Tuesday 9 August 2011

Panic on the streets of London.

I’m huddled in the front room with some shell-shocked friends, watching my city burn. The BBC is interchanging footage of blazing cars and running street battles in Hackney, of police horses lining up in Lewisham, of roiling infernos that were once shops and houses in Croydon and in Peckham. Last night, Enfield, Walthamstow, Brixton and Wood Green were looted; there have been hundreds of arrests and dozens of serious injuries, and it will be a miracle if nobody dies tonight. This is the third consecutive night of rioting in London, and the disorder has now spread to Leeds, Liverpool, Bristol and Birmingham. Politicians and police officers who only hours ago were making stony-faced statements about criminality are now simply begging the young people of Britain’s inner cities to go home. Britain is a tinderbox, and on Friday, somebody lit a match. How the hell did this happen? And what are we going to do now?

In the scramble to comprehend the riots, every single commentator has opened with a ritual condemnation of the violence, as if it were in any doubt that arson, muggings and lootings are ugly occurrences. That much should be obvious to anyone who is watching Croydon burn down on the BBC right now. David Lammy, MP for Tottenham, called the disorder 'mindless, mindless'. Nick Clegg denounced it as 'needless, opportunistic theft and violence'. Speaking from his Tuscan holiday villa, Prime Minister David Cameron – who has finally decided to return home to take charge - declared simply that the social unrest searing through the poorest boroughs in the country was "utterly unacceptable." The violence on the streets is being dismissed as ‘pure criminality,’ as the work of a ‘violent minority’, as ‘opportunism.’ This is madly insufficient. It is no way to talk about viral civil unrest. Angry young people with nothing to do and little to lose are turning on their own communities, and they cannot be stopped, and they know it. Tonight, in one of the greatest cities in the world, society is ripping itself apart.

Violence is rarely mindless. The politics of a burning building, a smashed-in shop or a young man shot by police may be obscured even to those who lit the rags or fired the gun, but the politics are there. Unquestionably there is far, far more to these riots than the death of Mark Duggan, whose shooting sparked off the unrest on Saturday, when two police cars were set alight after a five-hour vigil at Tottenham police station. A peaceful protest over the death of a man at police hands, in a community where locals have been given every reason to mistrust the forces of law and order, is one sort of political statement. Raiding shops for technology and trainers that cost ten times as much as the benefits you’re no longer entitled to is another. A co-ordinated, viral wave of civil unrest across the poorest boroughs of Britain, with young people coming from across the capital and the country to battle the police, is another.

Months of conjecture will follow these riots. Already, the internet is teeming with racist vitriol and wild speculation. The truth is that very few people know why this is happening. They don’t know, because they were not watching these communities. Nobody has been watching Tottenham since the television cameras drifted away after the Broadwater Farm riots of 1985. Most of the people who will be writing, speaking and pontificating about the disorder this weekend have absolutely no idea what it is like to grow up in a community where there are no jobs, no space to live or move, and the police are on the streets stopping-and-searching you as you come home from school. The people who do will be waking up this week in the sure and certain knowledge that after decades of being ignored and marginalised and harassed by the police, after months of seeing any conceivable hope of a better future confiscated, they are finally on the news. In one NBC report, a young man in Tottenham was asked if rioting really achieved anything:

"Yes," said the young man. "You wouldn't be talking to me now if we didn't riot, would you?"

"Two months ago we marched to Scotland Yard, more than 2,000 of us, all blacks, and it was peaceful and calm and you know what? Not a word in the press. Last night a bit of rioting and looting and look around you."

Eavesdropping from among the onlookers, I looked around. A dozen TV crews and newspaper reporters interviewing the young men everywhere ‘’’

There are communities all over the country that nobody paid attention to unless there had recently been a riot or a murdered child. Well, they’re paying attention now.

Tonight in London, social order and the rule of law have broken down entirely. The city has been brought to a standstill; it is not safe to go out onto the streets, and where I am in Holloway, the violence is coming closer. As I write, the looting and arson attacks have spread to at least fifty different areas across the UK, including dozens in London, and communities are now turning on each other, with the Guardian reporting on rival gangs forming battle lines. It has become clear to the disenfranchised young people of Britain, who feel that they have no stake in society and nothing to lose, that they can do what they like tonight, and the police are utterly unable to stop them. That is what riots are all about.

Riots are about power, and they are about catharsis. They are not about poor parenting, or youth services being cut, or any of the other snap explanations that media pundits have been trotting out: structural inequalities, as a friend of mine remarked today, are not solved by a few pool tables. People riot because it makes them feel powerful, even if only for a night. People riot because they have spent their whole lives being told that they are good for nothing, and they realise that together they can do anything – literally, anything at all. People to whom respect has never been shown riot because they feel they have little reason to show respect themselves, and it spreads like fire on a warm summer night. And now people have lost their homes, and the country is tearing itself apart.

Noone expected this. The so-called leaders who have taken three solid days to return from their foreign holidays to a country in flames did not anticipate this. The people running Britain had absolutely no clue how desperate things had become. They thought that after thirty years of soaring inequality, in the middle of a recession, they could take away the last little things that gave people hope, the benefits, the jobs, the possibility of higher education, the support structures, and nothing would happen. They were wrong. And now my city is burning, and it will continue to burn until we stop the blanket condemnations and blind conjecture and try to understand just what has brought viral civil unrest to Britain. Let me give you a hint: it ain’t Twitter.

I’m stuck in the house, now, with rioting going on just down the road in Chalk Farm. Ealing and Clapham and Dalston are being trashed. Journalists are being mugged and beaten in the streets, and the riot cops are in retreat where they have appeared at all. Police stations are being set alight all over the country. This morning, as the smoke begins to clear, those of us who can sleep will wake up to a country in chaos. We will wake up to fear, and to racism, and to condemnation on left and right, none of which will stop this happening again, as the prospect of a second stock market clash teeters terrifyingly at the bottom of the news reports. Now is the time when we make our choices. Now is the time when we decide whether to descend into hate, or to put prejudice aside and work together. Now is the time when we decide what sort of country it is that we want to live in. Follow the #riotcleanup hashtag on Twitter. And take care of one another.


  1. Hi Laurie,

    Much like you I'm currently sat in my living room in Croydon watching the violence unfold. I have just seen images on Sky News of my local shops and local flats being burned to a cinder and my first reaction was "What gives them the right?" What gives these people the right to hijack a peaceful protest and use it as an excuse for mindless violence destroying the livelihoods and homes of people who already live on the breadline? Those aren't chain superstores burning in front of me. Those are local businesses which are a valuable part of the fabric of the community here.
    The only problem with that is that the community here is Broad Green is one that is, as you quite rightly pointed out above, forgotten. It is inherently Labour and has been for many years in Croydon North due to its large proportion of immigrant families I would imagine.
    It is forgotten because all of the money in Croydon never sees the light of day in Broad Green or West Croydon. These see none of the public money which is spent on regenerating the town centre when it is merely ten minutes from the town centre that properties are in desperate need of renovation and rejuvenation, where green spaces are scarce, where libraries are shut and replaced with car dealerships, where more and more pressure is put on the area as more and more flats are built but with no rise in job opportunities.
    Instead all that happens is that more and more people occupy the same space and it becomes a matter of time until the segregated community (which was last given media attention after the 7/7 bombings, cf. "Croydon Mosque" which received a lot of unwarranted negative press because of a tenuous link to one of the bombers in the right-wing press) explodes. Of course the young people are disenfranchised - a lot of the schools in the West Croydon area, while many are very successful, do not enjoy nearly enough of the privilege and kudos granted to schools in other parts of the borough. All this does is breed resentment.
    All night the question from BBC and Sky reporters has been "Why has this happened?" when really it should be "How did this not happen sooner?"

  2. I read this as a privileged American, but one who knows the cry of the oppressed, it's familiar ring. Thank you for sharing your insight and clarity on what is a emotional time for many, and I hope that you and other Londoner's remain safe. As you have stated in this piece, this is not the work of people who are heard, this is the work of people who are unheard, a last cry, a chance to be heard, to air their grievances. This is a situation of gross disparity between have and have not, rich and poor, White and Brown. We don't know where this story will end, but we do know that it has begun, and we must all take notice.

  3. The disorder has spread to Bristol [...] and Leeds.

    It has?

    Whereabouts in Bristol and Leeds?

  4. Thanks for this. Trying to filter through the talking heads and the photos... nothing making sense from the states...

  5. Apparently in Bristol town centre.

  6. I actually saw something like this coming. I knew we were going back to a 70s/early 80s situation. I can tell you the other aspects of that situation will also come in eg. stagflation. These riots are not the last we'll see, and the economic situation is thoroughly connected -- was then, is now.

    As far as this being the time to decide what kind of country we live in, it is in many ways too late. The country as we know it is in strong decline now and unfortunately owing to peak oil that decline is irreversible. A very important lesson tonight has been the behaviour of the Turkish community in for example Dalston -- the men turned out en masse to protect their areas. This is something more areas will need to learn to do.

  7. Thank you for writing this. Your observations are spot-on and much needed. www.sistersofresistance.org

  8. wonderful piece of writing. i live in chicago and came across your blog when Naomi Klein shared it on facebook. may cool heads prevail

  9. Thank you so much for your words and insight. I'm a Canadian, sitting in a very quiet west coast town, so far from you that it's already almost morning in London. It's like watching the future from the past. Keep blogging, please!

  10. Goldman Sachs CEO walks free: the real looters are the wizards of finance capital, on Wall Street and in the City. A flat screen TV or a pensioner's nest egg? "Opportunity" cannot replace justice as a public and social good.

  11. Your writing deserves much more exposure, for you've nailed the zeitgeist of these events better than anyone else I've read.

    Good luck and stay safe!

  12. A very well-thought and considered analysis, particularly considering the fear of the situation you're in. One can only hope that community after community in the wake of this will say that this is not acceptable in any way, and seriously tackle the causes of the situation.

    This should never happen again. But then it shouldn't have happened this time, or any time in the past when people have rioted because they had no other way to react. Somehow this time feels different, though, as if the looting is the prime motivation rather than the politics. Maybe I'm wrong on that - hopefully the next few days will see serious debate on how we got here.

  13. the police don't seem motivated, i wonder why not ?

  14. When young people (and the not so young) see a criminal conspiracy between the police and the media and another between politicians and bankers and see the rich getting richer and everyone else getting poorer is it surprising they engage in some bottom up criminality.

    My immediate securityy may be threatened by the young people on the streets but it's not them who have destroyed the economic and social security of the country.

  15. Thanks for the insight.

  16. Jesus. I cycled about 20 miles tonight around various places between Clapham and Camden. On the way back I was anxious to get in front of the keyboard. But then this, this was just perfect. Full marks.

  17. Very good. Everything we do is political, including criminality. Whether it be by a government, a corporation or an individual. In any case, the scale of the unrest has made it political.

  18. This is the best blog I have ever read. I ended up leaving South London and moving to New Zealand as opposed to put up with the endless spiral of no jobs and a Government that takes bureaucracy to extremes. New Zealand is not that much better, especially with the rich idiots we have in power now, but at least I can be me here, and not just another number.

    Thank you for such a great insight.

  19. First of all, I'm going to point out a blatant inaccuracy in your "report".

    "Police stations are being set alight all over the country."

    No, they're not! One unmanned police outpost has been set ablaze. Hardly the novel-exciting story you'd have your readers believe.

    Now to what I consider a more important issue...

    Where did you grow up? Was your family poor? Was everyone around you a feckless thug, smoking, drinking, having sex under-age because they consider it "cool"?

