Like a Trampled Flag on a City Street

I enjoyed and was humbled by Aaron R.’s great post today about the London riots. We live in neighboring wards in London’s eastern outer boroughs so we have both experienced the riots first hand, though thankfully my particular neighborhood was not touched, though others in my ward were more affected. His post reminds me once more that he is a better man than I — and he’s a sociologist, so I understand the charitable and analytical place that his post is coming from. I am grateful for his good example! He reflects well on Latter-day Saints with this perspective.

Cowardly Criminality

The riots are still fresh and, in truth, it is not certain that tonight will be free from trouble. Unlike Aaron, I do not have any charitable or sympathetic feelings toward the rioting thugs at this time. I hope that reflecting on his post and more broadly on the Gospel I can develop such a perspective in the near future.

Right now I am fuming about what has happend over the last four days. This is nothing like democratic protests (even those that can turn violent) in situations where protesting is the only possibility for addressing grievances.

Looting in Hackney, East London (ht:Mirror)

In contrast to the Arab Spring protests that have recently occurred, the London riots are simply an embarassment — no trace of courage or nobility is associated with the criminal youth who engaged in a very materialistic temper tantrum over the last four days. My observation today is that this was purely about opportunism, greed, wanton destructiveness and simply letting loose because there was an excuse.

So Much for Civic Pride or the Rule of Law

Woman Escaping from Burning Flat in London Riots (ht:Mirror)

At this point (and I hope that Aaron’s example softens my heart), no matter how one looks at the situation, the riots reflect very badly on the perpetrators, implying that the only thing preventing them from doing this more often is their perception that they are likely to get caught and punished by the police. They are only complying with the law at the minimum level possible and only because of the threat of arrest, and not for any bigger reason, such as basic morality. There is no independent commitment to the Rule of Law as a principle or basic human morality as a guide visible in the marauding actions of these criminal youth. Rather, with the perception of the threat of being arrested for lawbreaking lifted on this occasion because of the sudden, widespread nature of the hooliganism, something sinister lurking barely beneath the surface in the rioters emerged. (I hesitated to describe it as “hooliganism” because that does not adequately describe the bad behavior, which far surpassed youthful mischief and vandalism and descended into real evil as the youths committed arson, burning down shops and apartment buildings in their own neighborhoods.) The perception of impunity was an illusion because they will be prosecuted.

Criminal Behavior, not Protesting Turned Violent

Jewelry Shop and Flats Burning in Croydon, South London (ht:Mirror)

This isn’t LA in 1992. There was no quasi-legitimate grievance that served as the initial basis for the rioting to begin. (Of course nothing justified what the LA riots ended up becoming either, but the spark was a legitimate grievance that could have led to more meaningful democratic protests but devolved into even worse rioting than we have seen here over the last four days.) Instead, opportunists seized upon the chance for bad behavior as they cynically exploited a grieving family’s peaceful protest at the shooting of their son during his attempted arrest. The family is on record denouncing the riots and disclaiming any affiliation.

Social networking then allowed this to happen in this way as gangs of youths texted, blackberry messaged and twittered about where the next “fun” and “free stuff” could be had. Gangs of rioters consisted of twenty-first century digital boys (and girls) who apparently don’t know how to live in the real world, but they’ve got a lot of toys. The perpetrators were urban and in some cases suburban youth (and adults) wearing designer clothes and using their blackberries and iPhones to conspire about their next crimes.

Law and Order

The police handled this admirably in the sense that they exercised restraint in resisting the urge to charge in and start beating the robbers with nightsticks. But it shocked all of us to watch them standing in lines while, in their view, kids smashed into shops and ran away with armfuls of stolen goods.

Police Officer Stands Near Burning Car in Hackney, East London (ht:Mirror)

Or to see them standing in full body armor while buildings burned. To be fair to them, they would have surely stopped the thugs from throwing petrol bombs at shops and buildings if they were actually present in that moment (we in the public are assuming). But some media coverage wasn’t helpful as from watching it on the TV it appeared that police officers were standing by as buildings burned and fires spread. One media report claimed that three fire trucks appeared at a burning city block and simply turned around, heading elsewhere, giving the building/block up as a lost cause. It is anyone’s guess as to how factual this (and other anecdotes) is. But I think people are feeling less confidence in public services today and are wondering if the Law part of this episode (where the perps go to court for their crimes) will be more fulfilling than the Order part.

