Riot van

This is a difficult post to write, not least because people are still trying to come to terms with the damage, and so I hope not to offend; but if I have I apologise beforehand and ask that if you disagree please do so with respect.

Britain is currently reeling from a series of riots that have hit many of the major cities.  My local town centre was vandalised and robbed but my family have not witnessed the worst of the damage [1].  Shops have been looted, historic buildings have been burned and innocent people have been attacked.

During my honeymoon violence flared in Paris.  Two young men had been shot by police and the youth of the Banlieue’s took to the streets in protest of police oppression.  The riots rippled through France but eventually order was restored.  London was again fairly quiet last night but riots recurred in various city centres around the country.

It is impossible to justify the events of the last few days.  The actions of these youth are wrong and they are criminal.  Not only has the violence and the vandalism saddened me, but so has the way we have spoken about these young people.  We have been too willing to use reductionist explanations for their behaviour.  They have been described as ‘animals’ and ‘feral-like’ by politicians and others.  Rather, it seems to me, that the processes of group psychology and the diffusion of individuality have been mixed with, and exacerbated by, youthful naivety and teenage rebellion.  But these have almost invariably not been the explanations given.  There is nothing particularly depraved about most of those involved, but you would not know this from the various reports heard thus far; in fact they could very well be related to many of us.

Some have expressed exasperation at how such individuals could damage their own local communities, and yet their alienation from these communities is all too evident.  Not that their alienation has caused the riots but that a sense of connection with the community may well have reduced the extent of the damage.  In fact, if that alienation was unconscious before the riots it has certainly been actualised in how these groups have been described.  Their separation from ‘middle England’ has now been revealed and legitimated.  As such, a steady barrage of facebook updates have used various colourful (and at times racist) epithets to categorise these teenagers. What was once latent is now allowed to be openly expressed.  Their otherness is both complete and radical.

Does this justify their behaviour?  It does not.  Does it even explain their behaviour? No, their alienation is not sufficient cause for what these young people have done.  Rather, what I see here is a symptom of a division which I find dissatisfying.  This is not a call to government or to local citizens to reach out to the disaffected youth of our country rather this is an attempt to sensitise us to the way that we categorise and divide through our speech.

Within this narrative another sub-plot has also emerged.  Social networking sites have gathered and connected well-meaning citizens who, in response to the trouble, have moved to repair and restore what had been destroyed.  This sense of community, of re-integration, is an inspiring sight and one which illuminates something wonderful, but often hidden, in British towns: an unspoken commitment to moderation and altruism.

Surely the love of many has not yet waxed cold.

My fear is that such altruism will deepen the gulf further between those who assist with the clean-up and those who have broken the glass.  That it will make these youth unintelligible.  I hope we do not begin to allow this to mark our differences rather than use such moments to reach across these very real social chasms.

I suspect that many of those involved in the riots will come to regret what they have done and I imagine that this will not be the last time we see violence on the streets of London, or Paris, or any other major city.  Therefore I do not think that we should focus upon, or reinforce the seeming incommensurability between ‘us’ and ‘them’ nor spend too much time ascribing blame to the government or to the youth; but rather we should do what these inspiring locals have done.  We should pick our brooms, or whatever tools we have to hand, go to work with compassion and restore that which we have lost whilst being ready to resist easy and divisive explanations for the trouble in our world.


  1. Another post could be written about the various emergency services which have worked endless and gruelling hours over the last few days in response to the riots.  But because of my own personal interest, let me pay tribute, in my own small way, to those police officers (my friends and family) who have struggled to respond to these events.  They have been attacked with petrol bombs, bricks and glass.  Others have had to wait long, tense hours for their loved ones to return unscathed.  Although I am sure mistakes have been made it seems to me that they have been exemplary in these trying situations and I am very grateful for the work they have performed.


  1. Yours is a thoughtful critique in a time when most are speaking without thought — on either side of this situation. Following from a distance, I have been impressed by the citizens gathering to sweep and clean up the mess and wonder if any of those who broke the glass will also bring a broom.

  2. I’m in London right now. My wife and I were in the middle of the riots when they broke out two nights ago as we returned from the theater (which in London is magnificent). In London the riots are fueled in part as a response to the killing of a father of four by the police — but the fires of cultural separation of various minority communities are easily fanned in London. The violence that has spread is really just an opportunity to vent some general outrage as a copycat given permission to act badly by the thoughtless conduct of others. On the other hand, being in the middle of fire bombs thrown about randomly by thoughtless youngsters is pretty scary.

  3. blake,

    any chance of coming over to ireland to do a presentation or something?

  4. I served my mission in the England London South Mission. I am very familiar with some of the areas affected by the riots, including Clapham, Brixton, Peckham, Balham and Croydon. It’s sick and sad to see what is happening there, but it is also heartening to see the thousands who came out in Clapham with their brooms.

    The rioting shows how close things are to the edge in many parts of the world (Vancouver!?) and it doesn’t take much to set things off.

    I believe long-lasting peace is found in the teachings of Christ and the further our society gets away from those timeless values of charity, kindness and forgiveness, the worse things will become.

