#LondonRiots: On the ground perspectives on causes and steps forward
A masked man on the streets of Hackney where a car burns out of control on the third day of street disturbances across London. Photograph: Kerim Okten/EPA
For the past 36 hours the news has been a flutter trying to attach blame for the violent outbursts that have stormed the London streets. Catalysts ranging from social media, bad parenting, violent videos games to austerity measures, Tories, and genetic predispositions towards violence were followed by “youths, criminals, hoodies, thugs, protesters and yobs”. As the media demonized the rioters in attempts to disassociate them from British citizens, 6000 MET police struggled to control the streets and subdue the angry and violent hoards. Simultaneously, the media, residents and voyeurs trolled twitter and other social media sites trying to trace the raucous mob through the streets of London. While the participants used closed circuit bbm to organize meeting spots the BBC flipped between overhead helicopter footage, and interviews with on the ground reporters as the entire UK drooled over the riot porn flooding the screen. And the thoughts that filled everyone minds, the question that everyone kept asking, why? Why are they doing this?
As the riots ticked on, the media desperately tried to keep up with the roving masses, always one step behind, cutting to overhead pictures of fires being put out by solo fireman to fill empty screen time. How were these “youths” outrunning everyone? Were they well organized, was it premeditated, planned, and executed by brilliant social media savvy master minds trying to undermine the authority of the British government by engaging in hand on hand street battles and looting, or was this entire uprising something that has been brewing over the past couple years or decades and the events of Friday a wanted spark, a reaction to a systemic problem?
In the wake of the past couple days academics, media correspondents, journalists and the British public will endlessly debate about the politics of the situation and possible solutions, the way forward, but in the end we, as spectators and citizens, need to ask ourselves what in our society has produced this? What started as secluded outburst in Tottenham quickly spread throughout London and then the country, we can no longer say these are isolated or copycat incidences.
While many local residents were rightfully distraught by the sight of their communities being torn apart by roving masses that may or may not have been composed of their neighbors and customers, this phenomenon should not come as an utter surprise. Throughout history we can recall events of the disenfranchised indiscriminately destroying their surroundings in reaction to their fruitless economic futures and embedded racial tensions, take the L.A. and Detroit riots for instance.
The UK is the most unequal country in Europe, the gap between the rich and the poor is becoming an obtrusive canyon with the top 10% earning one hundred times more than the bottom 10%. Before Thatcher 9% of people earned under half the average salary while throughout her tenure this figure jumped to 25% in what can only be described as a huge redistribution from the poor to the rich, as rationalized by trickledown economics. Over the past 24 hours articles and youtube clips from months ago predicting violence and uprisings in reaction to increased spending cuts have been re posted on facebook and twitter and countless academics have published works linking violence to low levels of unemployment.
Paradoxically, the complete absence of any political articulation from the participants is indicative of the political foundations on which these uprisings rest and the utter disenfranchisement of the so-called ‘looters’. In the words of comedian Andrew Maxwell, “Create a society that values material things above all else. Strip it of industry. Raise taxes for the poor and reduce them for the rich and for corporations. Prop up failed financial institutions with public money. Ask for more tax, while vastly reducing public services. Put adverts everywhere, regardless of people's ability to afford the things they advertise. Allow the cost of food and housing to eclipse people's ability to pay for them," in the most dishearteningly and disturbing way the acts of the participants may have outlined a prediction for the future. And now the choice; have we hit the bottom, will these acts of violent disorder lead UK society in a new direction, or will we continue on the same path?
The actions of those roaming the streets, the ones with nothing to lose and no fear of risking their futures have surpassed and splintered from what the London student movement stopped just short of; aimlessly destroying the society that they feel will repeatedly and endlessly fail them. In the end what’s the worth in cherishing a society that wishes you weren’t a part of it?