    Well, I grew up in one of the poorest neighbourhoods in England. My family was not only poor, it was only one step removed from a cardboard box beneath a bridge.
    I went to the same schools as these looting, mugging thugs. I was presented with the same lack of opportunity as them, I was just as disenfranchised with this floundering country.
    I have been searched (many times) without justification by police, I've been charged with an offence which never even took place.

    Am I out there smashing windows, mugging old ladies, torching builds and cars? No... I'm not!

    You can blame society as much as you like, but you're demonstrating a noxious delusion an unfortunate number of ill-informed and ill-experienced people. More depressingly, it is predominately people such as yourself who dictate policy as short-sighted as your rhetoric.

    What makes me different to these morons? Simple: I CHOSE not to be a moron. I elected to LEARN when I went to school (and ever-after), I wanted to make something of my life.
    Inversely, these morons have no desire to WORK. They've no drive to learn, or to achieve anything for themselves. They're content to live on "the dole", sponging from taxpayers such as myself who work bloody hard to make a distressingly poor wage.

    You can try to justify their behaviour as much as you like, but not only does it fail to excuse it, you're doing nothing more than deluding yourself.

    As for "racism", well... I've been watching the news for god-knows how many hours... and every single image of rioters and looters I'm seeing has a disproportionately large number of black people (particularly young black women with bags full of ill-gotten loot).
    I'm not at all racist... but let me tell you, I DO believe what I see with my own eyes. If 60+% of rioters happen to be black, then that 60+% are proliferating a stereotype, and have only themselves to blame for any racist sentiment aimed in their direction.

    These people are wilfully unintelligent! They CHOSE not to pay attention in school. Not because they're poor, not because they're "downtrodden", but because they are plain stupid.... by CHOICE.
    They are simply too lazy to do their own thinking, and so are easily cajoled into "gangs", empowering them to be a complete moron... thus, you end up with mobs rioting and looting.

    You cannot change the way these people behave, because they LIKE the way they are. They lack any moral compass, any social responsibility, any willingness to be productive. In the place of those purposefully belayed virtues, they have weaknesses: desire to steal, to "make fast money" at the expense of those of us who work hard, to cause others pain, to seek "popularity" within their gang, to watch the world burn.

    There's NO justification for their actions, no excuse. They made their bed, and I for one would be sincerely happy to see copper-jacketed projectiles put them to rest in it.

  20. Thank you, brilliant. Following #londonriot tweets as much as I can without going insane, I'm surprised and disappointed how smug are so many Londoners' reactions to this, how lacking in any perspective. Such as blog might help change that.

    I fear London burning is merely a harbinger of what is coming for all of us as night descends. Best wishes on the cleanup. We're all going to be cleaning up, I fear, for a very long time.

  21. I'm in tears reading this. I've been searching for even the faintest hint of answers to the things you raise here - where is all of this violence coming from? I think you've put your finger on it quite well, and to hear it from the perspective of someone in the midst of it is always refreshing. Thank you for your words.

  22. This is a brilliant and powerful piece of writing, piercingly true. It should run in every paper in the country tomorrow--instead of the flailing drivel that no doubt will be published instead. All the best from Canada, and I hope that tomorrow begins the cleanup and the reconsideration of what has led to this and what will lead to a better future.

  23. Cry of the oppressed also means attacking gay men in the gay village in Birmingham apparently. It means mugging kids who have been knocked over. It means torching people's homes.

    Please don't romanticise this; I can see the oppressed aspect, but a lot of nasty 'phobic and evil mob mentality and criminality. I don't cry for a wrecked bank, but seeing people jump for their lives in Croydon brings me up sharp. This is no revolution.

    This is no poll tax riot or even the student protests I supported, it's drawn on those for ideas I think but far darker and far more yes - mindless. Fighting back has become fighting for mine in Thatcher's Grandchildren. For to quote the Boomtown Rats 'you see there are no reasons'...I think Tottenham might've had a point. The others far less...I eagerly await people's analysis how looting and torching a Sony factory is somehow a cry of failed yoot and a strike for freedom from oppression...but I think the kids would laugh at your rhetoric, they just want a free Wii.

  24. The most rational analysis I've read.

  25. @Simon, yeah as a NZer we arent much better, but I feel the fabric of society is a a bit thicker, maybe it comes with being a bit smaller. All I know is that im kinda glad to be living in a small insignificant part of the world right now.

  26. Hello from the USA, where the same unrest is imminent. Thanks for your well-written, open-hearted observations.

  27. Thanks for perspective and watch your six – we're gonna need you.

  28. @fingertrouble - at least someone here has some common sense and can see this for what it really is!

    Fed up with these naive people dismissing wanton destruction and thuggery as some "expression of civil disobedience".


  29. @SJS: I realise that it is a difficult and complex truth but people can be both products of their environment AND make choices about their lives. To say that we who have emerged from these backgrounds unscathed prove the fecklessness and depravity of those left behind is naive.

  30. There are so many shocking aspects to this, but nothing is more startling than reading those who blame it on everyone except the people actually doing it. There is nothing political about this. It is greed, and ignorance. And ignorance, these days, is by choice. These are bullies, and thugs, and thieves.

  31. this bought me to tears - in part because it's so much what i feel myself (see my blog from last night - highly incoherent, but, hopefully, arguing a similar thing in terms of a need to look at context and background). that response by the young man ('you wouldn't be talking to me now if we didn't riot') is the sad truth.
    glad to know you're safe.

  32. "They thought that after thirty years of soaring inequality, in the middle of a recession, they could take away the last little things that gave people hope, the benefits, the jobs, the possibility of higher education, the support structures, and nothing would happen. They were wrong."

    Particularly haunting. Those of us that have an ounce of compassion have said all along that our governments complete lack of it, would end in trouble.

    People asking 'if it's a protest, why don't they go for police stations, or government buildings or protest peacefully' ...Anger is anger, and to them a target is a target.

    How many protests have there been in recent years? Anti-war, G20, students? 2000+ marching to scotland yard.. what use did it do?
    They have no voices. Nobody listens.
    The lack of jobs, education, facilities, and the poorest in society getting ever-poorer, it's always somebody elses problem as long as Cameron gets his holidays, and osbourne looks like he's got a plan.
    And now it's all of our problem, because these people believe, through example, that actions speak louder than words ever will.

    Now we have to look seriously at our country, into every nook and cranny that was previously glossed over and ignored. And LISTEN to these people. Or regardless of c.o.b.r.a. meetings, and 'calls for calm' and promises of 'justice against this pure criminality' This will happen again.. and again... and again.
    Excellent blog penny red.
    Stay safe everyone x

  33. "structural inequalities", "People riot because they have spent their whole lives being told that they are good for nothing, and they realise that together they can do anything – literally, anything at all. People to whom respect has never been shown riot because they feel they have little reason to show respect themselves"

    excellent analysis of the situation. the inequalities of this country have led to this situation.
    People comment on how these youth are simply using this as an excuse to commit crime; Images in the media of sexy lifestyles and no means to achieve them, have frustrated the youth and they have now had enough.
    No one on this blog or comments section can say what its like to be an youth living in a deprived area going through an inadequate schooling system, being faced by racism daily and being treated as a 2nd class citizen.
    So whilst you easily disregard their pain and frustration, you actually have no idea of the situation.

  34. @mryashin: There's nothing complex about it! Many of the people looting, mugging, and causing destruction in London right now are people I will have grown up with in some regard or another. Many of them will have gone to the same schools as I did, been my neighbours, been the bullies who made everyone's lives hell for their own sick enjoyment.

    These are the same people who torture small animals because it gives them a thrill... it'd be absolutely no loss to the world for these lunatics to simply be shot dead.

    Naive is the idea that those that would jump at any opportunity to steal, mug, maim and assault others could be motivated by any rational political or social environment.

    They are a product of THEIR OWN stupidity, not society's oppressive constraints.

    If these fools were motivated by politics or social circumstance as you seem to believe, then they would be targeting institutions responsible for this circumstance... not high-street electronics stores, people's homes and cars.

    They're interested in stealing items of monetary worth... because they're too lazy to do an honest day's work to actually EARN their way through life.
    What they can't steal, they smash and burn.

    If you feel society is to blame, then you're part of the problem, not the solution!

  35. Stringing a narrative to justify these kinds of actions is really not helpful either. You mention that 'this is not about poor parenting'. But clearly it is about a certain culture within the poor areas of London. I agree that acts of criminality are about power, about taking back with force what you feel denied. It is people such as yourself which are feeding these feelings of class distinction and isolation. This is not an inevitable result of class warfare, but a opportunist expression of thug idealism. It is a time to be principled and not 'political'. Violence is horrible, lock the fuckers up.

  36. Watching the riots from Canada, I was ever more confused... you have given me a perspective that appeals not only to your community but gives voices to all of those who cannot materialize their expressions through words.

    I feel the pain your community must have gone through, for that struggle is everywhere in the world. Perhaps this is the beginning of the end of a system that systematically silences so many voices, so many struggles...

    Hang in there & stay safe.

    In solidarity

    Thank you.

  37. I apologise for providing a link for SJS to follow.

    He's one of those people that think stupid people are not really people.

  38. @SJS Oh yes, your rags to riches story. How inspiring and original.

    Spare us the pep talk. There are structural problems that mean that the growth required for this amazing story to happen for everyone, can't happen.

    We live on a finite planet. Growth is to be exponential at 2-3% a year or we're in a "recession" which must be avoided at all costs. So we have "austerity" measures to try to put this global Ponzi scheme - the world economy - back on track.

    Just how will that growth keep going? Efficiency? Nope, that's only 1-2% a year, not fast enough. Increase in non-material growth compared to material growth? Not fast enough, either.

    Economists have a mantra that with economic growth comes prosperity for all. But the potential for growth has been reached. Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, all wrote about this but the jobsworth bankers and gambling-addict traders of the world were too busy giving themselves bonuses to notice that it has come.

    We have reached it, the end of growth, and now we need to look at what our priorities are instead of economic growth. We need to grow civilization.

  39. The sheer power of your words... just wow!

  40. sending prayers your way, sweets. may the lord protect you.

  41. @SJS: you are spot-on.

    Life is about choices. These rioters have had years to take actions to better themselves and make decisions that define the direction of their lives for the better. They have instead chosen to join gangs, or generally become worthless members of society, and on this night they have chosen to take advantage of an opportunity to terrorise innocent civilians, wreck livelihoods, and instil fear in their communities.

    The sooner the army is deployed and these cowards, muggers, arsonists, common thieves, and general human-trash are removed from the streets the better.

  42. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gh5ogOH82Aw this song represents whats going on in London to a tee.

  43. Laurie,

    As an older person from the States watching this horror show unfold on the BBC streaming video, I'm reminded of the inner city riots and burning in the 1960s.

    That resulted in a commission being established by President Johnson to determine the causes of the riots and what policies should be implemented to prevent it from re-occurring. It was called the Kerner Commission.

    Subsequent riots have often noted that the problems identified in the Kerner Commission report were never seriously addressed. Perhaps it might be helpful in sorting out things in the UK today.

    Stay safe!

    Kerner Commission - Wikipedia

  44. excellent blog, thanks for the insight

  45. This is amazing writing though sadly I wish you didn't have this subject to write about. I hope the issues you discussed here is finally heard, and addressed even if it happens over some time. Praying for your cities and people's safety and well being, soon.

  46. @SJS, an experiment for you

    "...There's nothing complex about it! Many of the people looting, mugging, and causing destruction in Falluja right now are people I will have grown up with in some regard or another. Many of them will have gone to the same schools as I did, been my neighbours, been the bullies who made everyone's lives hell for their own sick enjoyment.

