Sunday, 18 December 2011

London riots: Revenge was due to lack of respect?

A 20-minute video produced by the Guardian provides new insights into the mindset of people involved in the August riots in London. Reporters interviewed 270 people in making the video, with the interviews being part of research conducted alongside the London School of Economics. (I wrote about this research, and the government's reaction to it, recently.) Revenge appears to be a dominant theme for people who participated.

The justifications for the riotous behaviour that engulfed the country during those weeks, that arise repeatedly in the voices contained in the video, are:
  • Routine stop-and-searches conducted by police, 
  • A lack of respect by police for people living in disadvantaged areas of London, and 
  • Cuts to government-supplied benefits and the increased cost of university tuition. 
Government attacks on 'criminals' and gangs appear to have been competely misplaced, in light of the video. The video, which in the link above sits on the New York Times website, will be embarrassing for David Cameron's conservative-led Coalition. Cameron tried to deflect blame for the riots by casting aspersions, at the time they were taking place, on 'criminal' elements in society. This tactic now appears to be utterly misguided.

People interviewed were not criminals, just ordinary citizens. They resented the way the Coalition has been making it harder for them and people in their neighbourhoods to improve their lives. Cuts to government handouts and rising university tuition costs are cited as examples of the lack of attention they, and people like them, receive from the government. This lack of a just system compounds with feelings of powerlessness deriving from a lack of respect from the police. So the attacks were an opportunity for people living such lives to get revenge on a system that had ceased being interested in their welfare, and that had started to make life increasingly difficult for them on a day-to-day basis.

Of course, these interviews were conducted sometime after the fact, and although measures were taken by reporters to preserve the anonymity of those interviewed, we can intuit a degree of special pleading in their words. Given this caveat - that perhaps those interviewed are not being completely honest, and are merely trying to justify their actions to make themselves look better - it appears that the ingredients for a repeat of the riots remain alive in the community. Many of those interviewed said that such events could happen again.

1 comment:

Western Europe FH Ambassador said...

Well, I think lots, loads of NON-rioters are totally devoid of respect too. Also, watch this : it's for anyone who is interested in current affairs. The British police are more caring, polite and sweeter people compared to many police forces even in developed countries, but I agree they can be bullying at times- I only see them being a real pain when a tosser has made a false/ malicious allegation and the police officers chase things round and round when it's all a waste of time. They say they have to follow it up. Also the British charity system is among the strongest of the world and among the strongest in even the developed world so the disadvantaged people actually get more help than most other places on earth. I guess that is still not enough. I disagree that the government does not care about people in disadvantaged groups, mainly because I have personally known amazing, really amazing politicians- maybe there is a communications issue if folks still don't feel they are the government's priority. I am thinking about what you said on the honesty/ dishonesty issue concerning Guardian Interviewees...