  5. KerbearRN says:

    We in the US have seen similar (LA Ridney King riots of 1992), again over similar frustrations with police which may or may not have merit. Anger, protests I can understand. But I get sick of the sheer opportunism shown by many involved (and I suspect many of these are “latecomers”–not part of the original conflict but awaiting any opportunity to rush in). The looting and destruction are what anger and sadden me. I believe it was from Croydon, where many of the most dramatic photos I’ve seen were taken, that I heard the sad sad story of a store, operated 5 generations by a family with current children waiting to be the 6th), burned. Many many in these areas are faced with replacing property and the likelihood of increased insurance premiums. Businesses will be driven out because of these increased costs and people in these neighborhoods will suffer even more in an already difficult economy. Not to mention the physical suffering endured by those injured in this craziness. I see my friends in England (London, Bristol, Southampton), who are generally very sympathetic to the lot of the poor and disaffected (and many of whom participated in their own protests in their younger years) frustrated and saddened by this– and damn near afraid to leave their homes at night. Though I sympathise with the disaffectation felt by many of today’s poverty-stricken young people, I am honestly angered by what appears to me to be a bigger bunch of kids who are using this as an excuse to loot, pillage, and otherwise enjoy wreaking havoc. Their attitude to me is summed up by the words of one rioter — “Come join the fun!”. Frustrations must be addressed, and that is a never-ending cross that must be shouldered by society as a whole. But restitution must also be made. Those involved must pick up a broom, hammer and nails. Perhaps helping to clean up their own mess would give these kids a way to feel “included” in the society that they apparently feel so alienated from.

  6. There is a lot of sympathy here in Dublin about what is happening in London and other British cities. There is also fear that something similar may eventually happen here.

    Times of recession are not kind to those in socially difficult situations. Of course there are some legitimate complaints. But others have used this organised chaos as a cover for simple criminality: stealing. Additionally, some have lost more than buildings but have lost their very lives.

    It is sad to see… and so close to home too. But it is heartening to see the resolve of other young people who would rather build than destroy and rather help than hurt.

    Hopefully some semblance of order will return soon. My prayers are for all those caught up in this.

  7. “My prayers are for all those caught up in this.”

    Amen – with an emphasis on ALL.

  8. I think it would be helpful to know the general age of some of the commenters here (I’m 66). Also do you own property (yes) ?
    A lot of youth or poor, with no property, feels it’s OK take their frustrations and disaffectation out on material things. A lot of older people feel it’s OK to take out their loss of property directly against the heads of the youth or poor. This always seems to happen in riots. I have no idea how to break this cycle, but I do see it.

  9. Thank you for the comments so far.

    Bob, I am 28 and do not own my property.

  10. “A lot of youth or poor, with no property, feels it’s OK take their frustrations and disaffectation out on material things. ”

    This may be the very root of their frustration. They feel that they have nothing to lose.

    I am 34 and I own a home and other property (feels like AA).

    Chris H.

  11. Aaron,

    Thanks for the post.

  12. JJ, or Property-holders anonymous?

    Bob, I offer my age and property-holding status because I am interested in what influence this might have on my response, or others?

  13. “Property-holders anonymous” would work better…mostly just for socialists that own property. The misery of owning it has taught me much (I thought about putting a smiley face…but I do not think that is allowed).

  14. Steve Evans says:

    Aaron, thanks so much for writing this. It’s just so very surprising and disappointing for me as a Commonwealther to see something like this occur in the UK, which I guess I’ve viewed through an idealistic lens for some time. Et in Arcadia ego and all that.

  15. john f.,

    I’d love to see a piece on “Where are the parents?” in this whole thing. Do you know if anybody has interviewed the parents or family of any rioters?

  16. I assume there are some gruff exchanges as police batter down doors of the offenders’ houses and storm in to cuff and drag away the perps. We are seeing some of those images on TV. Reports are that more than 600 youths have been arrested.

  17. I really liked the way you treated the riots in this post. So many are quick to stereotype those who participated as young hooligans or thugs. It amused me that the first in court over them was a white 31 year old school teacher. I think it shows that we can not be quick to point the finger at stereotypes to explain it, it was not simply young kids with bad parents who participated.

    I love the fact you focussed on the importance to rebuild communities. My hope is that it brings us together in its wake. the phoenix raises out of the ashes. Many of the great buildings of London today came after the great fire of London. This gives me hope that the rebuilding from the riots after can be used constructively to build a better world. That is what my hope is.

    My fear is that the police let the riots happen or did less to stop them in order to stop the police force funding being cut. This is me just being a cynic though, however I know the police could have stopped them as they have so many times done so in the past, so why the failure in this instance, and the reports that the police stood by doing nothing in some places? Further, this has been used to give police special powers to stop anyone without reason in certain hours. Hitler used tragedy to gain power after the burning of the Reichstag to give himself special powers

    SO I wonder will this be our great fire of London or our fire in the reichstag?

    I hope that it is our great fire of London.

  18. CCTV cameras all around the city caught many perps with clear shots, allowing easy identification. The police and newspapers are conducting a “name and shame” campaign whereby they are publishing recognizable still shots of the perps captured from the CCTV footage on television and the front pages of newspapers.

    One irony that I anticipate is that, far from regret and grief from some of the parents of these criminal youth, the parents are going to try to sue the police or the newspapers for publishing recognizable face shots of their children for the public at large to see in the name and shame campaign.

  19. #12: Aaron,
    I came to age in the an era of riots (The 60s). Race riots ( Watts), student/peace riots (Kent State), bra burning riots (Not mine), Kennedys and King’s killings, etc. My son, while he was at Berkeley, made the mistake one day of telling me (talk about pushing a hot button) “You know nothing about protesting”.

  20. Over the last few years the moral failings of first bankers, then politicians, and most lately journalists and police officers have cost this country billions and done untold damage to centuries-old institutions. Funny how nobody was using class-charged language like feral chav scum then. Nobody was asking ‘where were their parents?’ I guess a collar and tie still goes a long way in the UK.

  21. Bob, thanks for your comments here. I think your right that my perspective on these issues is quite different. In Britain, there is usually a sense that this type of behaviour is usually the province of the French and so to have these events here, as Steve notes, is somewhat disconcerting.

    john f., I sincerely hope that these parents are not going to go down that route.