    These are the same people who torture small animals because it gives them a thrill... it'd be absolutely no loss to the world for these lunatics to simply be shot dead.

    Naive is the idea that those that would jump at any opportunity to steal, mug, maim and assault others could be motivated by any rational political or social environment."

    (some upsetting images)

    Our Boys. Funded by you.

    But I suppose it's OK with you because you're benefiting from the looting ? Or maybe just that your victims are brown ?

    Even if very few of the rioters see this as a political act it's not hard to see where they got their inspiration from.

  47. Thank you so much, Laurie, this is great. Many times in political topics the tone of an article is much more important than the content... You usually choose very good tones for your articles, but this one is perfect.

    No, the looters don't have the right to loot and set things on fire, but they have, and since we cannot turn back time, we should just try to learn why this happened.

  48. great reading. The contrasting comments of SJS and Penny Red are really provoking.great reading. The contrasting comments of SJS and Penny Red are really provoking.

  49. A very nice post; I appreciate being able to read some on the ground perspectives from across the pond. One question, although I still have many: if the attention, and the need to be heard, are so important, why is it, do you think, that journalists are being attacked?

  50. Bigged you up on the main US liberal blog Daily Kos in a hasty late night diary. But hey, you ought to think of blogging there


    PS. I think you once said you loved me on Labourlist. I was AntiTory Troll back in the day.

  51. Thank You for the courage of your pen and voice. I spent a year in London between 2007-08. I came away with a picture which horrified me. On the one hand there is this opulence - unattainable for most. Nothing shocking there. It was the deprivation in the inner cities that most caught my attention. The poverty and quality of life in many of these areas was heartrenching. I made it my business to go into parts of Peckham, Croydon, Brixton, Dalston, Hackney -- to see how indeed people in these communities lived. Why? I am West Indian. I had heard rumours about ongoing racism, the kind which is not overt but felt in marginalisation, fewer opportunities, etc. I am not surprised by the riots. People in these communities live extremely challenged lives, that is fairly brutal for a first world country. I do not know how confined these lifestyles are within particular areas/communities of the country or even how "black" communities are. I only know that this should never be. A recession would definitely ignite the flames of dissent. The riots in France clearly did not serve as a warning to England. It is time the UK wakes up to what many of us visitors see. While your parliament is lined with gold, the poor suffer. No, never as in Dickens' England. Racism and classism combined is too rich a brew to easily overcome. But as Robert F Kennedy said there is a kind of violence that does not come from the barrel of a gun, it's the violence of institutions, the violence of not being able to live as a man amongst men, the violence of inaction, the violence of decay...

  52. No wonder I keep seeing this post all over Twitter, you hit the nail right on the head with this one.

    Greetings from Ireland, hope you stay safe. Smoke 'em if ya got 'em.

  53. SJS, your logic is flawed. The fact is that if they had not been disadvantaged, it's far less likely this would have happened. Everyone is different and reacts to their situation differently - it doesn't change the fact that, as a socioeconomic factor, poverty and class divide can lead to violence.

    You can't apply conservative models of "personal responsibility" here, because you're not dealing with individuals. Some people simply aren't going to fall in with the rough crowd, whereas others will.

    You cannot ignore however that if they weren't poor, they probably wouldn't have become thugs. Also, they're still kids - you're grown up, we're dealing with a slightly different generation here. Whether or not they're "scumbags" is irrelevant - it's about the damage that occurs as a result and how to prevent it in future.

  54. To Penny and all the others in London, I hope you are ok, I pray you are safe and my will and soul are with you all. The worst thing that can be done to anyone is to steal their hope. I just pray everyone comes out of this on the right side of the grass. Unfortunately, I know that will not be the case. God be with you all, London Town.

  55. This comment has been removed by the author.

  56. Also, as pointed out, the issue is here now that kids see no future with the economic conditions we're in.

    Individual psychology will differ, so I don't see why it's surprising not everyone ends up a gangster. It would be absurd if they did.

    Clearly the individual plays a factor, but it's not really about choice here. The fact is that you are not these people, so did not become who they are either. However you cannot ignore the fact that the conditions they live in have a high likelihood of breaking an individual and turning them into one of these rioters.

    Calling them scumbags solves nothing. Accepting the fact that scumbags are more readily generated in impoverished or otherwise disadvantaged areas is the only solution here.

  57. Thank you Penny Red for this heartfelt post about disenfranchised people. Your writing is quite magnificent.

  58. there's some truth to what you're saying but this is madness - please don't romanticise this... truly there is politics here and there are demographic reasons... it is important to understand how we've ended up here but don't make yourself feel better by thinking there remains anything redeemable about the folks that commit these brutal acts

    don't romanticize their utter lack of humanity and decency - you'd never let an American soldier that committed torture romanticize his action as patriotic and good

    don't romanticize this - it will only encourage these folks that just want to see things burn for the sake of it

    these people threaten civil society and do not deserve any respect or understanding - we should simply see them for what they are: they are products of their circumstances, yet they exercise their free will and commits acts of destruction and terror for the sake of it

    they may cry that we wouldn't pay attention without a riot, yet isn't that just a slippery slope away from the arguments used by extremists of all religions, xenophobes, and all manner of terrorists

    these are terrorists
    these are folks that threaten freedom and civil society for all
    they threaten citizens and non-citizens
    they are expressing hatred and do not deserve to bathed in warm, understanding liberal love - as much as it may please you think that you can understand their plight

    this isn't about your ego or mine
    this is about our free and open societies that can withstand such brutality but must not succumb to the, frankly, unwarranted self-doubt about our way of life

    we must adjust and address fair grievances, though we cannot and we must not let them shake our faith in our democracies and our civil institutions

    we need to fix things - this is not how you fix things
    and, before you say it - this isn't how you point out things need to be fixed

  59. Trying to follow it from Australia, as many of the above comments state your writing is fantastic ,an incredibly honest and moving piece .

    thank you so much ,please dont ever work for mainstream media ,you are so so much better than that .. stay safe

  60. I'm watching, and I'm afraid - stay safe, all my English friends. I cannot believe I am watching whath I am watching and it's taking place in LONDON, my favourite city on the Earth. I am not there and clearly I do not know everything or even anything other than the broad strokes painted by news media - but my thoughts are with you all tonight. Stay safe.

  61. well said.

    I hope this piece cuts through all the mess.

    stay strong, there are many of us across the world with hope for the people of England

    also. you should quit smoking

    a new fan

  62. A few people upon criticising the article here seem to be getting 'reasons' mixed up with 'justifications', or 'causes' mixed up with 'motivations'.

    The analysis presented is highly accurate, as it even touched on that cry from one of the rioters, that their community's voice was not being heard.

    If anyone reading this had actually studied the causes of violent behaviour, of any kind, they would know that the chief cause of violent behaviour is the shame put upon people who are kept down in this society, whether by their statistical disadvantage in monetary economics, or by ignorant comments such as "They are a product of THEIR OWN stupidity, not society's oppressive constraints."

    Interestingly enough, said critic hit upon a fact, even if it might only apply to some of them; "These are the same people who torture small animals because it gives them a thrill"
    Some of these people are indeed the same kind of people who will begin by mutilating themselves and sometimes helpless animals, and then if untreated move on to harm other humans, and end up in prison, where we have had many opportunities to study them psychologically.
    They are also exactly the same people who have been shown time and time again to have felt the need to perform these violent acts due to being overwhelmed by shame, sometimes from their economic situation, and often from being put down by those who didn't know any better.

    If people don't have time to look through the hundreds of studies on the causes of violence and aggression, they couldn't do much better than to read Dr James Gilligan's book "Violence: Reflections on our Deadliest Epidemic" where he presents the findings in a manner that is easy to read.

    What this problem of violence boils down to time and again is our collective mindset; are we to keep forever condemning/forgiving violence in any circumstances, even holding the notion that we have the right to inflict more violence on perpetrators and name it 'justice', all the while tragic loss of life and personal damage continues? Wouldn't it be far saner to try and prevent violence from occurring in future?

  63. @SJS, I agree with you. The author has a point, that riots are about power. Political Correctness is partly to blame, including immigration without assimilation. Too bad people (including many police) are not armed. That would have probably reduced the threat of gangs entering neighborhoods and trashing them. Even thugs know the inherent danger of knocking down someone's door if they think there is the possibility of getting shot.

  64. Blow some of these idiots away. Yes, I do mean that literally. Look at the police and standing there like clowns, not reacting not doing anything. You're going to stand their, let them become emboldened, and torch the whole city?? Dumb. Kill a small number, show them you mean business, and the vast majority will go home with their stolen TV. Most of the people who are rioting are simply opportunists.

  65. @SJS, I agree with you entirely

    I went to school in 'inner city' London, nobody was particularly well off, we all lived in council housing nearby. Among the kids there were always some who were troublemakers, they had lack of aspiration/ respect and only wanted short term gratification.

    I would strongly disagree with the picture this article has painted, that these individuals 'spent their whole lives being told that they are good for nothing', 'never treated with respect'.Our teachers tried their best with everyone and treated everyone equally with care and respect. Also measures were made in place 'learning support' it was called, where needed extra tuition is given if you're not very good at school. These tuitorial assistants would give us a lot of praise and encouragement. Resources were limited at times and yes we had a small playing ground and no state of the art sports facilities, and sometimes we'd not have music lessons due to lack of music teacher. But i'd say all our needs were met.

    Of course this could be a very limited account drawn from my own experience, and may as well be ill informed, but i'd just like to add the reality of social equality etc is a very complex issue, we shouldn't just point and make sweeping generalisations like 'no one understands what it is like to be like them' or 'they were treated with no respect all their life'

  66. My thanks from Brazil, Penny. Hope you let me copy your text to my blog.
    International press is just saying what UK press is saying: mindless violence, that nobody knows why. Butwe all know that there´s always politics when the press doesn´t want to tell the reasons.

  67. For those wondering where the riots are happening, this is a Google map of the verified locations: http://tinyurl.com/3v3ln6u

  68. I have an idea: let's spend thirty years pushing the wealth to the top so it trickles-down, then let's be shocked and appalled by rioting in the streets!

  69. @ asdf "don't romanticize their utter lack of humanity and decency - you'd never let an American soldier that committed torture romanticize his action as patriotic and good"

    Torture no.

    The murder and looting, that's romanticized every day.

  70. Politically correct nonsense!,We cant even apportion the "ovbious blame",Without fear of being called Racist!...Thankyou Nu-Labour...

    Get the army on the streets,Give them rubber bullets!

    Signed: A poor guy living on benefits,who chooses not to get involved with criminal actions.

  71. This comment has been removed by the author.

  72. Excellent piece of writing. Be safe and well. Keep your head down and your eyes open and please, please keep writing these valuable and incredible updates.

  73. not a single thing on th news about this in america...when is this rioting supposed to take place here? I would think this country is on the verge as well, but declaring martial law in the us and suspending the elections could be the reason people in the US havent rioted yet. Big news...stock markets....nothing about London/local areas....."just ignore the issue until its thrown in your face"....i believe this is the political way of life.

    I do hope in the grand scheme of things that all is well and no one else losses their life during this time of unrest on your side of the globe.