Outrage and British Stoicism Mingled in the Aftermath

As to the feelings of residents of the neighborhoods hardest hit, I watched an interview on BBC where a woman whose shop was smashed and robbed in Clapham (or maybe it was Croydon), angrily stated that the perpetrators were “feral rats” and that their parents bear a lot or most of the responsibility for what has happened. I admit that this strikes me as legitimate outrage, even as I applaud the stoicism that saw hundreds from the local communities turn out to clean up the mess left by these criminal youth.


  1. John F.,

    Do you think one of the reasons behind this riot recent political actions that target young people (skyrocketing college costs, etc.)? Is it partly due to outrage against racism? Are there other factors driving it? Or is it just “fun”?

  2. Thank you John for adding your thoughts to the ongoing discussion. Damn it, I wish I could write as well as you.

    Aside from that, you make a persuasive argument regarding the opportunistic nature of the riots. I cannot defend the actions, and do not want to, and your post serves as an important reminder of the way in which these events have spread fear and devastation far beyond the immediate damage in those local areas.

  3. StillConfused says:

    Thank you for this post. It reflects my feelings on this issue.

    “and that their parents bear a lot or most of the responsibility for what has happened”. Whether politically correct or not, there is serious truth to this statement. When I see children and young adults behaving without concern for others, I do wonder who that person’s mother was. Of course there is free agency and even people from good homes can go bad… and ultimately the hoodlums are responsible for their behavior… but my mind can’t help but wonder about the upbringing of these children and young adults

  4. It’s great to have a forum where the two posts about these riots can be posted and read simultaneously. One of the things I love most about this site is the opportunity to read such thoughtful words from people with different perspectives.

  5. Tim, the rioters were black and white. It was equal opportunity looting and adolescent “fun”. They were riding on BMX bikes from one neighborhood to the other to loot and riot. In our digital age there are dozens of clips floating around the internet and on the news of teenage boys showing up to shops and saying things like “let’s go in and see what we can get” and similar things. This was born of entitlement mentality and bad manners. This is a generation raised without civic pride or any meaningful guidance from parents who respect the Rule of Law.

    The perps were youths (and some young adults and surely some adults) but probably not candidates for university. (In any event, we already saw the student protests over the rising tuition last fall — and of course those devolved into some property damage and violence as well but that falls into the category of legitimate democratic protest getting out of control, not this wanton violence and looting.)

    There are undoubtedly sociological problems that are at the root of this. But there is nothing, in my view right now (perhaps I will think differently later on) that would function as an explanation that identifies such crass political points as the source of the riots. It is shameful that these youth are rioting, looting and committing arson and trying to excuse it by saying “they’re rich and we’re poor so we’re going to show them that we can take what we want” (which is something a teenage girl was recorded saying as an explanation in real time for her bad behavior) while they live in one of the most generous welfare states in the Western world. It’s not Scandinavia but I shudder to think what these youths would be doing in the United States (where they would have far less recourse to public funds than in the UK as a source of welfare) or in Uruguay.

    In fact, one of the things that seems to be angering the public around here is that these rioters live in one of the most prosperous, stable democracies known to both history and the modern Western world and by their actions they seem bent on making it look and feel like a failed state in the developing world where the Rule of Law is a non-existent concept.

  6. While listening to the BBC world report on NPR this morning, I was struck by an interview with a number of looters where they were questioned by the correspondent. They said that they all could afford the goods that they were stealing and as he questioned them further, it was apparent that they were not concerned with anything more than getting free things. Moreover, they did not think that they parents would do more than yell at them.

    This doesn’t apply to all of the rioters but I found it profoundly sad that in a place like Britain so many had no concern for others.

  7. observer fka eric s. says:

    “21st Century Digital boy, I don’t know how to read but I got a lot of toys. My dad is a lazy middle class intellectual, my mommies on valium, so ineffectual.”