    Jacob, thank you for your comment. Having some family in the police I have a somewhat biased position on this particular issue and from what I understand the policy has been to contain the rioters in an effort to localise the damage in an effort to allow them to run out of steam. Although that may seemed ill-advised I can understand it after the other protests in the last year. Further I also have the sense that many of the Met officers were called in for very long hours and so I think the issue of being understaffed was somewhat genuine.

  22. John–if that happens I hope any reasonable judge throws it out as the city was using available resources to identify criminals. What are photographers/cameramen(and women)/journalists suppose to do? Stop every person in the midst of chaos and ask how old they are? I suspect most of those involved are of age.

    When I first started reading I thought the post said “Britain is currently reeling from a series of idiots…”. I feel heartbroken for those who are affected, and deeply wish I could afford a plane ticket to help clean up. As for the reason why these riots are occurring, I don’t particularly care. If you’re doing public wrong for the right reasons it’s still wrong and there are other ways to deal with dissatisfaction that don’t result in damaged property.

  23. Thank you for this thoughtful commentary on the riots. I’ve been living in Tunisia since January, and watching and thinking a lot about the Arab Spring, and then the demonstrations in Greece, Spain, and other places.

    There are a lot of differences between the unrest in Tunisia vs. Spain vs. Libya vs. U.K., etc. But there are also some similarities. Decisions (and sometimes mistakes) made by those in power, especially during the past few years, have seriously impacted some of the most vulnerable segments of society. Up until now they have felt powerless. Now they’ve hit on something that at least gets attention and allows them to let out some of their frustration, and in some cases even dramatically change the status quo.

    It never hurts to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, however unsavory they may look at first glance. I think you’re right to re-humanize the perpetrators. If we can view them as real people, and understand where they’re coming from, we’re one step closer to finding solutions and realizing what we can do as individuals to make the world around us just a bit better.

  24. Stephanie says:

    Up until now they have felt powerless. Now they’ve hit on something that at least gets attention and allows them to let out some of their frustration, and in some cases even dramatically change the status quo.

    But who are they hurting?

  25. StillConfused says:

    I think what bothers me most about these riots is the severe lack of respect that rioters have for others. Even if the man who was killed while shooting at officers was innocent, how does that give someone the right to damage a completely innocent person’s property or person? Where is the logic stream there? What causes people to be so devoid of respect for others?

  26. I’m sorry, it still makes me smile when I hear the British declination of the French, that rioting and revolutions happen over there, never to us. Unheard of.

    It’s like in America when Evangelicals say things that make them glad they’re not Mormons. After all, Mormons are wierdos. :)

  27. “As for the reason why these riots are occurring, I don’t particularly care.”

    You are the problem.

  28. Sarah, whether political policies are indeed at the root of all this, as your comment suggests, I hope no one thinks that the criminal youth who have committed these crimes have any kind of excuse in the face of punishments for their actions. The tragedy is that many of these kids will have serious criminal records as a result of this. But just because it’s tragic does not mean that academic discussions about whether a particular political policy ultimately led to this should in some way prevent these perps from receiving the just reward for their actions. I think there’s some value to Kant’s insight that it would literally be immoral for criminals such as these rioters to avoid experiencing the legal consequences of their actions.

  29. observer fka eric s. says:

    I was a graduating senior from High School when an L.A. jury acquited L.A.P.D. of delivering Rodney King beat downs. I grew up in North Orange County, east of East Los Angeles proper. I will never forget looking west from the hills as the June sun set and seeing plums of smoke ascend as we simultaneously watched riots and choas on TV. I don’t recall feeling scared or worried despite the images and plumes that seemed to last for days. Instead–as a teenager–I wanted to get close and check out the chaos. But as I think about it now, in light of the images from London–I feel as though these episodes are social/racial growing pains that globalization passes through. It will blow over and society will be more introspective and aware of the previous unhealthy tension. L.A. has been a much nicer place ever since the Rodney riots IMHO.

  30. Are the problems primarily on the government side? Lack of family instruction? Or is it possibly from the concept that today we are raising kids that are more and more narcissistic? Recent studies show that narcissism is on the rise, especially among youth, and shown forth in their favorite shows (American Idol, Hannah Montana, Jersey Shore) and activities. Facebook seems to either grow that narcissism or give a place for it, as kids look to have fame via having thousands of “friends.”

    I foresee that unless the USA fixes its issues, the youth here will soon be rioting in the streets, also.

  31. JJ– I’m not saying I don’t care that people are being hurt. I’m saying if a person is out to destroy property, steal, and possibly kill my first focus is to stop it; not analyze the reasons behind it. If a group of people wanted to be understood there are other ways to do it. If you’re going to pull something out of context at the least have it make sense.

  32. Steve Evans says:

    #30, that’s not really what you said the first time. The addition of “first focus” really makes quite a difference. JJ’s not entirely wrong.

  33. Aaron, this is an important post, I think. Aside from the obvious, one of the things that has been disappointing (but not surprising) about these riots is that it has revealed the latent classism that infuses so much of British life. The poorest in our society (and not just the rioters) have been dehumanised again.

  34. It is nice to be partially right.

  35. partially right/not entirely wrong ≈ glass half full/glass half empty?

  36. justkidding says:

    I wonder whether it is even wise to raise concerns of “stereotyping” and the like in a case like this. It would seem that stereotyping occurs when characteristics are assumed based solely on membership in some group. Here, the individuals who participated in the riots aren’t having their character questioned based on their membership in some group. Instead, it seems to me, they are being classified based on a specific set of actions. If you participated in a violent riot that resulted in destruction of property and death, aren’t you at least partially responsible for helping to feed the frenzy that led to the results? Aren’t those who have been impacted entitled to make judgments about your actions and even your character, based on those actions? I realize that we all make mistakes, and some of us make really big mistakes. The atonement of the Savior was necessary because of that fact, and I doubt any of the rioters are capable of committing sins that are beyond the power of the Atonement. However, when I make a mistake, I think it is probably appropriate to define me by those mistakes until I choose to repent and take advantage of the Savior’s mercy. Each of the rioters, whatever their motivation for participating in the crimes, is defined by their participation and the resulting destruction. That includes the possibility of criminal penalties and criminal records. However, I would be willing (and required) to forgive any of them who are willing to repent (including attempting restitution – cleaning up, etc.).