  74. Wonderfully written piece. Thank you for sharing your opinions.

  75. this was a very insightful read and thank you (from a new south african fan)

  76. Great piece. But I need to ask a difficult question - has anyone asked if the police are standing by and doing nothing for a reason? Is it part of something larger? What are the government aims by showing that the police and civil authorities are "incapable" of controlling the situation. In my experience in conflict zones, as a journalist - and do not kid yourself if you believe UK is not a conflict zone - these situations are deliberately allowed to escalate by security forces - and thereby creating the conditions for counter-rampages by state backed militias (EDL/BNP?). At this point, after a relatively peaceful, entirely sceptical society - riven by division - happily gives ups it rights and civil liberties to restore order, and nips any genuine desire for change - against the real enemies of the people, the capitalists and their politicians - firmly in the bud. Of course it is just observation, I could be wrong..... ?

  77. Thank you so much for this excellent post. This is all so disturbing. I'm in a small town in the US, and many people think this will be happening here, too, as unemployment goes up and the paltry life support for for so many are cut.

    A lot of what you said reminds me of the Los Angeles riots in '92. I am hoping that you, and everyone, survives this as safely as possible.

  78. Civil society is a thin veneer. Not feeling one is a part of the civilization and feeling that one has little or nothing personally at stake if it is destroyed leads to the violent mob mentality we are witnessing in Britain. The underclass is burning its own neighborhood as happened here in the United States in the 1960's. If they venture into the land of the Haves, the insurrection will be put down, even if the Army has to do it. If the rules of the civilization make it nigh unto impossible for a critical mass of young people to live a decent life, they will lash out. This is not to say that the rioters as individuals have coherent motives, but the descent into madness is the result of society allowing the gulf between the Haves and the Have Nots to become too wide, with decreasing opportunities for the Have Nots to imagine that they can share a piece of the dream. There are exceptions. The Haves can set up the rules so that if just enough of the Have Nots can actually hope for change in their individual circumstances (no apologies to Pesident Obama), the critical mass for wanton destruction can be avoided. But, the world financial crisis has tipped us into the abyss. It's anybody's guess as to whether the abyss has a safety net.

  79. Excellent write-up. Someone shared this with me on Facebook. Take care. Thinking of you, from Australia.

  80. Excellent piece of writing. I agree that your politicians are definitely paying attention now but I can't help but recall what Martin Luther King Jr. achieved without resorting to violence.

  81. One of the most insightful and poignant pieces of journalism I've read on the London Riots, thank you.

    Politicians like to hide behind the 'senseless violence' and 'pure criminality' instead of facing the truth. The fact is that decisions they have made and the frustrations they have bred are the root to all of it. We face the same issue in the US, where we can no longer ignore the growing divide between those that have (the influencers and decision-makers) and those that have not (the people). Significant action has to be taken, and soon.

    I only hope that US representatives are able to learn something from all this - before its too late. #riotcleanup

  82. Violence is violence and it is never justified. Period. End of story.

  83. This rationale would make way more sense if they weren't looting for TVs and stealing from injured children.

    Seriously, how can anyone try and justify that?

  84. i feel your struggle. keep your head up and let us know whats crackin...

  85. The issue might be for some, that they see no future, but for some it also just an opportunity.

    Sad that it has come to this, but with hindsight, is it really a surprise?

  86. We in San Francisco are watching and we are also feeling the same here in America. The governments in our countries have become too powerful over the people. It is unfair. I have felt this coming to us as well. There is only so long we can stand for it.
    I truly appreciated reading you eloquent post.
    Thank you for your insightful words.

  87. An excellent piece of work.

    I see this happening there, and understand it. And I drive down the main street of my town, the core of it a flat scrubby wasteland of 100 acres where the manufacturing plants used to sit, watch everyone forty and under get more and more desperate.

    And we have no healthcare. People die here from rotten teeth and untreated pneumonia all the time.

    My generation remembers our dads having jobs. Real jobs. They bought houses and had vacations, sent their kids to good schools, paid for us to have good healthcare.

    When we reach our boiling point here in America, it will be even worse. Our police are armed. So are a lot of the American public. I am reminded of statements about the irresistable force and the immovable object.

  88. "Violence is rarely mindless."

    You are SO full of it.

    A gun is NOT an argument.

    There is no way that disputes between men can be resolved except by peaceful discussion and reasoned argument.

    If you value the lives of these animalistic, mentally ill, disgusting, welfare-leaching parasites above your own, then you're lower than they are, and you deserve to be their first victim.

    For the love of the human spirit, I urge everyone else to support the police and fight these unhuman pests, and have them thrown where they belong: in the prison system, NOT into wefare or reform institutions.

    Even an animal won't die without putting up a fight.

  89. The root cause for this is society as a whole. While people in the Middle East are fighting and protesting for freedom, what are these youths; and they are majority youth fighting for? Plasma TV's, Sony PlayStations, the latest Nike trainers and so on.

    The media rather than teach people good values, respect and decency shove consumerism down people’s throats along with ignorance. It’s all about greed, all about the bling. All about making it big so you can dance around on stage half naked while singing about drugs, alcohol and living the good life with a different ho on your arm every night.

    While I appreciate where you are coming from and some of the points you make the bottom fact is that these youths are a product of society which has let them get into the wrong mind-set and it is ultimately society that is to blame.

    You talk about benefits being cut??? I wonder how these 13+ year olds are coordinating these riots using there shiny new blackberry’s.

    Bottom line, the adults are just as much to blame as the kids. If the mother walks around half naked so will the daughter. If the father sits around in the pub all day everyday effing and blinding so will the son. Sure, there are exceptions but you get what you raise.

    There is no excuse for unprovoked violence and even then it is better to forgive.

    These things will not change until society changes and society will not change until it hits the gutter and is ready to.

    As for the markets crisis “stay away from riba, it will be better for you”

  90. Glad you are okay. However...

    These people weren't demonstrating. You could poll them, most of them would not know the name of the individual who died and who set all this off. This seemed to be there thought process:

    "I am angry about high unemployment, so I will destroy businesses and put people out of work!"

    "I am angry about some services being taken away, so I will ruin the rest of them!"

    "I am angry about 1 man being shot, so I will put thousands of people in mortal danger!"

    "I am angry about the Police, so I will ruin my own community! That will show them!"

    These aren't protestors, they are organized criminals, and should be treated as such.

    I grew up dirt poor, and never once did I look around and say "You know what? I think I'll express my anger at my internalized caste system by destroying my own neighborhood. OOH, shiny! Yay, I got new Nikes and a Wii!" No. No.

    They aren't storming Buckingham Palace in a show of anger towards those that would keep them down - they literally shat where they eat. They destroyed their own homes (and the homes of thousands of others), they put their neighbors out of work, they ruined their own lives in some sort of 'cut off your nose' spite. This morning they are waking up in their homes (if their home wasn't burned out yet) with all their shiny toys and nothing else. Their communities are burnt embers. Most people won't bother rebuilding, businesses won't want to move in, and their communities will die even further. Their short sightedness is outperformed only by their idiocy.

  91. Interesting perspective.

    Though your comment "The so-called leaders who have taken three solid days to return from their foreign holidays to a country in flames did not anticipate this." is slightly undermined by this:


    And as easy as it is to chalk it all down to the the masses being oppressed and deny that it has anything to do with upbringing you can't excuse the lawlessness.

    I was brought up in a poor area of the country, with bad housing, rife unemployment and zero opportunities but I never kicked an old lady's front door in on my street and robbed her.

    Yes, the masses are being ridden over roughshod by a typical Tory government.

    Yes, the Labour party and their bailing out of the wealthy at the cost of the poor was and is a tragic, sickening thing to do.

    But you don't take it out on your own community.

    That is entirely down to a lack of civic pride and a huge, gaping lack of common sense.

  92. Excellent and insightful piece of writing. We do need to ask ourselves who is to blame for all of this, who are the real criminals here?

  93. gas electrc petrol banks corperate robbers bleedind the poor out of every penny they have not got they are the problem .

  94. This is seductively well written but nonsense. You're perpetrating the racism with a lack of granular distinction - all people in Tottenham weren't given EVERY reason to distrust the police: some people, in the absence of constucted or meaningful lives blame that which represents order and meaning, misconstruing it for control over them. My relatively poor friends in Tottenham choose to send their children to school and choose to make them learn and behave. They live in Tottenhamn and were grateful previously for civil order reinforced by police authority and action. They were not rioting last night.
    People have to take responsibility for the construction and meaning of their own life at some point- whether they're black or white or rich or poor. We live in a society where children are guaranteed a school place, the crucially sick will get healthcare automatically and you can vote for a party to change. That is the way. Not rioting b

  95. I read this from my office in Sacramento, CA. We are among the worst hit cities in the recession in California-which lags in last place of the U.S. economy. I fear the unrest here will create a downward spiral of civil war. These are very uneasy times. My prayers are with you there. I visited London once-it's people charmed me and I hate to see you all suffering. Thank you for your informative words. Please keep us informed. Stay safe.

  96. Thank you so much for writing this. It would break my heart to watch that kind of a thing happen here in my city. Please stay safe. With love, from Chicago.

  97. I think the comment by Margaret Ann Harris: "I had heard rumours about ongoing racism, the kind which is not overt but felt in marginalisation, fewer opportunities, etc." really hits the nail on the head.

    We like to think we live in a post-race, post-feminist world but it's just not true. I think in some ways the covert racism (and sexism) that is still prevalent is really hard for people to deal with because they know it's happening but they can't articulate it.

    It’s not a fair playing field and I think it’s really easy for us to sit here and say what we’d do or to have the attitude of “I grew up in poverty and I’m ok, so everyone else who grew up in that situation should also be ok and able to deal with it as well.”

    Granted there are those involved in these riots who just want a new pair of sneakers, but that in itself is pretty sad. You will always have individuals who want to rally against their community but when it happens en masse, there’s something deeper going on.

    I'm from Australia and wonder sometimes if something like London could happen here.

  98. "I was brought up in a poor area of the country, with bad housing, rife unemployment and zero opportunities but I never kicked an old lady's front door in on my street and robbed her."

    Of course you didn't because you had self-esteem and a sense of personal honour.

    These pigs have nothing, are nothing, and stand for nothing. If they have their way, they'll have their sacks stuffed with jewelry, money and hi-tech gear until they starve to death because they can't cooperate enough to feed their own fat faces.

    If there's anything that should be burning in London it's these filthy vermin.

    I hope those shop keepers move out of Britain and set up shop in some other country where their productiveness and thrift will be better valued.

    Let London rot away with its Sharia courts, its welfare programmes and its big government.

  99. In Great Britain low/no income people are offered council housing, benefits, free compulsory education, free healthcare. Whilst claiming benefits there are opportunities for free/heavily discounted adult/further education, free medical prescriptions etc. When starting work low income workers receive tax credits. I'm not sure what more we, as a nation, can offer these people? Individuals have to take some responsibility for themselves, as some commenters have pointed out above.

    Any cuts in welfare benefits are due to the fact that the nation simply cannot afford to keep providing these benefits on such a scale.

    Great Britain has been taking in immigrants in their droves, as a "much needed workforce" (Gordon Brown) - maybe this mass migration is partly to blame? Those who don't arrive here and further burden our already overstretched benefit system are taking what jobs are available to the potential blue colour workers who have been born here?

    I think most intelligent people can understand the plight of these "rioters", but where do we go from here? What more must they be given? A free brand new plasma HD TV, designer trainers and a Wii, apparently.

  100. Meltdown in the global financial markets and one of the most important city-hubs of the global financial system in flames. Can it be a coincidence?

  101. I commend you for your piece, we have been lied to, cheated, robbed by politicians, the police, bankers and journalists and it's quite unbelievable that there is all this questioning about such reactions in our society, questions you have succinctly, intelligently and rationally analylised without the emotional hysteria that is understandably present, does no good and only pamnders to the excuses needed by the establishment to let these injustices continue as they are.