  8. ain’t life a mystery

  9. John F., Let me press you on the “This isn’t LA” claim (btw, the LA riots were 1992). You say it is “Criminal Behavior, not Protesting Turned Violent.” I disagree with this assessment of the LA riots for two reasons. First, based on my exposure to the riots (I was intimately exposed to them; they occurred right before finals week of my freshman year in college; they occurred all around my college’s campus in inner-city LA; finals were postponed and made optional.), my impression is that the protesters and looters were separate people. The looters were opportunists of all races who used this Rodney King trial verdict to launch their criminal behavior. They were not legitimately grieved protesters who happened to turn violent. Second, the academic literature I’m familiar with on this sort of spontaneous riot behavior usually uses some sort of threshold or contagion model, and lots of sparks can set the process in motion though the social dynamics that generate the opportunist criminals acting out are similar. So some academic theory (though I won’t claim all) holds that the social dynamics between the LA and London riots can be very much the same.

    I add that the inner -city has suffered long-lasting effects of those riots. I hope the parts hardest hit in London will recover more quickly.

  10. Mike, and that’s the key: here there were and are no actual “protesters”. Gangs of teenagers were just going around stealing stuff because they perceived that the police weren’t going to stop them in the act (they didn’t think ahead very far because they were filmed in their crimes by CCTV and are being arrested today and in the near future). I will change the post to reflect 1992 instead of 1991.

  11. John F : I fully understand your reasons for feeling as you do__i do. I can’t see any winners in a riot.
    But for me:
    1970: The day following Kent State, I was standing at a rally on my college campus about closing of our school for the rest of the year over the shooting at Kent St. I was a RM, just married, a student (I could have been one of those killed at Kent St.), I was an active member of the Marine Reserve ( I could have been one of the guardmen doing the shooting). The LAPD was there with about 200 men in riot gear forming one single line. Soon, they would start to move forward to break up the rally. Not being dumb, the rally group just left.

  12. I thank both of you for your posts. The biggest gap in news coverage I have seen is some kind of explanation of what sparked these riots. I am disappointed that there doesn’t seem a reason most rioters joined in other than that they thought they could do so with impunity. It is a sad time for us all.

  13. John F., But that’s my point. Once there’s a perception, incorrect or not, that they can get away with it, the looting will happen. That’s part of the common social dynamic. That the LA riots happened after the King trial verdict is beside the point.

    This is a picky gripe. I appreciate the thrusts of your and Aaron R.’s posts.

  14. In 1992, a lot of the inner city businesses were owned by Koreans. Banks would not make loans to Blacks to open a business. The Koreans got their loans from Korea. This caused hard feeling and was a reason the Blacks burned so many Korean stores.

  15. Isn’t it easy to blame parents without having a clue what homes they come from or what pressures the parents are under or what they have taught them… Anyone want to blame Satans dad for his poor behaviour????

  16. The racial issues at play in the LA riots are totally inapplicable here. The situation is not comparable at all. The youths were indiscriminately smashing and looting shops — they had no idea and didn’t care whether the shops were owned by blacks, whites, Indians, Pakistanis or orientals or others.

  17. T page, I would be interested in the debate that might ensue if you could actually raise that point with the woman whose shop was looted whom I was quoting. I think there is a good point to be made about teenagers behaving badly in spite of their parent’s teachings and not necessarily because of a lack of such guidance and teaching. The parents are likely sick about what their children have done, at least hopefully that is the case.

    It’s just so easy, however, to assume that many of these youths have been raised more by Grand Theft Auto-type video games and pornos on their iPods than parents teaching them about citizenship, morality and good manners.

  18. Can someone from Britain explain why they don’t send out their equivalent of the National Guard to maintain order? It seems like the police were overwhelmed but nothing was done to restore order. It’s fine to arrest these folks after the fact, but protecting private property honestly doesn’t seem to have been a huge issue. It seems to me that in the LA riots one big issue was that the per capita number of police really was ridiculously low compared to many other cities.