  37. justkidding says:

    gomez (33) – is there any evidence that the rioters are the dispossessed in society? What little I have been able to gather seems to indicate that the rioters were made up of middle-class and poor, not just the poor.

  38. Over the last few years the moral failings of first bankers, then politicians, and most lately journalists and police officers have cost this country billions and done untold damage to centuries-old institutions. Funny how nobody was using class-charged language like feral chav scum then. Nobody was asking ‘where were their parents?’

    I don’t know what you’ve been reading but I’ve heard class based language attacking bankers non-stop and often used as a crutch to justify other acts. I’ve even frequently heard it in commentary about these riots as if the malfeasance of bankers justifies this. As for why the parents weren’t brought in – probably because the heads of the banks were in their 60’s and 70’s.

  39. JJ Rousseau says:


    I have become a glass half full guy lately. It is a nice change.

  40. To be clearer: I certainly condemn the rioting and find no justification for these riots whatsoever. John’s post is an eloquent condemnation. I think Aaron’s post is important because it raises questions about some of the language used by many of the commentators. I’ve heard words such as feral, chav and scum used a great deal over the last few days. These are words that are almost exclusively used to describe unpalatable elements of Britain’s lower classes. So regardless of whether the middle class are involved or not, the rhetoric conjures up imagery of a wild underclass from broken homes and broken communities. The problem with the language is that it stigmatises those homes and communities, dehumanises them, enlarges the gulf that already exists, so that those in those homes and communities, whether rioting or not are isolated.

    To be honest I haven’t seen anything of the sort with regard to bankers or politicians. To be sure there has been plenty of condemnation of these groups but nothing that would imply there actions are a result of their upbringing or community or the school they went to. Nothing that would disenfranchise their socio-economic group (the bit about where are there mothers was tongue-in-cheek). A more relevant comparison perhaps is the student riots from last year. Sure, there was condemnation, but none of the charged rhetoric like feral scum was used back then, at least it didn’t seem so to me.

  41. justkidding says:

    gomez (40): I have seen quite a bit of criticism leveled at bankers and politicians based on their upbringing and where they went to school. It is typically that they were raised with silver spoons in their mouths and went to elite schools, so they have no understanding for how their actions impact the poorer classes. Words like “feral scum” are not used, but many words that are just as disparaging of their humanity are used. In fact, any time disagreement arises in today’s society, disparaging words are going to be used. It even happens in the bloggosphere. It is a societal trend, and while certain words are used to describe certain classes, the dehumanization of groups using language is certainly not a burden only the poor bear.

  42. While I’m not a banker or politician, I certainly belong to that socio-economic demographic, and I agree with justkidding that disparaging words about my demographic’s upbringing are far from infrequent. I don’t pity myself, and certainly don’t want to start a woe-for-the-rich-white-elites thread-jack, but I do think the name-calling and condemning is less one-sided than it appears.

  43. Okay, I’ll back off the idea that there was nothing made about the class of bankers / politicians. And I agree that much of our language is dehumanising, not just our talk about the poor. But I do feel the burden is far greater for the poor. If I was a rich white kid I just don’t see ‘silver spoon’ talk as alienating as ‘feral scum’ talk (granted, I’ve hand-picked my terms there). For kids growing up in UK sink estates the pressure to join a gang, get involved in drugs, drop out of school, etc, is intense. The rhetoric of British tabloids in particular must be magnify that pressure. Class talk looking upwards is probably more likely routed in jealousy.

  44. From everything I’ve observed while living here, I completely agree with what you are saying, gomez. We have some incredibly rough council estates in our ward and life is really tough there for our members.

  45. nat kelly says:

    I’ve said some pretty terrible things about the wealthy elite…..

  46. I’ve read this post several times, and, try as I might, I can’t keep myself from considering the rioters feral, depraved animals! Maybe it would help if I stopped reading accounts of what they’re doing.

  47. nat kelly says:

    More seriously, I do agree with those that point out that the derogatory language directed at the wealthier classes is less damaging than that directed at the disenfranchised groups of society.

    Look for example at the branding of single mothers on public assistance in the US as “Welfare Cadillac Queens” in the 80s. This rhetoric has a huge psychological impact on its targets – it is demoralizing, it is easy to internalize, it makes people hesitate when they should feel free to ask for help because they fear becoming “one of those people”. But the effect of this rhetoric has an impact that exceeds anything psychological or emotional in its targets. It influences the entire public to villify the poor classes, which in turn shapes future policy decisions, and welfare has become quite a damning experience for the poor since this label was so popularized. It effects them on an economic level.

    (If the anti-wealthy rhetoric, which can certainly be disrespectful and unfair and vitriolic, had an impact on anyone’s material conditions, it might influence them to surrender their status. I would argue this is a good thing.)

    It’s a bit like sexual harassment man to woman, versus woman to man. Both are unacceptable and harmful. However, the power dynamics make the implicit threat much greater (usually) when a man harasses a woman than vice versa.

    I don’t feel like this comment is very coherent, I’m trying to write it while I’m at work.

  48. gst – perhaps some of them are acting this way because this weekend wasn’t the first time they heard themselves described as feral.