    There maybe some inaccuracies in the report, 'irrelevent', wake up people, there is justification for disillusionment! And 'NO THIS IS NOT' THE WAY TO DEAL WITH IT', but if we don't address the real issues and stop being reactionary, we'll never see a change!!

    Thank you for your piece. I will spread your word and will be following you from now on!

    Jason Halsey, London.

  102. I'd also agree that it's nothing to do with Twitter. I was involved in a small student project about why students attended the fees protests in 2010 and found, against our expectations, that participants in the protests did not place any real emphasis on social-media.

    For the mainstream media though new(ish) technology like facebook and twitter make for good scare stories with which to terrify their internet-phobic older readership.

  103. Police stations around the country being set on fire ??!! What planet are you on love?

  104. Well written, almost completely wrong. There are deep-rooted issues and causes, but these are complex. The simplistic rhetoric of "social exclusion" based on a false premise of entitlement is part of the problem, not part of the answer.

  105. This article is depressingly naive - poor hard-done-by marginalised oppressed lower classes expressing anger - what absolute rubbish. At least SJS and a few others have written sense here. The UK has one of the most generous benefits system in the world, everyone is given enough to live on, everyone is given a home. These thugs dont want a university degree or a job or youth programmes, they want more free money from the state ie taxpayer, and free/ stolen trainers and tvs. To say that they are rioting because they are poor or disenfranchised is giving false justification and rationale to actions that have no basis except selfishness, greed and basic criminality.

  106. Thank you. This is the first SENSIBLE piece I have read about the riots here in UK.
    People are so quick to write this off as 'mindless violence' or 'opportunism', but the basic fact is that you do not see such scenes occuring in a healthy society. What we saw was a symptom of a much more widespread discontent.

    Absolutely wonderful piece. Once again, thank you.

  107. The veneer of civilisation is very thin. Stay safe. I was born in Croydon, and it breaks my heart to see this anarchy.

  108. I would go along with all of this conjecture if the targets of the riots were government buildings, banks, royal dwellings etc.

    Instead people's homes, businesses and possessions have been the focal point.

    Very difficult to have sympathy with anyone doing this.

  109. The rioting is not about poor disenfranchised people with no prospects. As the article says, its about power. And these yobs know that they have power over society, because we would rather punish the police for pushing, than a yob for burning down a business.

    Its time to stop beating up on the police, and draw a line in the sand, and crossing that line is met with all the authority and force required. Its time we supported our authority figures, whether they are police, teachers, community leaders, youth group leaders, or anyone else who is required to deal with the lawlessness of this small minority of young people.

  110. The best observation I've seen so far, totally agree on all of your commentary.

  111. @TS politics is everywhere mate, even if you don't like it.

  112. Why does noone ever talk of "mindless entrepreneurialism" or "mindless exploitation" "mindless service cuts" or "mindless profiteering" when *they* destroy people's lives?

  113. Social inequality, my ass.
    "lets get some watches"
    Looters aiming at booze, phones and other material luxury items have nothing NOTHING to do with the sad death of a young man. It's pure and utter greed, and the unwill to work for it.
    We dont see the poor, starving people in Africa looting, now do we? Now that's inequality. If you have the opportunity to go to school, and a roof over your head and internet access and all your basic needs cared for, than there is no reason to destroy other people's property.
    "we are heard now"
    Well, what do they want to say? What in this behaviour deserves to be listened to? Really. Bullies should not rule London.

  114. Other than that, I really appreciate your blog, Penny (I just don't agree with everything).

  115. "with young people coming from across the capital and the country to battle the police"

    Until they realised that it would be easier to turn on their neighbours: mugging cyclists for their bikes, robbing people in restaurants, burning down the independent shops in their own neighbourhoods and as a result, wielding their new found power over the people who are just as affected by the structural inequalities that make them feel powerless.

    I do believe society is to blame though. It is only in a capitalist society where greed and self-interest are the highest values that something like this can happen. We are told on a daily basis that consumerism is how we can participate in our world, and that what we own is how we demonstrate our worth as citizens. So when people don't have a pot to piss in, what will they want to do when they find that nobody, not even the police, can stop them?

    On top of this, young people see others getting away with robbing their neighbours on a daily basis and this is not only in their immediate communities. The bankers have mugged the entire country and smugly laugh in our faces as they receive their annual bonuses in amounts most people won't see in their lifetimes.

    Our society's collective values of selfishness, materialism and greed are poisonous and all of us living here were forced to smell the noxious fumes last night.

  116. "not a single thing on th news about this in america...when is this rioting supposed to take place here?"

    What are you talking about? This is ALL OVER the news.

    Very interesting analysis--even the back and forth is great (except when posters start hijacking the discussion to yammer about "political correctness," or whatever else they want to flog. Stick to what's happening).

    My thoughts go out to you all--stay safe, please! Your American friends are praying for you.

  117. Great stuff Penny, very thoughtful.

    Just thought you might like to know that this blog post is being Tweeted by some real movers and shakers:

    John Perry Barlow (Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF))
    Bill Gross (Venture Capitalist and founder of US company incubator Idealab)

    and, last but not least,

    Tim Berners-Lee (inventor of the World Wide ... hey, you're soaking in it!)

  118. We certainly can't just claim that the only viable demonstrations/riots are in the Middle East where there is no "democracy". The fact that it is occurring throughout Europe in the main democracies means that there is a need for a new social contract between the people and their governments. People feeling disenfranchised have no problem being disrespectful of the system that we have and not obeying our "rules" concerning property etc.

  119. In a less eloquent manner I wrote similar last night. One problem that is very obvious to me is that the majority of people commenting on social networking sites seriously lack any empathy for those embroiled in this, and don't seem to feel the need to question why it has happened. If I see one more comment along the lines of 'shoot the f****rs' I think I will be sick.

  120. Thanks nu labour - mass immigration (was it 3 million) like we'd never seen before so they could artificially create a new electorate.

    p**** all that money up the wall for years and what are we left with? A massive tinderpot of young people out of work who join gangs!

  121. I'm struck by two tweets from a lad I went to University with:

    "Too many people blame society for their own poverty of aspiration. Did society make you believe going to school is beneath you?"

    followed by:

    "I grew up in a poor family that believed in bettering ourselves rather than sinking to thieving and violence."


    The culture of failure that has inculcated itself with lads from deprived areas nowadays is at the root of the problems, not politics.

    If your peer group penalises/ostracises you for succeeding academically, the only way you are going to be able to have the uniform that whatever subculture you belong to demands you wear is through hard unpaid work or theft.

    If it's easier to steal that work honestly, which would you chose in that situation?

    No, this isn't about politics, it's about envy. Kids are smashing up things because they know can't have them and if they can't have it nobody should, and they're stealing things because they can't afford them. Looting a Sony distribution centre or a PC World is never going to be a political statement.

  122. Excellent piece. I agree with you Laura, it was a matter of when, not if.

  123. I'm down in Plymouth and watching this all is heartbreaking. We've been pushed too far, made to hurt too deep. I'm a middle class woman with a job and *I* want to scream and shout so how dense are these politicians?

    This riot, when it ends, will be picked apart but I worry that people will look into tiny details when really this is about civil unrest and people feeling utterly lost and alone. We lash out when we're desperate, and whole communities are desperate now.

  124. Low paid not unpaid dammit, thought I'd proofed it properly :p

  125. Hi Laurie,

    This is, without doubt, a beautifully written blog and I can't help but be impressed. Unfortunately I find myself conflicted when reading it.

    I look around me at the world in general and ask myself whether things have improved in the last fifty years in this "enlightened" world in which we live? I worry that our look-at-how-civilised-we-are approach to society (and, yes, to punishment as well) is gradually eroding the foundations of our civilised lives and that we are refusing to truly SEE that we might, just occasionally, be wrong — even when our intentions are good.

    You say about riots that: "They are not about poor parenting, or youth services being cut, or any of the other snap explanations that media pundits have been trotting out…". I think that claiming that they are the actions of the oppressed masses fighting against an unjust government is just as much a snap explanation and a clichéd one, at that. Also (as someone else has already posted) – it's an overly romantic view of the situation: there were moment during your blog that I felt like I was reading the hero's big speech in a movie script.

    But here's my conflict: I agree that “violence is rarely mindless” but what kind of minds are committing the acts that I'm watching on the BBC? Not misunderstood, oppressed youths as far as I can make out — they are enjoying it far too much for that aren't they? Yes, the politicians are paying attention now and I agree that that's a good thing — there are issues that NEED to be dealt with in this country — but I don't think putting the lives of decent, hardworking people FROM THEIR OWN COMMUNITY at risk can ever be an acceptable way to get noticed.

    In the last paragraph there are several powerful sentences; in particular: “Now is the time when we make our choices. Now is the time when we decide whether to descend into hate, or to put prejudice aside and work together. Now is the time when we decide what sort of country it is that we want to live in.” I love this sentiment (although I did feel an overpowering urge to insert: “Today, is our Independence Day!"). This is how I WANT to live my life. I can think of nothing better than a country where we work together completely regardless of age, sex, race and religious beliefs in harmony but I just don't believe that the hooded teens are out destroying the city they live in, with their faces covered by scarves, to make a political statement. The mind behind the violence is a greedy one, maybe even an evil one — not a misunderstood one. I want to extend a hand in friendship but it's more likely to be crushed to a pulp than clasped in gratitude.

    I don't know what the answers to this country's problems are, clearly none of us do. Capital punishment is wrong: but are our children better educated without it? Rehabilitation is more humane than imprisonment: but are our neighbourhoods safer because of it? Should the lazy be entitled to benefits? Should banks allow people to borrow money they can never repay? So many enormous questions and not one of them will ever have a black-and-white answer. If black symbolises evil and white, good — I ask myself: can we solve society's problems with answers that are only good and safe, that fill us with a warm glow of self-righteousness — or does there need to be a dot of black in their? Do we occasionally need the hand that pats us on the back to slap us on the back of the head? Maybe: maybe not.

    The only thing I don't feel conflicted about is this: the acts of violence being carried out in London are crimes, plain and simple. And crime must be punished or society breaks down.

    Take care.

  126. i was thinking that something like this was going to happen here in the US; didnt imagine this happening to the UK. This kind of unrest will go WORLDWIDE if things dont get better by shortening the gap between haves and have-nots....

  127. "Noone expected this"

    Yes they did. They are the people that object to you romanticising previous riots this year and the physical intimidation tactics of UKuncut.

    Congratulations. Give your media profile - you are more responsible for the carnage in London than most. Happy now?

  128. It's only people who are not born poor who like to link this type of mindless violence to poverty. Shame on you and the likes of you. How insulting to those of us who were born in poverty..real poverty not the living on benefits this country offers.

    I was born with no running water/heating and outside communal toilets and bathing in plastic tubs. I've also lived in this country on benefits as a single mum with two kids and know what it's like trying to decide whether to spend my last pounds on nappies or food.

    I find it insulting the likes of you to associate what's going on now with some link of excuse to those who have and will never have respect for another human but instead feel they have the right to trash other people's property and steal.

    Poverty does NOT equate to burning down your neighbours homes and breaking into shops to steal a pair of trainers. Shame on their parents and grandparents for not installing respect for others.

    Equally bad in my view is the educated types who like to say it how it is viewing from the comfort of their living room sofa.

    I wish being poor gave me the divine right to trash & steal it would have made my life so much easier.

