I didn't like the ending. I know he's joking, but something about it made me...uncomfortable I guess. It seemed kind of petty. The beginning is brilliant though.

  6. Thats Charlie for you... still love him whatever!


What's on your mind?