  49. S.P. Bailey says:

    I can’t decide what is more troubling:

    (1) The rioters/looters’ apparent materialism and lack of community spirit (they are not protesting; they are trashing their own neighborhoods and stealing from their neighbors),
    (2) The London cops’ failure to control the situation and, you know, protect the innocent and their property from violent criminals, or
    (3) PC hand-wringing that the rioters/looters’ are actually the victims because they have been called mean names in such places as the comments on youTube videos, etc.

    I hope I am wrong, but all three look like symptoms of a welfare state slowly committing suicide. As an unapologetic anglophile, I think it is sad to see England become more and more like other parts of Europe: so many cool museums of cultures in decline occupied and managed by the generations responsible for the decline.

  50. Or, perhaps they just thought it would be fun to beat a guy over the head and take his iPod, and then burn down his house.

  51. JJ Rousseau says:

    I would side with feral, depraved animals against gst any day



  52. JJ Rousseau says:

    Actually, it is sounding better all the time.

    gst, where do you live?

  53. I don’t intend to tell an avowed ally of house-burners where I live.

  54. SP Bailey – who’s calling the rioters / looters victims? Is there anyone not condemning their actions?

    gst – of course that’s more likely. But maybe the way we talk about each other affects the way we see ourselves, especially young people, even if only slightly.

  55. JJ Rousseau says:

    gst, that is wise…since I was looking to burn it down…but only if I could get an iPod out of it.

  56. nat kelly says:

    I’m pretty poor, and I would do pretty much anything for an iPod.

  57. I don’t know, gomez, from the footage I’ve seen, these don’t look like kids lacking in self-esteem. In fact, they seem to think that they’re so special that they’re entitled to the world.

  58. Chris, I don’t know much about political philosophy, but my memory of the lecture that day is telling me that JJR wasn’t one that stressed out too much about protecting private property, or establishing institutions to tamp down or channel the wilder passions of the youth. That is to say that he’s one philosopher that the people sweeping up the remains of their homes and businesses probably aren’t particularly interested in hearing from this week.

  59. I’m pretty poor, and I would do pretty much anything for an iPod.

    Well, I’m sure that blogging more while you’re at work (#47) is a surefire way to get that hard-earned raise!

  60. it's a series of tubes says:

    I hope I am wrong, but all three look like symptoms of a welfare state slowly committing suicide.

    Having spent a lot of time in various council estates, I have to agree. Hard to see a place you love writhing from self-inflicted wounds.

  61. S.P. Bailey says:

    PC hand-wringing about the terms people choose to heap shame on rioters/looters obviously casts the rioters/looters in the victim role. This is the all-too-common rhetoric of victim politics. With all due respect, serious people do not fret much about mean words while innocent people are being injured and their property destroyed.

  62. I embrace the rioters.

  63. gst – of course the kids we are seeing on our TVs are out of control and likely no amount of soft talking would have made any significant impact on their developing psyche. On the other hand there are kids who in spite of their circumstances will pull themselves out of whatever mire they may be in. But somewhere in the middle is a small minority of kids who are pulled on the one hand towards gang culture and on the other towards staying in school. I think it is important that the way we talk about these events and their peers doesn’t alienate them any further.

  64. S.P., your comment is very hurtful. I will now set out procure consumer electronics by violence forthwith.

  65. JJ Rousseau says:

    Actually he argues for private property ownership in The Social Contract. So, yep, you do not know much about political philosophy.

    JJR and I do worry about our tendency to ignore inequality and suffering as long as our property is secure. The well-being of all should trump the property of a few.

    I am not so much defending the rioters…as I am giving a middle-finger to a rich attorney that judges them.

  66. I am not so much defending the rioters…as I am giving a middle-finger to a rich attorney that judges them

    It was either that or have him take it from you via state-sponsored instrumentalities of oppression. By the way are you, ah, blessed with embonpoint? Because your middle finger is gonna have to be plenty fleshy if its to push the scale at a pound.

    P.S. I have it on good authority that Rousseau was a vile, ranting dog of a Swiss.

  67. SP – heap all the shame you like. There is plenty of condemnation going around. I don’t see the rioters / looters as victims. Knock yourself out calling them as many bad names as you can think of. Given the widespread condemnation the amount of hand wringing is a drop in the ocean. I only raise the issue because of my point in #63.

  68. S.P. Bailey,
    I agree with you. Feeling super-bad for the people committing these crimes is kind of silly. That said, I don’t _really_ think that anyone is trying to wage a war of sympathy for the looters here (though any of you who are doing such are welcome to correct me). Rather, I think that what the OP suggests (and again, I may be wrong) is that there is a danger in overly reductionist analysis of this, because there will come a day when policy makers, community leaders, law enforcement officials, educators, parents, and the looters themselves will have to reflect on the rioting and make decisions about how to prevent such an outbreak again. The OP concedes that the disconnect between the looters and their communities is not the cause of the rioting; it merely suggests that the disconnect may have made it more flammable—dried out the wood a bit, perhaps, so that a spark took more easily than it possibly should have.

    Do you disagree with that?

  69. JJ Rousseau says:

    Greenwood! All the rats have come out to play.

    I have it on good authority that Chris H is a mentally deranged teacher living in Wyoming.

  70. Ex post hand-wringing by policy makers, community leaders, law enforcement officials, educators, parents, will do nothing to prevent, and probably much to promote, the next outbreak. The time to prevent the next outbreak is now–cops should get out there and crack skulls. It is apparent that they are not up to it.

  71. Thanks for letting me know about the rats, my good fellow. Always confide in me about your hobbies.

    Respecting your good authority, the thing with good authorities is that their information tends to be, well, good. Though not being ranged in Wyoming requires talent of an uncommon kind.

  72. At least one woman only took what she needed: crisps. No plasma TVs or iPods for her!
    woman stealing crisps in riot

  73. The crisps were an amazing value.

  74. MJ I’d love to come to Ireland — but right now I’m in the midst of all kinds of work in London. Thanks for the kind invite.