    A. Torres

  129. Excellent piece of writing. Stay safe.

  130. They all must be sent back to their black motherland deep in Africa or just shot in the place.
    Such a riots of minorities can be done only in western democracy where nobody have any power to stop so called civil right activists and everybody respect "rights" of every person - that's why there is so much family killings in America, riots in Paris and London, 20 years luxus prison camp for idiots who are raping, killing children!

    Shame on us!

  131. I think this is really awesome piece of writing. I left the UK over 7 years ago and could see this coming too many people have nothing in the UK I was lucky I had a job but I could see the writing on wall and I didn't like what it said. Living in Manchester you see how awful some peoples lives where and the levels of crime are just going up all the time . Nothing will change rich get richer etc

  132. if you add the economic and social issues so well expressed in this blog to the science about young people's brain development, its not so hard to see why there are so many young people in the rioting mobs.

    Teenagers' brains are only about 80 percent fully developed and that brain development isn't complete until people reach their 20s or even 30s—more than a decade later than experts had thought. The last part of the brain to fully connect up—well past the teenage years—is the frontal lobe, which houses judgment, insight, dampening of emotions and impulse control. Since it isn't fully developed, there's a cognitive chasm between coming up with an idea and being able to decide if it's actually a good one. The area of the brain associated with higher-level thinking, empathy, and guilt is underused by teenagers, reports a new study (http://is.gd/fakl1S) . When considering an action, the teenage medial prefrontal cortex, located in front of the brain, doesn't get as much action as adults. from ScienceDaily (Jan. 29, 2011) — when teens are with friends they are more susceptible to the potential rewards of a risk than they are when they are alone.http://is.gd/DMXgHE

  133. Supporters of the mindset of this article are calling this for what it is: Socioeconomic upheaval.

    If it wasn't, the rioting and looting would take place in affluent neighborhoods as well, by its own residents.

    Have you not seen Les Miserables? The Master of the House was amongst the students. The bad people are on both sides.

    They are opportunist and they thrive in chaos. But you've identified the wrong opportunist.

    It's not the kid that stole the Wii. It's the violent thug that robbed somebody Friday night. He/She now has all the disgruntled kids that don't mug people as a shield. And those kids are poor.

    It's an unchanging structure throughout history.

    Widespread violence follows economic downturns that leave society's poorest members disenfranchised and hopeless.

    There is no such thing as mindless violence, no matter how sick that mind may be. The mind in the instance of social unrest is acting as a collective. The only solution is figuring out what made the mind sick. You don't have to have pity for the sick mind. You only need to want it fixed so it doesn't impinge on your happiness.

  134. Impressive. I hope you'll be safe and the madness ends.

  135. This is some very well written drivel. Three guys in my shop yesterday (not in London but just outside of London) were buying some clothes, a good £30 or so on jeans and some other bits. This is roughly part of the conversation I heard

    "Aww mate did you hear what Dave in London got yesterday? He broke into Curry's and he's got a brand now laptop, innit? How cool, man?"

    "Man I hope this comes over here. What shops should we do? I think the jewellery shops oh and JD's"

    These boys were not poor and also were at college (as they asked for student discount). They just hoped to get involved and take the opportunity. I imagine this is pretty much what went down in London last night and over the past few days. Nothing political, nothing to do with being poor, but just totally destructive and greedy morons with a mob mentality.

  136. Great comments by @SJS & @FingerTrouble

    There is no excuse for this type of unrest. The only saving grace is that the UK @#$% foots around the youth, and handles them with padded gloves. Come try this in any number of other countries, the streets would be lined with bodies and the gutters would flow with blood.

    These " youths " deserve a bit of a legal system beating.

    Quite honestly i think that this riot may have end results that will countermine the possibly good founding intentions.

  137. keep it calm :lets not forget mods and rockers, football hooligans and the 80's riots.It's just we easily forget that emergent generations need to make themselves heard- especially if they are bored and want, for whatever reason.Over reaction will not work and the people will rise up against this themselves when theyve had enough. Just watch it, civic society is bigger than thuggery.

  138. Brilliant writing as always and a great counter-point from SJS. Much better than the wind-up toy politicians Like Theresa May standing in front of us and repeating the same phrase over like it's a floatation aid stopping them from drowning.

  139. Ok I agree these folks were angry at a system that they did not vote for and is happy to take advantage of them. However in such times we must uphold the law, it is far too easy to slip into the chaos that occurred in England and no act of violence no matter how well justified can ever be ignored by the law. I know that it seems weak right now but it is our job to raise the law up when it seems weakest.

  140. Whilst I don't doubt there are social reasons behind what's happened, I think there is also such at thing as personal responsibility. Like a few commenters here I too was brought up in poverty and still live in what's considered an area of deprivation. Yet I know not to go and steal from the shops up the road and not to set fire to my neighbour's houses, as do most of the people who live near me. I brought my children up with the same values, despite the fact that we were on a low income and I couldn't afford to buy them the best trainers etc. It's an insult to everyone on low income or benefits to suggest that being 'poor' not only turns them into criminals but gives them an excuse to be so.

    It's also too easy to blame the govt. We all do it, and I'm not impressed with the government we have. But that lets the rioters off the hook too easily.

    I'd hazard a guess that most of the people taking part in the clean up are on low incomes too, yet what they're doing is fantastic and gives me faith in human nature. Let's cheer them on in their efforts whilst roundly condemning those who have set Britain's streets alight.

  141. I am sorry there are so many disenfranchised and unempowered young people with little chance of employment. But these are other issues. No one has the right to impose this style of opportunistic chaos on others. I am surprised to say the least that the police were not better organized or equipped to deal with this at the outset. Social media systems may well be the avenue enabling insta-crowd but authorities have the capability to use this also. There should be an investigation into police command and control structure which seems completely overwhelmed by a modern tactical problem.

  142. Reading this from Singapore. Power being reclaimed, YES. But unfortunately, much more needed to sustain the CRY. Watching closely from here.

  143. is this the result of all the hurting , harming and looting and the greed that our society expressed before - bad karma just ripened now - did it not...the politics is too upper class, the business and the bankers are too rich and the poor and the unemployed are hurting and feeling very unfair and the govt's are caught up - cocktail that is ready to burst and it did - i feel sad for the people involved and the people who did all this - imagine the hurt and the pain - must be hard - stay safe and stay resolved and in peace Londoners - there is no other way - only love and peace and sharing and caring works - and look really hard at the cause of the causes - unemployment and the wealth divide did not happen suddenly

  144. @immie123

    First of all let me say that I am not settled on this subject; that is I think there's a myriad of explanations, both for the reactions and motivations of the rioters; and for the various views of the people commentating and responding to the events.

    However, you and SJS weaken your argument somewhat by assuming that most people are (*clever, sensible, insert superior adjective here*) like you and that you make up a majority. The young people on the streets with a sense of alienation, nihilism and apathy far outweigh those with a rational political / social perspective, however similar your background.

    You said of some of the people you grew up with:

    "...they had lack of aspiration..."

    Well there's one difference that distinguishes people immediately. How optimistic were your parents? How encouraging or inspirational were the people you grew up around? I don't know the answer, but it's an important question. My upbringing was anything but privileged but I had somewhere to look when I wanted a model of success; I had people telling me I needn't be restrained by my socio-economic position. This is in part due to the generational attitude I grew up with but times change...

    Some people only need to be told there're no jobs and no hope for the future when they're at school and the whole process of learning becomes redundant to them; there’s no one to reinforce an alternative. They see newspaper headlines telling them that the last bastions of community and society are to be stripped away by a government with a warped sense of responsibility and whether or not they care or understand is irrelevant; to them things’re fucked already. Of course opportunism emerges. Add into the mix a (potential) lack of a role model and / or tangible aspirations and you have a recipe for attention seeking and a desire for infamy through reclaimed power. Whatever people’s motivation, whatever their reaction, the balance of power has been unfairly tipped for too long; these riots are an attempt at dismantling the scales.

  145. @BillvanOosten They dont have any authority, and the use of modern tactical procedures is frowned upon. A state wide curfew and military lock down would have cut it quickly but imagine the reactions from the public.

  146. @gary - I really, badly hope you meant to type "corporal punishment"

  147. wow, great insights (and arguments). My heart goes out to all Londoners. Not an easy subject to comprehend. We had something not unlike this is Vancouver, but after a dumb hockey game. The kids here were more middle class in that debacle, so it was not as class-based, but the equation is ultimately the same:

    The society that promotes consumerist spectacle as the ultimate circus tends towards manufacturing riots that devolve into only more consumerist spectacle. The frontal part of the brain that censors the irrational acts of the pre-moral amygdula, (no matter how many smartphones are watching), is helpless in a society where that part of the brain is not encouraged to evolve. The only reliable default for a lapsed social contract would have been compassion, built through healthy and self-correcting social connections. Locke, Rousseau , et al, proposing reason as the sole arbiter of human social evolution, missed the elemental foundation of healthy human societies everywhere: Connectivity.

    When a society loses its self-sustaining matrix of Compassion, even reason ultimately fails, hence the moralistic name-calling. Our society(s) lost this core centuries ago. when private property became the ultimate Good. Unfortunately, the economic systems, built upon a top-down ego-gratifying model have created only disconnection, thus short-circuiting our essential human-ness. This is not our destiny!
    The rioters, in their short-circuiting hearts and minds, are just reduced to fulfilling their inevitable role as manifesting the hidden architecture of the economic class system, wanting power but unable to be more than mere pawns, delivering themselves onto television as unpaid extras in a failed attempt at the redemption of the underclass. In fact, we are ALL the underclass in this sordid equation -even our overlords suffer at their core. Their desperate thievery just happens to be sanctioned by their own rules, staving off the hunger of their souls with an (almost) impenetrable buffer of comfort and illusion of power.

    We're not doomed, but we need a revolution of love to smother the testosterone of the unchecked will-to-power, in all its forms. It must come from the bottom up, because the vested interests of those with power and/or money would never permit a trickle-down solution. People of England rise up and show us your fierce hearts! Stand up to the rioters and to your "leaders". You are living at the the seat of all of our classist colonialist undoing. Your island now bears the heavy karma of it, and you must be the ones to reverse the equation. You can only do it together and you must hit the streets running, with hearts open.

  148. Great post, and I agree it is political, whether the rioters or others think it is or not. Trickle-down wealth doesn't work, riot fires offend us, but obscene pay bonuses and associated deals are unseen, and thus OK apparently. Respect for authority, and more importantly TRUST of authority to govern for all, is gone. Tunisia, Libya, Syria, England - the reasons are fundamentally the same.

  149. @om Holy crap!! Yes I definitely meant corporal — NOT CAPITAL!! That'll teach me not to edit before posting! Thanks a lot. ;0)

  150. There are lots of poor disenfranchised people struggling day to day to make ends meet who DO NOT think it is ok to loot, damage, set fires, make others homeless etc etc!

    There is a culture of entitlement in some communities that has absolutely no respect for how others progress through their own hard work.

    We grew up poor ambivalent immigrants on a council estate, hating being anonymous to opportunities or recognition and desperate to remain anonymous so as to avoid unwelcome racist attention. Keep your head down and get through it seemed to be the philosophy.

    At no point did we or our parents or our community think the way to address our injustices was to riot. We still don't. We never will think it is ok to behave like this.

    Look at the footage. It is not political attention seeking. These people don't engage in the political process. They have no interest in working things out. They have no self respect. Politics didn't give me my self respect. My family did. My family didn't disintegrate because we were poor. We didn't start doing drugs or joining gangs because we were poor.

    Stop making excuses for them. They need to get their shit together.