  19. Thank you, John F for so eloquently expressing my own views at this time. The people involved in the criminal action we have seen over the last few days are not deprived in montetary terms; they already had the designer clothing and expensive mobile phones. Perhaps their deprivation is both social and cultural but even that cannot excuse their behaviour. “A very materialistic temper tantrum” is the best description I have heard so far of the last few days. I have felt such anger, frustration and sadness as I have watched my lovely country brought to it’s knees by a bunch of mindless thugs. In response to Clark’s question as to why we “don’t send out the equivalent of the National Guard to maintain order”, apparently, “That’s not how we do things here in the UK” (I think this is a quote by PM David Cameron) but I am not sure it reflects the feeling of the British people at this time.

  20. #18: Clark, Per capita_maybe low. Still ten thousand officers.
    The big edge is only about 35% are White. This helps riots from becoming a racial thing.

  21. clark,

    One explanation that I just heard on NPR relates back to some legitimate protests from a year ago. At any large enough protest there are bound to be some anarchists, opportunists, or agent provocateurs (if you subscribe to the conspiracies anyhow) that are there to cause trouble. The London police used aggressive “kettling” tactics to control the crowd and limit their movements. In the midst of this a gentleman happened to walk by on his way home from work. The police incorrectly identified him as a protester and beat him with a nightstick, resulting in his death.

    Recently the policeman that beat the man was charged with manslaughter in that incident.

    It might be that the police, aware that they’re being filmed both by CCTV cameras and countless cell phones, are taking a less aggressive approach as a measure of self preservation and perhaps as a bit of a protest of their own given that the police don’t think their brother should have been charged.

  22. That’s exactly right, arJ. But Clark is also right that actual protection of property does not seem to have been a priority this time.

  23. it's a series of tubes says:

    Having lived in some of the roughest neighborhoods in London, Birmingham, and Nottingham over a period of some years, my .02 is that you are seeing behavior at least partially (perhaps primarily) arising from both 1) a near-total breakdown in the family in these neighborhoods and 2) a generally consequence-free entitlement state. Need a flat? The council has one for you. You smoke? You get a higher benefit to support that habit. A job? No, you don’t need one. Hang around the corner shop all day, some footy in the park, chippy, then the pub. Rinse and repeat.

    Hate to say it, but to a degree I think Britain is reaping what it has sown. Breaks my heart too, because I’ve personally shed plenty of both physical and spiritual blood (and treasure) on behalf of people I love their. My long sleeves cover up some of the scars, but one all..

  24. it's a series of tubes says:

    eh, “not all.” And “there”. IE 7 does not play nice with the comment box.

  25. Bob (18), but if you are attempting to defend a city from riots then you want police proportional to the size of the city so per capita is important. (And that may even undervalue the need if you have a big influx of people working in the city who live outside). Further if the one common thread between London and LA were complaints about policing I honestly think the size of the police force matters a lot in terms of the quality of policing. I don’t know about London but certainly in LA there were historic problems with how certain communities were policed. While those low standards were a problem, I also think that a low per capita force will always mean the rich get good policing while the poor get screwed.

    None of that is to excuse the riots in either city. However it really does sound like there were some serious past issues about policing in both cities that simply weren’t getting the attention they deserved.

    Random John (21), if the police were doing that then that highlights the problem of policing in London, doesn’t it? Doesn’t that suggest that certainly after the first night other forces should have been called in? Honestly the reaction by all the political parties kind of leaves me with my head shaking. It’s also interesting to see how every political ideology sees confirmation of their views in the riots. (It’s especially fun reading the neoMarxists at Crooked Timber commenting that this proves the lack of concern on the poor, the conservatives seeing it as confirming the breakdown of will by entitlements, as well as right wing American sites who think guns solve everything — although honestly in cases like this do make me appreciate the 2cd amendment not that I think it’d solve things in the least)

  26. clark,

    My point (which I could have made more obvious) was two-fold:
    1. It is possible there were enough police but they didn’t care to try to stop what was happening.
    2. Anyone else called in to stop it would have had some of the same motivations in terms of concerns over being filmed in a chaotic situation.

  27. nat kelly says:

    Private property is being mentioned constantly in these conversations.

    While I agree that it is terrible for innocent people to have lost their livelihoods and their homes, I do have to say that I am impressed with certain aspects of how the police in London handled the riots. I read at one point that they were equipped with non-fatal plastic bullets to reign people in. And I haven’t heard any reports of them shooting anyone, or even excessively beating someone.