  75. S.P. Bailey says:

    gst: Can I just mail you my iPod? Do you like Brazilian punk music or should I erase before sending?

    gomez: I wasn’t asking for your permission to heap shame, but I appreciate it anyway!

    Scott B.: The OP and many comments set off my victim politics/touchy-feely therapeutic hogwash/PC cultural suicide alarm. You know, shades of people who couldn’t stop talking about rhetorical slights to Muslims while the rubble where the World Trade Towers once stood were still smoldering.

  76. I actually think that the comments by the politicians in the UK have been rather refreshing. They call the parents of their minors to accountability and ask them to be on the lookout for new luxuries that shouldn’t be there. They call hooliganism what it is and ask for individual accountability to act in a civil manner. After the kind of BS I see in the US it has been rather refreshing.

  77. The picture of smiling and relaxed, not angry, faces in #72 is as disturbing as the pictures of buildings burning.

  78. S.P. Bailey,
    I get it. I just think that the differences of opinion in this thread aren’t quite as broad as they seem, and my comment was meant to try and refocus the discussion a bit.

  79. SP – tone it down a little. 911? Really?

    Outside of your black and white world these riots are still going on. Some kids who haven’t been involved yet are deciding whether to go out tonight/tomorrow. Do you think it’s wrong to worry about whether we are alienating them or not?

  80. Any guesses how many British ‘youths’ who are mulling rioting are reading this thread? I estimate about 400.

  81. Fair point. I’m out.

  82. S.P. Bailey says:

    So heaping shame on violent criminals might hurt hypothetical troubled teens’ feelings and drive them to join the rioting and looting? I think such fence-sitters are influenced much more by something else: their judgment about how likely they are to get caught, the severity of the punishments, etc. (see, e.g., Oliver Wendell Holmes’ “bad man” theory of the law).

  83. (If the anti-wealthy rhetoric, which can certainly be disrespectful and unfair and vitriolic, had an impact on anyone’s material conditions, it might influence them to surrender their status. I would argue this is a good thing.)

    More than likely it just leads to more gated communities.

  84. nat kelly says:

    “More than likely it just leads to more gated communities.”

    Time for me to break out my black clothes and face mask, and get ready for some fence-hopping.

    Chris H., I thought you thought I was crazy. If this is not the case (or, I guess, even if it is), I am all over your offers of solidarity.

  85. JJ Rousseau says:


    You are crazy.

    We will have to discuss this further when I come to Seattle.

  86. nat kelly says:

    Thanks for clarifying.

  87. As a british citizen and someone who regularly deals with the youth of east end London, and someone who is dealing with these riots, i feel that i am qualified to comment on these events. my comments are generalised and do not represent every youth in Britain, but rather a proportion whom i have witnessed and dealt with.

    These riots are reflective of a general attitude of apathy that is becoming all to common in the British youth of today. We live in a state of minimal if any repercussion, and many of the systems put in place are failing. If you misbehave you simply get removed from the situation because disciplines such as detention are often seen as trophies. Expulsion from schools happen daily, as unruly youths are beyond control. And contact from teachers can never go beyond strong words, which, to a youth who spends there spare time in highly aggresive situations, is eqivacle to talk about last nights tv.

    Emphasis is put upon wealth and respect. Many of us anticipate that respect has to be earned, but a sense of entitlement means that youth of Britain feel they can never be spoken against – irregardless of the behaviour. They inherently despise police, and refuse to respect even those put in place to assist and engage with them – namely Police Community Support Officers (PCSO). Any engagement on a socialable level is impossible as 21 year old well to do female PCSOs are pelted with bottles when they enter certain housing estates to engage with the very youths who claim to be victimised by police.

  88. …..what i have come to see is that Britain is no longer about growth, self worth and effort. It is about entitlement and division. Division on both sides.

    But the most frustrating thing of all, is that none of this is about anything. These rioters are not all poor, or young, or white, or black, or with three heads or one. These are morally bankrupt people who have seized an opportunity to line their pockets with temporal belongings. There is no sense of worth, rather a case of want.

    Ive seen innocent bystanders being mugged, then helped to their feet whilst being robbed. Ive seen people stripped of clothing and belongings purely because those doing it are on a power trip. These victims are not police officers, they are every men and every woman. People just as “outcast” as the looters. There is no agenda. This is purely down to selfish people acting in the most hedonistic way possible.

    The boy who was shot, which ‘started’ the riots, was a member of a gang and was carrying a fire arm. We need to ask ourselves, for what purpose?

    These are not innocent people. And they are not all ill educated paupers. These are prime examples of natural man. They will feel no remorse for their actions, because they feel no sense of responsibility.

    I read a reply on here about how these people need the gospel. This is a very true statement. But right now, they would probably just burn the books and be too busy smashing shops up to hear the spirit. Maybe us British members have failed the Lord slightly. If our member missionary efforts were stronger, maybe some of these hearts could have been touched in advance of this all. Either way, i have faith that the lord will judge their actions according to his perfect knowledge. We just need to hang in there, and help and forgive where we can.

  89. Blake,

    The offer to come to Ireland (which was given without any expense to me and would have caused expense to you!) was given with genuine excitment.

    I am currently delving into your books ‘Exlporing Mormon Thought’ – I wish I was aware of them when I was actually officially studying philosophy at TCD!

    Hopefully, one day you will make it over to the Emerald Isle. Enjoy your time in London.

    BTW, I agree with your comments about accountabilty. There is also a fair amount of opportunism taking place as shown by some who have already turned up in court. I suppose people from all sorts of background would be tempted to take something if they thought they would be disguised in the mass confusion. Still that’s no excuse. I’ve been asked to speak in sacrament meeting this Sunday on ‘Honesty’ – it will be hard to resist making some comment on what is happening in England right now.