  151. In some ways a good analysis, but in other ways subject to the economic reductionism typical of left-wing thought.

    You need to also ask why many youths from poor families did not, and will not riot. You need to ask why such a high proportion of the rioters were black. (it also appears that most of the other rioters were white). It is no point saying that to mention this is racist, it's simply a fact about the ethnic composition of the rioters. It is not poverty as such which is causing this problem, it is the poverty of some black families and some white families which is causing the problem.

    And, of course, using the terms white and black - simply based on visual observation is misleading. It is a matter not of skin colour, but of the way that cultural and social background interact with poverty. Some family, social and cultural backgrounds produce youths from poor families who are peaceful aspirational and hard working, others produce youths who tend towards poor academic performance, violence, crime gang membership and, rioting.

    We need to address both the poverty angle and the social and cultural angle. Without addressing both nothing will be achieved.

  152. Penny-I'm afraid it does also fall to parents. If you say these kids have never been shown respect, attention- and are finally demanding it because they've got nothing to lose-who is to blame? A child develops emotionally and cognitively from as soon as birth-it is wholly parents who are accountable, and then factor in the plethora of other societal issues....

  153. Hi. A few thought provoking observations but purple prose nevertheless of the most sententious and obfuscating kind. Saying these rioters/looters have spent their lives being told 'they are good for nothing' is no more than dangerous cliche; dedicated teachers, parents, social workers, policemen, citizens of the UK are not all uncaring and selfish. Choice and responsibility are important. Benefits have not been slashed (yet). Action is required by the authorities NOW; it needs to be robust. You will be huddling behind your sofa forever waiting for us all to hold hands and teach the world to sing.

  154. Every rioter who survives this wins. Some shoes, a mobile-phone and the lifetime memory of the few nights in 2011 they did what ever they wanted and no-one could stop them.

    Congrats, Britain, you got yourself in a position where you got thousands (and possibly thousands) of young men who can only win by burning down neighbourhoods.

  155. Totally agree with SJS....
    Trying to explain what is happening with crisis, politics, differences between social classes, etc, is just an insult to everyone which have born in the same situation and actually fights from something in life besides stolen sneakers, clothes, TVs or mobile phones.

  156. Well put!

    here's a song on the subject:


  157. It seems facile to deny that more complex issues lay behind this kind of behaviour, fair point. But, I argue, we need to keep some perspective. I lived around your way (Holloway) for 8 years, co-inhabiting the area with some pretty unpleasant young individuals who, I believe, your political theorising would be completely wasted on. One could argue there was the clear impression they cared not about politics, notions of community etc and are in fact deeply immersed in an infantile culture fascinated with superficial displays of gratuitous wealth, petty Hollywoodesque gang violence and notoriety. Oh and smokin' a load of weed too. Simplistic aggressive acts including cold blooded murder are venerated and celebrated within this distorted, juvenile culture. They patently do not "give a f*ck". Now why they don't "give a f*ck", indeed this is the question and a complex one it is at that. BUT, the individuals must take responsibility for their actions as must their parents in their failure to prevent their children acting like this.

  158. As a teacher for 37 years, teaching for 31 of them in a school largely populated by children from gang backgrounds, I have found statements in this article which are quite frankly dopey.
    I dealt with criminality, drug and alcohol abuse, thuggery etc on a daily basis. Largely the problem lies with families and the perpetrators. It's all to easy to blame others or "society" when what is needed is a change of attitude.

    I don't see any reports of books being stolen.

    My advice, stay indoors or risk getting beaten to a pulp.That's the reality. A minority of people has decided what type of society you will have. Good luck with the "negotiating"

  159. From the safety and comfort of Australia the fires and looting we are seeing on the news seem unimaginable. Could it happen elsewhere? Could it happen in the United States? Surely it could happen anywhere where services are cut and people feel that they have no control over their lives.

  160. poor? What is 'poor' these days?

    I can't afford to run a blackberry contract every month. Apparently a lot of these yobs can. Am I poorer?

  161. Penny Red says "Violence is rarely mindless". This year's Stanley Cup riot in Vancouver Canada was nothing but mindless. No politics there. Everyone, i mean everyone, took part in the car-burning, assaults, and looting. Among those setting a police car on fire was a young man with a water polo scholarship to a major university. But we shouldn't be surprised. This sometimes happens after large crowds of young people gather for exciting events. No political motivations are at play. People just act on their baser instincts. And, by and large, this was how the Vancouver riots were explained.

    Now take a large crowd of young people who are poor, who've got issues with the police, and who've got a lot less to do with their time than pampered Vancouverites. Even worse. That doesn't make the violence more political, just more likely, because the people involved are already used to acting on their baser instincts.

    Now imagine that the crowd is mostly black. Suddenly the discussion about motivation becomes a bit more difficult. If we say the violence is mindless, are we saying that black people are mindless? No, that does not logically follow. If we say that the violence is mindless, are we precluding underlying circumstances that have to do with politics? Again, no, not necessarily. But the racist nuts will say things to imply otherwise, and the bleeding heart leftists will pre-emptively go to the opposite extreme. And we get a big mess.

    We should not ignore the poverty and isolation that can sometimes breed thugs, but thugs are thugs and there's no good to come of painting them otherwise.

  162. Very thoughtful and well written piece. I appreciate your attempts to retain perspective in the midst of things. It's going to be a rough road ahead.

  163. For years I worked in Camden and lived in Leytonstone in London's east. I did gigs and recorded in the north, south and west of a truly inspirational city. But it is also overcrowded and like all cities the divide between rich and poor grew before my eyes. Your post is enlightening and a much needed alternative view to the media coverage we are also getting down under. Thank you.


  164. As someone who teaches in an inner-city school in a very deprived area I can categorically say that it is very naive to say that this has nothing to do with parenting, this most certainly is a contributory factor to the lawlessness we have seen over the last few nights. Dealing with children on a daily basis who are scarred by their parents total lack of parenting skills provides insight into the future of society. Poverty has little to do with it! I teach many beautifully behaved children who strive for excellence in the classroom however they are backed by loving and supportive families. The children who have no respect for authority, lack any boundaries at home - No routines or constraints on their life. They are incapable of taking any responsibility for their actions it is always someone else fault. However, if certain sectors of society are willing to endorse this blame culture then their lack of responsibility persists.
    I reiterate that I am not saying that bad parenting is the reason for the riots - I am saying that you simply cannot dismiss it as a contributory factor.

  165. Thank you for this. You have put into words something I was struggling to express against all the narrow-minded comments I am hearing around me.

  166. Well written, but pompous and suffers from the fatal flaw of warning about instant judgment and analysis and then ... offering instant judgment and analysis.

    First, the plural of anecdote is not data. We can possibly build up a picture of some of the motivation by gathering the reports of anecdotes, but that's not an entire picture and it's dangerous to assume it is.

    Second, there are indeed communities all over the country that never make the news. By no means all of the people who deserve attention get it; many people who don't deserve attention do get it. But again, a series of anecdotes doesn't make a whole picture. For every disenfranchised kid who's had his or her EMA cut is another kid doing well at school despite the hardships. Both stories are equally valid and I can't see that it helps to pontificate about one while ignoring another.

    I also think you lose points by sniping at Cameron. Yes, it's pretty poor that he's not come back from holiday sooner, but that's a sideshow.

    What we should be looking at is the economy and its structural, long-term problems. Tax revenues collapsing because wealth is offshored; the collapse of the manufacturing base; the service-sector jobs that were supposed to replace manufacturing jobs going to developing-world countries; the race to the bottom with terms and conditions for those who do have jobs; the decline of collectivism as unions are flattened and villified ...

    I don't know what's going to rescue the economy. Last time it was this bad, North Sea oil came along and provided a windfall. That's not going to happen this time. That's what I'm worried about.

  167. This goes beyond thuggery. When we start to see how an unelected Australian bully has been running the country for years with the collusion of police and politicians it is maybe not so surprising that the idealism of youth tips into its opposite

  168. Sell sell sell people the 'good things in life', advertising it on buses, on tubes, on escalators, on TV, Radio, Billboards, in movies, on park benches, multi-millionaire footballers lives and THEN make it impossible for the young to get work to buy the 'good things in life'. Its guaranteed to create trouble. The UK Government put £500 Billion into a Bankers debt hole in 2009 - then tax old age Pensions, people who have worked for 45 years - the message in today's society 'we have, you do not'. The ROT is at the TOP. Multitude of MP's stealing in their expenses, Scotland Yard + News International, Hedge Funders and Banker's bonuses in the £ millions and £ millions as the High Street in every town dies, shop by shop, week by week, jobs by jobs. The UK is being destroyed by the greed of the 5% who have 90% of the UK's wealth. Go figure that there are riots - just in the wrong place. Take it to Parliament, to the Government, to the MPs.

  169. A lot of white middle class guilt arising from the riots. As someone has already said here, jumping to conclusion that nobody's ever cared about these kids is not necessarily accurate. Coddling people because they happen to have been born a minority and poor and in effect allowing them to therefore act in a manner that is destructive to their own communities and society in general is not only a part of the problem, it's also condescending. It is offensive to the hard working teachers who try to give a good education to people in poorer areas and it's offensive to everyone else who happens to be a minority and/or poor and wouldn't dream of burning down a neighbour's shop or car.

    I supported the student "riots" because they were aimed at the right people - the government, the police, etc.. They weren't indiscriminate looting blaming TV and adverts for "telling us we need to have these things".
    These kids are just throwing a massive tantrum and they don't care who they screw up along the way. Hell, they're even mugging each other.

    Rather than all the scary comments here about how these kids need to be shot, I think the communities themselves need to start drawing a red line and teach these kids how to direct their anger properly. No one listens to the government and the police, but it's the people affected by these riots that should be putting their foot down.

    I loved seeing how Dalston shop owners reacted to the looting with vigilante justice. Make them clean up their bloody mess!

  170. For years I worked in Camden and lived in Leytonstone in London's east. I did gigs and recorded in the north, south and west of a truly inspirational city. But it is also overcrowded and like all cities the divide between rich and poor grew before my eyes. Your post is enlightening and a much needed alternative view to the media coverage we are also getting down under. Thank you.


  171. Well written piece? Just the same old "insight" that has been shovelled around for the last 20 years that pops up in practically every newspaper from time to time. It could have been cut and pasted from any past article. The fact that individuals find this insightful is yet again why this will endure and nothing will be sorted. SJS's comment to this is much more accurate. There are individuals in this society who like to behave in this manner and take any opportunity they can to do so. They are not complex individuals, they are of the basest type of being who has nothing in their minds or hearts except themselves. Nothing that is done for them will ever change that. Racism of course rears its head yet again. What about patriotism? People who love this country do not like people who despise it. Most of the looters and rioters seen on various news channels, youtube etc. are black. Yet again extending the hand of "peace" will prove to be of no value. It hasn't worked in the past. And a solution? Unfortunately it's gone too far now. Something has been unleashed that’s going to be very hard to contain now - and that something is a combination of anger, disappointment, rejection, fear, hate. And this is not from the looters or rioters this will be from those of us who have watched London burning and felt we have been left to defend ourselves - from the ineffectual policing and government on one hand and the feral individuals roaming the streets on the other.