    As someone involved in anti-police brutality fights here in the States, I find this refreshing. To me, it seems like a complete no-brainer that human life is more valuable than private property. Of course buildings burning down is terrible, but it would be even more terrible if the kid doing it was gunned down. My experiences with the police forces in the US have reinforced that they mostly exist TO protect private property. So I really appreciate seeing a police force that values the life of even criminals over private property.

    Then again, I’ve never really owned any proper “property”.

  28. nat kelly says:

    Btw, there is by no means a consensus that all these rioters were mindless thugs with no larger political message or social protest to convey. In the circles I run in, videos and interviews with people talking about the political meanings behind the riots are flying like crazy. Sure it’s not all on BBC or the Guardian, but alternative media sources are full of some pretty smart analysis.

    Like, for example, this guy:

    I know basically nothing about British society, so I cannot compare the veracity of his analysis with john f.’s. But I do think lots of people on the lower end of the economic totem pole have been voicing pretty strong opinions about the social malaise these riots are responding to.

  29. StillConfused says:

    Instead of looting:

  30. “I really appreciate seeing a police force that values the life of even criminals over private property.”

    I hope someone smarter than me takes Nat Kelly’s challenge. If some sociopathic thug burned down my home I’d want him dead. And I’m a renter!

  31. nat kelly says:

    I wasn’t issuing a challenge. I am just saying that I think property is worth vastly less than life.

    It depresses me a little that this is a contentious statement.

  32. Property might not be worth more than the life of a sociopathic thug, but property, public safety, and social stability certainly are. I’m not sure if that’s contentious or not…was hoping some libertarian lawyer or economist would jump on here and do my talking for me!

  33. I would hope people think life is more valuable property. I would hope people would see a contained riot is better than a bloody war.
    Have we not seen enough of killing in the name of “social stability “? One person’s “thug”, is another person’s son.

  34. This is what happens when you transfer Nicholas Angle out of London to Sandford.

  35. Sorry I sound like a despot-in-training, Bob. You’re right, of course.

    Like every other city dweller in the world, I’m looking at this as if it happened in my own neighborhood, and it’s horrifying.

  36. S.P. Bailey says:

    The dichotomy between life and property proposed in comments above is an interesting one. It is obviously true on a certain level. The use of deadly force to protect private property is generally not legally justified. Yet, “property” in the classical liberal sense is not just people’s consumer electronics or even their homes. It is an extension of their life, the product of their talents and efforts, and the fundamental precondition for their exercise of liberty. That is why the use of non-deadly force in the protection of property is justified. That is why the sight of scores of cops standing by doing nothing as homes and businesses burn is particularly troubling in the land that gave us John Locke.

  37. Wonderbum says:

    All this talk about life being more important than property. Lets put some perspective on this. This was not mere looting. Various homes and businesses were not only set on fire, but set on fire without any regard to the fact that there might be people in them, and there were people in them. As put in the post, there is a picture of a woman leeping from a 1st floor window, with people on the street below trying to catch her. This was in Croyden where a ferocious blaze raged out of control right by her property. The heat would have felt intolerable. People were dragged from their cars and then their cars torched. An injured man in Barking who was on the ground was helped up and then mugged by his so called helpers. He had a broken jaw with blood over him. Mothers huddled with their children terrified in their homes waiting for their homes to be next, looted, then set on fire. This is not looting. If you can make the choice to act in this way then you have chosen a path where there could be quite devastating consequences and rightly so. There is a saying, you lie down with dogs you get up with fleas. I sat watching it, my sister lives in Croyden and it was happening on her doorstep. Her and her husband had to rush out and get a couple of their children to safety whilst it was kicking off. Her eldest is a security guard at Debenhams and her 14 year old son was eating dinner with his friend in KFC. In that same area a man was shot in his car, people attacked, homes and businesses set on fire, lootings. I live in an area, that should it kick off here, most of those thugs would probably be from my street. It was a massive reality check for me regarding my family and how safe we are. When I heard about the couple that had been dragged from their car and then it had been torched, because their only crime seems to be having made a wrong turn into a street full of thugs, it made me feel sick. What if that had been my husband and I dragged from our car, and the thugs had not realised that we had our very young children in the back. You cannot make a sweeping statment of property not being more important than life in a situation as such because the situation was bigger than just property. You cannot have crime like this happening like looting without other crime, normally violence, taking place they go hand in hand. Therefore it is not about society thinking property is more important than life, it is about showing that society and order is more important. When looting and violence happens, it threatens that very society and it’s ability to co-exist within often leading to more breakdowns. There are people that have lost everything due to these riots that they spent years working hard to be able to pay their bills and provide for their families. Some their businesses, some their homes. It leads to feelings of fear, rejection, disillussionment, depression and for a few, suicide, all a knock on effect for the family around them. I’m not talking about killing the offenders, but maybe some force would be appropriate, seeing as the perpertrators don’t seem to have any problem imposing force on their victims. The moment you impact on other innocent people’s lives and interfere with their rights and freedoms illegally, then in my opinion, you have already smoothered your own rights. They made their choices and none of them can say that what they did was legal, so they all have a guilty mind and therefore are accountable.