  90. Deborah Coleman says:

    Thank you for your words Aaron.
    I feel sadness and anger for and on behalf of those affected by these crimes. As a parent and in-law of police officers I feel sympathy for the fallout they are experiencing, and I also feel sadness that there are children, men and women who feel able to commit these crimes. I feel sad that they feel they have nothing to lose, sad that they do not connect with their community in any positive way. Yes Aaron they are not animals, they are not demons, they are people. Not so very different from us. I understand the need for justice, in fact I welcome it, I udnerstand that parents hold the key. but I pray that the those in power and those of us who are willing, will send a message that if we do what we have always done, we will get what we have always got.

  91. Brad W, thank you for offering your perspective. You have been intimately more involved with these events than I and your insights are very useful. The sense of entitlement is certainly a problematic issue and one I am not sure I know how to resolve. If you have not you should certainly read John F.’s post on this topic as well.

    Deborah, it is that mixture of emotion which you describe that is so difficult to account for. Although I am not sure whether parents are the key; but that is probably the sociologist in me that wants to try and examine things through bigger processes.

  92. a sense of entitlement? My gut feeling is that the people over there are mighty upset that banks get bailed out by their government, and now they’ve had their social services cut because the government ran out of money from bailing out the banks. And now the banks and their top employees are making off like bandits. That would piss me off too, and if I were not a respectable family man with something to lose, I too might wanna do something not so nice to the society around me that is taking money from the poor to give to the rich.

  93. Who knew that corner grocery stores, family furniture shops, and storefront sporting goods and electronic outlets had forced the government to bail out the banks?

  94. These people have no interest in the economic climate. The average income of a four person family on benefits in this country is north of £2000. That is plenty. The idea is not to live off, but rather supplement until these people can set themselves up. Bearing in mind that is purely for life expenses, as rent is free and gas and electricty are supplemented. What it doesnt cover is £50 a week on cigarettes, £40 a month for sky tv, £100 a month down the betting shop.

    If these riots were politically motivated, then why are they attacking local shops and their neighbours. If i were pissed at the government id be looting banks in the financial district or politicians homes in Knightsbridge. The french revolution was a protest, this is just mindless chaos.

    Also, many of these people are in full time employment. One girl who was arrested is daughter to a millionaire. Cant imagine they are worried about benefits. They are just kicking out and embracing opportunities to act this way.

    We all have it in us to do these things, but guilt and moral responsibility stop that.

  95. Adam,

    I didn’t suggest corner grocery stores, family furniture shops, and storefront sporting goods and electronic outlets had forced the government to bail out the banks.


    No doubt the typical London rioter couldn’t tell you what the latest interest rate was, but this wasn’t “politically motivated” in the way you think, as per your French Revolution example. There is no leader to guide toward some political payoff. There’s clearly simmering anger at their own society, whether they are doing well or not. The same thing with the King riots of 1992. These kinds of riots occur mostly during times of austerity (I linked on the other post a study of such a correlation), which tells me this is more about economics than it is about morality.

  96. Daniel,

    I can see where you are coming from, but where exactly does it fit in with the arguement that these are not just people on benefits. We have peope of all classes involved in this.

    These people are not angry. Anger would mean constant rioting. These are pockets of behaviour, and the damage is aimed at the same areas where chunks of the people live. Anger spills out, it doesnt gather. The looks on these peoples faces is that of joy. And the targets are often small local businesses. There is no logic.

    I dont know if you are from the UK or not, but just spending five minutes with inner city youths and you will see, they are not angry, they are bored. All i hear is “we want this”, “we want that”. We all “want” to live in a world of financial affluance, but its just not the case i am afraid. I see kids who slog their guts out to buy “luxuries” like mobiles, only to have it stolen by some other lazy creten from the same estate. So i agree that the motivation is financial, but only in the sense that they all want everything for nothing. A situation, which unfortunately has been bred for many years. It can be seen in their attitude to education as well. Why earn when you can take? Then they are disillusioned when they cant get high paid work without qualifications. Hence the rise in gang robberies over recent years.

    The point is, without significant fear of punishment there is no incentive to play fair.

    But i appreciate your thoughts and by no means do i profess to be absolute. I merely see and hear a lot of things in my dealings with the youths.

  97. Brad,

    I haven’t been to London, thus I honestly don’t know the local dynamics. This riot isn’t really all that different than previous riots, including the Paris riots Aaron talked about in 2005.

    I can understand your point about how some people just “want” things at no cost. Living here in New York City, I can see where we would have such riots if they do occur here (as they have in the past, over similar economic conditions). I don’t see a riot happening here in New York at this point because services here are generally good and haven’t been cut like they are in Britain right now. I can understand how middle and upper middle class families and individuals wonder why lower class families and individuals allow or accept such behavior—wanting something without a cost. But I don’t see this behavior as indicative solely of lower class populations. At what point will the elites of the world be held responsible for the economic collapse of 2008? When will someone be arrested and sent to jail? It’s quite a common behavior amongst all economic classes, Brad. Richard Nixon was pardoned. A poor guy rarely gets that privilege.

    The point is, without significant fear of punishment there is no incentive to play fair.

    That is an excellent point. I think the poor of London are saying that no one at the top in London has been punished for their bad actions, thus they have no incentive to play fair. Why should the poor?

  98. I simply don’t care what motivates a thug to act like a thug. Thugs need to be dealt with. The refusal of the British police and their spineless political masters to deal properly with this situation demonstrates a civilization in decline.

    I think that the Korean shopkeepers in LA in 1992 pretty much had the right idea. There is no excuse for lawbreaking like this. The response should be a billy club or a bullet. Notice how in the article below the Koreans armed themselves, organized by former US marines.

