As the riots die down (at least for now) everyone is scrabbling over the grainy camera-phone footage and mass of tweets trying to work out why it all started. Politicians from across the spectrum have all jumped on the bandwagon trying to fit an easy label onto the problem to try and score a few points but their analysis is so shallow they can really do little more than say "This is wrong. This needs to stop." The poor dears really do think that they can get the great ship Britain to turn on a hairpin from inside their ivory tower. In trying to steer around the looming isles of financial collapse we've been led into the straits of social unrest, but there's no turning back now so all we can do is push on and pray we don't tear open the hull on one of the many dangers we didn't see (or willfully ignored) hiding under the surface. Out of all the perspectives I've heard on the causes of the riots I can find a grain of truth in each of them, but none really strike at the heart. TV debates on the subject are utterly fatuous as everyone claims to have the "correct" answer, yes or no, true or false, blue or red. A bit of thought on the subject and you'll quickly become aware that all the thousands of people involved wont be there for the same reason, even if you take the individual they wont be involved because of a single cause.
That said I'll start with Mark Duggan, as a cause for the riots on its own this is very suspect. I think we have to realise that the police killing a black man during an arrest isn't that rare an occurrence, its rare that it'll make its way into the news, sure, but that's not the same thing is it. And although the IPCC have launched an investigation, this is really a token gesture, in over 300 investigations they have never convicted a police officer, even in the case of Ian Tomlinson where there was actual video evidence of his being wrongfully attacked. How can we expect justice to be served when the system is so rigged against it? Surely we can see the frustration of Mark's friends and family especially considering how bungled the whole operation was. When the peaceful delegation of true citizens wishing to make their dissatisfaction heard was ignored, then others looked for a way to vent their anger. And so it begins.
Once the rioting began it snowballed. Get enough angry people in one place and its only a matter of time before one person feels confident enough to throw a bottle at a police officer. A minute later when he's hidden back in the protective masses and isn't being handcuffed, then his mates might have a go too. Skip forward a few hours and there are burning cars and buildings, looted shops, injury and even death. These riots were unique in not having a focus. Warned months beforehand and submitted a detailed route for a protest the police can happily set up a few shield walls and kettle a couple of thousand students, keeping everyone nicely contained and damage to a minimum. But this time with no target except for "any shop" or "any police officer" and the mob organised by new technology is able to take a back streets or cut through a suburb to avoid any resistance. The police were quickly overwhelmed and the rioters knew it. The police weren't able to mobilise to any one area quick enough to deploy enough force to make arrests, they had to stand back and watch the damage and hope they could spot a few on CCTV later as they were genuinely concerned (and rightly so) that they might become outnumbered and have their heads smashed in or worse. Once the example had been set on Saturday, everyone wanted a go. If all your mates were going to get a new phone or a TV, and you knew the police couldn't stop you, why wait until Tuesday to get involved when the only stuff left to nick is from Poundland?
So I guess you might be able to understand why it kicked off on Saturday. But why was the country so primed for this to happen? I'll have upset Boris Johnson and try and tackle the "sociological justifications" then, although I'll have to add the disclaimer about being white middle-class, I think I might have a (slightly) better viewpoint in being young. I suspect the rioters just don't care about the country. Any why should they in the current climate? Things seem do awfully bleak. Over the years of news about moneygeddon it has become more and more apparent that we are barely in control over our own lives, we are all subject to the whims of unelected corporate officials and barely elected politicians. We're told to go and get educated for a job market that doesn't want us, forced to get down on our knees and beg to become a productive member of society because at every turn there are thousands of people applying for the same place. The pay is low, the hours are low, the work is hard and we still cant afford to enjoy ourselves because everything else is so expensive. It does not surprise me that a lot of people are unwilling to demean themselves to work, the benefits system, EMA and the like have salved these wounds to our society but underneath it's still rotten to the bone. When these things are taken away people are left with truly nothing, and we allow the criminal underworld to pick up where social policy fails. Who's to say the kids selling drugs aren't the smart ones, they can't climb the ladder so they'll spend their short lives rich and either die suddenly and violently or catch a prison sentence where they can while away a few years with no worries and free food. It maybe seems to the rioters that no one cares about them so why should they care about society. They've been made powerless, so it's inevitable for them to look for power, wherever they might find it.
What worries me is that now a precedent has been set. Like the wars in the Middle East, a little involvement in Afghanistan makes Iraq that bit easier. Riots are now permanently on the cards, maybe tomorrow, maybe next week or maybe in a month its a problem just waiting to rear up and the trigger could be anything. The worst thing that can happen in the wake of these riots is some draconian policy aimed at defending us. It should be very clear that the people who are a problem don't care about laws or statutes so any policy aimed at everyone will only harm the citizens. Depressingly it seems that our options are almost zero, the causes so widespread that no one thing (or a hundred things) would make it better and would probably make it worse for everyone else. I couldn't honestly say what the root causes or the solutions to these social ills are, but it seems to me they've been in the making, in a thousand different ways, for decades. A broken generation has given birth to a truly, catastrophically fucked one.
I'll end with a little light reading:
UK riots: 'Being liberal is fine, but we need to be given the right to parent' - The Guardian
Our streets are aflame. Now black Britain will be allowed its say - The New Statesman
If the rioting was a surprise, people weren't looking - The Guardian
Panic on the streets of London - PennyRed on Blogspot