  38. Arson is one of the worst felonies for this reason. It ranks up there with murder — not sure if everyone is aware of that.

  39. We’re in Notting Hill, one of the few upscale London neighborhoods to have incidents of looting and burning. At first I thought it certainly wouldn’t affect Central London, and then watched it come closer (online), and then heard the sirens and smell the smoke. It was most frightening to try to account for everyone (we’re with students), and a great relief when everyone finally made it home, as the nearest tube stop was closed. Our students saw vandalism on the street–from the top floor of our building saw people in hoods and masks running through the neighborhood.

    We and our students all have church assignments in a stake south of the river in places that were hit by rioting. One student who works with the youth in her ward said she wouldn’t be at all surprised if some of her kids were involved. “And I completely love them,” she said. In our ward, single moms and grandmas who came from other countries try to manage their families while working and dealing with their own physical and mental health problems. There are maybe three solid Melchizedek priesthood holders in the ward–including a young, energetic, overworked bishop who we love (who also works for the Met police. I worry about him in the short-run with his work, and in the long run at church. How long before he burns out? We do what we can.)

    What’s amazing to me is how quick all the commentators (including us here) are to know what is causing the rioting and what to do about it. It seems that if people are really serious about doing something constructive rather than just blaming and feeling self-righteous–and I understand that “othering” scary people sometimes helps us feel safer–“we’re not like that” and “it can’t happen here”–they would at least take a day or two to learn about the circumstances and think about them before pronouncing judgment.

    What good does blame do anyway? It feels like a political game where real people’s suffering and losses are used to score points. Of course the rioters were wrong. To me it looked like a combination of teenage excitement, unsophisticated nihilism, and the rage from seeing others with more stuff than you have. But after we sufficiently condemn the rioters, then what? Why does the social agreement NOT to riot and loot break down now? How can it be built again?

    To me it feels like the loss of New Orleans–not as great a physical catastrophe, of course, but a social catastrophe of the same order. I am mourning the city I thought I knew, but maybe better learning the city of reality.

  40. it's a series of tubes says:

    CRW, are you visiting faculty in the BYU center at the moment? Your description of where you live, and being with LDS students assigned to wards in the greater London area, seems to fit.

  41. john,

    any thoughts on the correlation between bailing out banks and cutting social services? This article highlights the problems of pushing austerity policies upon a population.

  42. nat kelly says:

    Daniel, that’s a fascinating article, thanks for sharing.

    I think it’s extremely likely that people are getting involved in these riots for all different sorts of reasons. Of course massive chaos is going to draw all the opportunistic people in the surrounding area. If the original rioters were not the greedy, thug-like “sociopaths” people accuse the rioters of being, it makes perfect sense that anybody with a desire to steal or feel a power rush would join in. Even those rich kids who could just easily buy all the stuff they’re stealing. But we shouldn’t let that obscure the reality of the political messages pushing other participants, like those of the man interviewed in my link in #28.