  172. If anyone is genuinely interested in helping out.
    Riotcleanup is currently trending on twitter - and this man appears to be organising and distributing help to areas which need it: http://twitter.com/#!/artistsmakers

    The telegraph is providing a live stream of goings-on and places where clean ups are happening: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/8687177/London-riots-live.html

    They just held a 2minute silence in Clapham http://lockerz.com/s/127996115 and are currently helping to clean the area

  173. whoah, *geo hyperform*, you also mention the Vancouver riots. but, if i understand your post correctly, you're saying the opposite of me! you're saying that, no matter what, some kind of societal factor is responsible for violent rioting?! in london, it's poverty and disenfranchisement. in vancouver, it's consumerism?! if this is what you mean, then what a wasted example! a few others, who seem unaware of the vancouver riots have posted that they fear the kind of london-style rioting would ensue if social spending were to create the kind of ghettos that don't seem to exist in their cushy part of the world. the vancouver riots tell us that you don't even need any of that to get something like london-riot behavior! you just need a bunch of as$%$les in the right situation.

  174. Thank you for your insightful post. I have never been to that part of the country, but I easily relate to your observations.The powers that be never take tym to c it coming but r always surprised to c it has come.

  175. these riots are about something running deeper than cuts and recession. it's about total disenfranchisement of a whole section of society. a lack of respect both ways, a break down of family, values and boundaries. a lack of competition and strong engagement in school, a real missing of consequences. it's a tantrum on an epic scale. kids need boundaries to feel safe, held and connected.

  176. Sitting in San Francisco on line for hours trying to work out what the hell is going on back home, this is the single best this I have read all evening.

  177. Another good post Laurie, I agree with a lot of that and the tone is very appropriate. Here's my take:

    "The problem isn't that oppressed working class people are breaking the law en masse. The problem is that - justified anger at the police notwithstanding - so much of it is ostensibly 'apolitical', and many of the victims are entirely innocent politically speaking. As yet, there has been little leadership from the working class in the workplace. This apparently directionless outburst of rage and destruction is the inevitable result."


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  179. A "weapons free" and "order to shoot" and "shoot to kill" would solve that in one night. No more riotting.

  180. I'd wager that it's about communication almost as much as it is about power, I think.

    Good post.

  181. It would be misguided of us to blame the individuals involved in these riots without examining the wider socio-economic background.

    We need to ask ourselves why these youths involved themselves in these riots, why they carry knives. These people feel invisible to society and consequently feel utterly ignored and dis-empowered. It is only when they hold a knife to your throat that they are seen, they are important, their presence is validated and respected.

    The ongoing riots are borne out of the same sense of dis-empowerment and low self esteem. This is why these individuals are smashing, looting and mugging their own neighbours. These youths have been raised within a materialistic culture, where it is considered the norm to fill emotional emptiness and low self-worth with play stations, computer games and trainers.

    I am not justifying the rioting of these people, but we must recognise that their current activities have their source is a deep seated sense of frustration, fear and dis-empowerment. In looting, burning and mugging they psychologically regain that power, their voice. For once, they are seen. The fact that these acts are perpetrated against their own communities, serves only to underline the bitter self-loathing, the internalised caste system thawing away at the those involved.

    If we truly wish to heal this deep cultural and economic rift, we can no longer afford the elastoplast approach.

    Shooting them, locking them up without a key, as some commentators have suggested, is tantamount to sweeping the problem under the carpet, only to inevitably re-merge later in a more advanced and twisted form.

    We must go to the root of the problem, hear these people, give them the space to see their true worth as human beings. To show them that true human power, comes not from violence towards themselves and others, but rather from serving others.

    The choice is ours.

  182. Excellent analysis and my heart goes out to you, sitting up in south London last night listening for sirens and worrying about fires was a very scary experience.
    I would say @westpapuamedia - there are no surprises here, if your home is burgled in London the police make an appointment to call 'within a few days' in response to your 999 call, they offer no hope that anyone will be caught or anything recovered. hey have given up pretending to try, there are no response units to tackle 'non-violent' crime in many areas of London now. My own nearest response unit is over an hour's drive away most of the day. Yet if there is a peaceful protest that is big enough to draw attention it is met by unquestionably fierce control tactics by the police. Recent news stories highlight the corruption within the police in London and the message is clear- if you have the money to buy a policeman, they are for sale. If you are a victim of crime, it's your own problem. If you protest about what is done to you, you will be punished. The respect is gone and there has been no trust for a long time. Whenever you have an 'us and them' situation you will have disregard of each other's rights, and we have that in spades. The government here is about protectionism for the few, not inclusion of all sectors of society and wherever people feel disenfranchised, societies fall apart. Not for one reason, for many- this is not just a race issue, though that is part of it, you are many times more likely to have been stopped and searched if you're black than white. This is not just about poverty, though that is part too- where there are few legal ways of having the standard of living we are told to aspire to, the illegal ones become easier to choose. This is not just political, though that is part of it too.
    Again, well written and well thought out piece, thank you.

  183. this is the best piece of writing i've seen on all this. thanks to jon and amanda for passing this along.

  184. I interview Holocaust survivors on a regular basis and I will never forget one interview in which the man I was interviewing told me that one of the first things he did after being rescued was scream like an animal. All I can think of as I watch the footage of the riots from here in Australia is the image of that man screaming. Because essentially, it feels like a large part of the impetus behind these riots is not 'mindless' violence, but acute frustration, unheard anger and injustice. That's what that scream of the holocaust survivor represented to me, and that's what these riots echo. I'm really not surprised that anger has spilled over in such a way. I am however, very sad to see it happen.

    What a thoughtful and intelligent article though - and totally spot on. So glad I read this.

  185. The best text I've read on the subject. It's so much easier to turn the other way and start pointing fingers... nothing happens out of the blue and this is something that if you really think about it, it has been a long time coming... and it has to be about more than cleaning up the streets the next day. These young people need to feel they matter and they need to be heard because as you rightly say, at the moment, they have nothing to lose, and it is a very dangerous place to be in, a whole country at the mercy of those who have nothing to lose.

  186. If the government wasn't giving them £70 a week and paying for their accommodation this wouldn't be happening. They are taught no sense of responsibility and they are treated like kids so they act like kids, stop giving job seekers allowance to people that never worked a day in their life, you should have to have worked at least 12 months prior to be able to claim...and the same for housing association...

    They are not taught to be responsible and look for jobs, if all the government doors were closed the would have no choice but to find a job and put up with it like the rest of us but NOOOO... let's give them free money and a free house so they can sell drugs in and be gangsters, how many of them i know never worked in their lives, they have all expenses paid by the government and they can afford, laptops and, sound systems, flat screen tv's, playstation 3's, another tv in the bedroom, £90 trainers, and the best of it all is, THEY GO ON HOLIDAY ABROAD!!!

    Honestly, it's the governments fault so i'm not sorry that London is burning because they need a wake up call...

    Just angry it needed to be this way, i don't agree with it, i think those little low lifes deserve a good beating, but in a way, we created them...

    That's my 2 pence worth...

  187. @Jonno!

    Don't use the phrase mentally ill in that context. Many people are mentally ill and not involved in this, or would dream of it.

    I can't really articulate how I feel on this, but I'll post a quote from a friend of a friend (who was fighting the fire at Reeve's Corner):

    "Be excellent to each other, and shit like this won't happen."

    Probably the most poignant and truthful thing I've read or heard about this over the past few days.

  188. I really object to your view of youth services being "a few pool tables".. The youth workers I have known (and have had to go on to do other things after being made unemployed) worked extremely hard with some of the toughest situations, parents and kids in our communities and achieved amazing results.

    A bunch of pool tables hardly represents the years of training, the understanding of the politics, the almost life-threatening engagement, the strength and ultimate belief that we can all work together and enhance each-others lives that was apparent with in the youth services I worked with.

    So I believe your comment is unfair and should be further researched, as you contradict your point in the paragraph, which includes: "snap explanations that media pundits have been trotting out".

  189. Really good to read this, after all the kneejerk reactions i've heard about sending in the army etc...

  190. I don't agree with with the article, it's well written but is written by someone who has doesn't live in those communities or one like it. I do live in one, I grew up in one similar and I lived in the poorest areas of London. The forgotten are not the ones rioting, the ones rioting are those who mug, rob, beat up and intimidate their neighbours. The forgotten are the ones who know that when they are burgled by the "youth" who is now rioting there is no point calling the police because their estate scare even the police. The true forgotten are the ones who live in these communities but strive to live a life worth something. That look at the poverty they live in and don't steal but try to make a difference. That don't blame everyone else for their problems but find a solution for themselves. That don't use violence to be heard. And they aren't on the streets of our cities looting shops and burning homes. They are having their homes and communities destroyed by the few who don't care.

  191. Thanks for the brilliant article from Johannesburg South Africa.

  192. A very interesting account of the apparent anarchy engulfing the UK at the moment. I'm amazed that the government are surprised at the viral nature of the response to Mark Duggan's killing given the prevailing socio-economic depression experienced particularly, by inner city folk struggling to cope. Though I don't condone the actions of the youth looting and vandalizing private property, I can empathize with their collective resistance to gain attention to what I hope is a sensible case for better social conditions and opportunities to improve their lot. Consequently, I also hope they have contemplated the possible consequences of their actions and the long term implications to their future. It is my fervent hope that if nothing else, these events serve as a catalyst to get the establishment to revisit their economic and fiscal policies which have adversely affected the poorer elements of society; and also that police forces throughout the UK re-examine their policies for policing with a view to protecting and serving citizens. As a society we have a vicarious responsibility for each other irrespective of our disparate backgrounds and outlook on life and we should move to prevent or curtail despicable acts perpetrated by our neighbour in the best way we can rather than sitting back, chastising and casting blame. This is OUR problem and we should ALL have vested interest in resolving it!

  193. Just wondering Laurie - given that I've listened to you tell a room full of people that violence is the only way to change anything and a perfectly legitimate political tactic (even to the point of wilfully distorting the history of UK women's suffrage), at what point did that change for you? Kinda seems like it's OK when it's students doing it but not when it's poor people. Or maybe I've utterly missed some much higher point in your thinking.

  194. Blog of the Month for this post ... top of the news one day, stock markets crash, who cares, top of the news the next day, ordinary people see their high streets burning ... no riots in Manchester ... yet ... everyone's very cheerful up here and we trust the Cleggerons ... I'm glad this ruined David Cameron's holiday ...

  195. I wonder if you will so sympathetic to the "misunderstood" when they burn down and loot your flat? Perspective, all sides need perspective. All sides want their actions to be justified, find the truth.

  196. Well done Lincoln Counselling! It is all very well spouting of about causes but unless you live and work in these communities your view point is just conjecture. Working for a decade in a deprived inner city school this so-called disenfranchised youth have a very loud voice and make themselves heard and felt both within their schools and local communities. Don't let these thugs and bullies become poster boys for the working classes because they do not represent the vast majority!

  197. This is good article though I do not entirely agree since a lot of this violence and looting is not excusable in any way.

    This morning the BBC showed a video clip of people helping an injured person to stand and a man came up behind him and stole from his rucksack. I find no excuse whatsoever to justify such a nasty offence. This is just one example of what is happening.

    Having said the above, it is sad to say that the coalition government's policies are alienating almost everybody apart from the ultra-rich.

    Just about everything of value in England is either being cut out altogether or slashed. Never have I seen such deliberate removal of so many public facilities under the constantly repeated mantra of "we have to save money." It is little wonder that there is so much anger.

    The cuts include the Police. Politicians (such as Teresa May and Nick Clegg) are on record as saying that the cuts would not prevent the Police coping with civil unrest. These things were said in the face of RESPONSIBLE people who argued that government policies were taking a serious risk with public safety.

    It is not as if most of these cuts are really and truly necessary. We can afford to continually be at "war" somewhere and we shell out billions in overseas aid.

    Ultimately, the problems are traceable back to the politicians.


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