    I am trying to imagine riots like this in my little area of North Texas and all I can see is armed homeowners/business owners with AK’s AR’s and other heavy weapons defending themselves.

    Sadly the English population has now been disarmed in the last 100 years and shopkeepers and homeowners are left defenseless. The typical homeowner here on my street posses the firepower to rapidly disperse small gangs attempting to loot homes or shops like this.

  99. London calling

  100. Daniel, fwiw, I think you are mis-reading Brad’s comments a bit. For example, you said:

    “this wasn’t “politically motivated” in the way you think, as per your French Revolution example”

    Brad said explicitly that he doesn’t see this as politically motivated. He said it is different than the French Revolution.

    “But I don’t see this behavior as indicative solely of lower class populations.”

    Brad actually makes that point in his comments – that the behavior is cutting across socio-economic lines and involving even very rich kids.

  101. I meant to address #100 to Daniel about Brad’s comments. Sorry, Brad. [fixed]

  102. I give up today. Daniel about Brad’s comments. *sigh* That’s what I get for trying to comment when I’m feeling lousy.[also fixed :)]

  103. here is a photo of Korean business owners defending their property during the 1992 riots.

    Notice the Ruger Mini 14. Semi auto rifle with a 30 rd magazine. Also the riot shotgun.

  104. London calling!

  105. bbell,

    fascinating indeed. How many people died during the LA riots? wikipedia has it at 52. How many people have died to this point in the London riots? I am not aware of anyone dying yet, except for the poor man whose death sparked it all. Why bring guns into a situation that doesn’t warrant guns?

  106. Ray,

    Brad actually makes that point in his comments – that the behavior is cutting across socio-economic lines and involving even very rich kids.

    Richard Fuld is a rich kid….Richard Cheney is a rich kid….those dratted kids!

  107. #106 – Fine. Never mind.

  108. Monsieur Rousseau (104), while “London Calling” is a fine Clash song, I think you’ll find that the tenor of this particular Internet argument is better depicted by another song by Messrs. Strummer and Jones, namely, “London’s Burning.” (“London’s burning / with boredom now / London’s burning, / Dial 99999.”) See?

  109. @97: “That is an excellent point. I think the poor of London are saying that no one at the top in London has been punished for their bad actions, thus they have no incentive to play fair. Why should the poor?”

    At the risk of sounding elitist, I think you’re giving most of these people too much credit. Quite a few of the rioters were kids – some as young as 12 and 13. Many whose comments were captured on the news spoke of having fun, or “getting back our taxes” (not that the youth in question probably pay taxes beyond VAT anyway…) and “showing the police that they can’t tell us what to do”…or similar statements. There isn’t a bigger social agenda here: the problem is morally bankrupt opportunists and undisciplined children cashing in where they can. (I will say that “undisciplined” doesn’t just refer to parents, teachers, or police…many of these young people seem not to have developed any sense of self-discipline, either. Blame that problem on whomever you choose.)

    That said, I agree: we shouldn’t pidgin-hole the rioters with derogatory rhetoric. But not because it’ll hurt their feelings: because it serves no purpose. Wasting time on name-calling won’t solve the problems of permissive governance and permissive parenting that – in part – allowed the entitled and belligerent attitudes that drove many of the worst actions we’ve seen during the riots. Where there *is* some sense amongst rioters of feeling hard done-by, I grant that in certain cases, such a feeling may be justified. But to “get back [one’s] taxes” by looting stores, burning buildings, and stealing from injured individuals smacks of greed, laziness, petulance, and entitlement – and these sorts of attitudes aren’t going to convince most people of a person’s status as an honest-to-goodness innocent victim of socio-economic hardship.

  110. H. Bob,

    No, I think that London Calling…a song of warning…also about alienation…is the very song I want.

    Is may be burning…but it is calling.

  111. The BBC interviewed a man who was there, and it seems from the interview that it is a matter similar to the previous riots, of police harassment and economic plight. And that’s where I’ll end.

  112. Take down London’s number for me, I’ll call right back.

  113. #103:bbell,
    In your photo, I see only one street gang (Koren) waiting for another street gang (Blacks) to maybe show up for a shotout. I think I know the very roof they are on.

  114. Mommie Dearest says:

    Here’s a news report of three men killed by rioters driving a car in Birmingham. The men were Muslim immigrants engaged in trying to protect their community. It’s really hard to muster any political sympathy for the teenage thugs who have been accused of the crime.

  115. @111,
    From CNN, in an article titled “Shock over ‘respectable’ lives behind masks of UK rioters“:

    London (CNN) — Before they started appearing in court, most people assumed London’s rioters and looters were unemployed youths with no hope and no future.
    So there was much surprise when details of the accused began to emerge, and they included some from wealthy backgrounds or with good jobs.
    Those passing through London’s courtrooms on Tuesday and Wednesday — some courts sat overnight to cope with the numbers — have included a teaching assistant, a lifeguard, a postman, a chef, a charity worker, a millionaire’s daughter and an 11-year-old boy, newspapers reported.

  116. If everyone would do me the personal favor of avoiding the words “angst” and “amongst” I’d really appreciate it. Those words make it harder for me to look for people mentioning me with the Control F “gst” command.

    Also, please avoid any discussions of dragstrips, drugstores, Flagstaff, AZ, gangsters, angstroms, or tungsten.

    OK, I’m outta this pigsty. Catch you later.

  117. You forgot “youngsters”

  118. They are included in “gangsters.” Look at London–you couldn’t fit four angstroms of tungsten between your average youngster and a gangster.

  119. pigsty, ftw

  120. Steve Evans says:

    This thread is proceeding better than I could have imagined. GST you are the longstanding gongster songstress of the bloggernacle.

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