    I think CRW asks some very important questions in #39. What makes a normal protest escalate into a riot and then looting and burning? I’ve marched in a demonstration of a thousand people protesting police brutality – while masked anarchists were trying to hijack the entire event, inciting people to violence, urging people to start lighting fire to police cars, etc. They were pretty much just ignored. What accounts for the difference, and why London just exploded this time?

  43. my guess is there was simmering anger in London that needed just a spark to set off. The killing of Mark Duggan was just the spark. I think that as austerity continues in England, we’ll see more such protests and riots. The previous London riots of the early 80s was over a similar cut in social services, if I remember correctly. I could be wrong. If a segment of the population feels their labor won’t amount to much to raise their level in society, they tend not to feel a part of that society and eventually reject it. The success of America, particularly from the 30s-70s was that anyone could move up. It’s getting harder to do that now, with 40% of America’s wealth now tucked snuggly into the pockets of the top 1% and we might start having similar problems as Britain is currently facing (same with Greece).

  44. series of tubes @40
    Yes, we are at the BYU London Centre. Our summer term kids all went home today, or onto other travels, but we’ll be here until the end of the year. I just don’t know how to digest what has happened. I realize that the farther away from it a person is, the easier it is to judge or rush to a conclusion.

  45. Daniel, in my view this isn’t about spending cuts except perhaps to the extent that welfare programs have created a sense of entitlement among teenagers and young adults in this country which has led to a decline in civic pride and participation. Sitting here in the middle of the riots, I never got the sense that the perpetrators were actually poor people protesting about spending cuts, although to be sure a couple of robbers who were interviewed by the press during the heat of the riots said convenient class-oriented things such as “we’re poor and they’re rich so we’re gonna show them we can take what we want”. The problem is that they were smashing and looting their neighbors’ shops, businesses and homes. If it is true that they were protesting some particular political policy, then they had a curious way of doing so by destroying businesses of their peers and their parent’s peers, not the estates of rich investment bankers. Smashing up a hair salon owned by someone just as or even more impoverished than your own mother hardly seems like an effective way to protest a spending cut to help stimulate the economy.

    Another thing to consider: teenagers and young adults who committed these crimes were raised in the Labour government during a time when welfare spending was at its height. The cuts have only been in place for a short time. By contrast, those committing the crimes, if it is true that they are the poor class in society (appearances in court in the last two days of those arrested during the riots have suggested this might not be the case — that maybe this really was just a case of people without any sense of citizenship or public morality letting loose and committing crimes because for a moment there was a lapse in the perception that they would be immediately prevented from doing so by the law and so they jumped at the chance) will have benefited for many years from the welfare state — so what they are is a function of that state of being and not a result of spending cuts that have only been introduced recently.

  46. it's a series of tubes says:

    CRW, that is a wonderful facility and opportunity. I’m sure you have enjoyed every moment you have spent there, as I did over a decade ago.

  47. john,

    a sense of entitlement leads to a decline in civic pride and participation?

    I checked around wikipedia for reference to previous London riots and I was struck by the similarity between the riots of 1981, 1985, and this one. They all had one particularly disturbing similarity. They were all sparked by a policeman killing a black man or woman. In 1985, an African-Carribbean woman died of a stroke after police entered her home. That was the Broadwater Farm riot. Earlier, in the Brixton riot of 1985, police shot a Jamaican woman in her home while they were searching for her son. The 1981 riots weren’t sparked by a police shooting a black man, but were the result of police harassment of the African-Carribbean community. I bet if I look at all the London riots, I would find a similar pattern.

    This isn’t about how we are spoiling these kids with all these wonderful things. It’s the disproportionate harshness of the life they live, the punishment meted out to them, compared to those at the top. They may lash out at their neighbor’s businesses, but that’s more because they are not led by some political goal of reform or change or even the target of a social or economic group. There’s no political leader to such riots. The opportunity cost of rioting dropped because of such incidents (cops killing black people), thus they riot. It’s not a matter of entitlement. It’s a matter of simple anger at a society that doesn’t dole out the same punishment when elites break laws or moralities. Rebekah Brooks, for instance, is not going to jail. I can bet that.

  48. There were reasons why the ” The Right to life, liberty, and property”, in the Declaration of Independence was changed to ” The Right of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happyness.
    No one like chaos and riots. Yes, laws should be enforced and order restored. But it’s about building cities into communities and not police states.

  49. it's a series of tubes says:

    Daniel, have you lived for an extended period of time under an advanced welfare state?

  50. StillConfused says:

    Growing up in the South, there were occasional race riots back in the day. But living in a farming community, neither I (a white person) nor any of my black neighbors participated in those events. We were too busy working to feed our families.

  51. Daniel, that’s ludicrous. These kids aren’t sociologists or political junkies. And to the extent they’re living a harsh life it’s more likely because of the way their parents or family or caregivers are treating them than because they are not receiving appropriate government services.

    And, yes, I think that an ingrained and ungrateful sense of entitlement actually separates one from their local community. That is what I have observed, particularly in these riots.

    These riots were not protests about the gang member getting shot during his attempted arrest last Thursday. That man’s family protested peacefully in front of the police station on Saturday. The riots were separate. A few opportunists appear to have used the peaceful protest as a springboard to commit criminal acts and then gangs of teenagers and young adults who were devoid of public morality engaged in copycat criminality for the next four days.

    Despite spending cuts, by the way, Britain still does not allow poor people to go hungry or homeless. It’s a different world than in America so you’re not going to profit much by projecting your frustrations with America’s lack of social safety net onto the UK.

  52. which part is ludicrous? That there is strong resentment to how these particular communities are treated by police and the British upper class? That in Britain, it is extremely difficult to move up economically? This riot is quite similar to previous riots in London. Same kind of economic group, same kind of ethnic group. It’s not about moral depravity.

  53. I think I’ve filled my quota of comments for the day. Pretty soon Steve Evans and Scott B are gonna start yelling at me.

  54. it's a series of tubes says:

    Daniel, having lived on both sides of the pond, my .02 is that John F’s assessment cuts right to the heart of the matter. Unless you have lived among it, I don’t think you can appreciate the mindset of the typical British youth, particularly those from council estates. It differs substantially from that of the USA.

    Walthamstow and Brixton are simply incomparable to east Oakland.

  55. Daniel, these riots are different than 1985 precisely because they are about moral bankruptcy, not financial bankruptcy. Your whole approach to this is ludicrous. That is my opinion. Others on this thread agree with you, so exult in that.

    There is a lot you don’t know about society, policing, welfare, benefits, homelife, schooling and social mobility in the UK. It just isn’t comparable to America. For one thing, the Met Police is about as multi-ethnic, multi-cultural as it gets. So it’s not a racial thing except to the extent that criminals exploited the shooting of a black gang member during his arrest in Tottenham to commit violence. For all we know, it was in fact political — as long as we’re speculating, let’s say that a group of Marxist radicals in Tottenham heard about the shooting and immediately decided that they could use it to stoke class hatred and so began the violence know of the moral bankruptcy of large numbers of poor and middle-class urban and suburban kids in the London area, and figuring that such youth would see the violence that these radicals were doing in Tottenham and copy it in other neighborhoods merely because they wanted to have the fun of destroying stuff and getting free stuff. Sounds just as plausible as saying that these rioters and robbers that were maurading around London were actually motivated by government spending cuts.

    By the way, I didn’t see any signs or banners protesting any particular government policy or anything else. The only thing remotely political that I heard was a teenage girl recorded as saying, while looting a ma-and-pa shop, “we’re poor and they’re rich so we’re gonna show them that we can take what we want”.

  56. Steve Evans says:


  57. I’m a few days late to this post, but it has been bothering me because it seems altogether too breezy to so cleanly separate the criminal from the political, the moral from the financial. I know how easy it is for those of us who work for a living to see how generously the social contract supports the chav culture (or whatever else it is) – with their electronic gadgets and designer clothes – and wonder why they are not content to eat their cake. Even if there was no legitimate political angle to the riots (which strains credulity), does such a generally well-off society really bear no collective responsibility at all when riots of that sort break out? Maria Hampton’s article in the recent Adbusters magazine, commenting on Unicef’s report that British children have the most miserable upbringings in the developed world, provides the beginnings of some answers, I think.

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