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The whys of the riots

The whys of the riots

UPDATED: Channel 4 news explores the reasons behind the riots in London and elsewhere:

They are the worst riots in Britain in living memory. Hundreds arrested, millions of pounds’ damage, and thousands of people living in fear about where the riots will strike next.

The violence began in Tottenham on Saturday after Mark Duggan, 29, was shot dead by police on Thursday. But the disturbances have since spread as far afield as Liverpool and Bristol.

But riot experts told Channel 4 News the pressure has been building in the UK for years. Dr Paul Bagguley of the University of Leeds, who researches the sociology of protest, said he had often been asked if there would be riots in the wake of spending cuts, rising unemployment and increasing social inequality in Britain.

He told Channel 4 News: “There’s been a sense of watching a slow train crash ever since the credit crunch.”

Dr Bagguley said people often have different reasons for rioting but one of the main factors sending them out was very simple: because they were doing nothing else. “They did research in the riots in America in the 1960s and the only statistically significant thing was simply being available,” he said.

Will the current economic situation bring back riots in the U.S.?

UPDATED: see below:

The Rev. Paul Perkin reports on being in the middle of the looting.

He writes: “My son and I were in the middle of the streets being looted from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. The police abdicated responsibility. It was open season for looting.

The police seemed to have no idea what to do. They set up lines but were like a disoriented army in battle which did not know where the frontline was. The lines were neither containing nor defending any territory.All the looters did was to keep a few yards distance or move a street away while the police stood and watched.

I have never seen anything like it. We were in the middle of a battle against property. The place was like a bomb scene.

There was no violence against people. There was no indignation against police brutality. This was not an angry mob – indeed for some there was almost a carnival-like atmosphere. What was truly terrifying was the complete absence of law and order – this was truly a society without law. There was no breaking into houses. It was petty criminality by looting thieves.

Our church garden was being used to stash the loot. They smashed up shops and took stuff out to hide in the church garden and hid there sometimes themselves. They called up cars which were driving around the periphery to come and take stuff away. (more at link)


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Erika Baker

I heard in an interview that the reasons the police aren’t intervening too much are that a) past experience has shown that this only increases the violence and b) that it takes 2-3 police officers to make and follow through 1 arrest, and there are simply not enough of them available to be able to afford to take so many off the streets.


This is not a ‘protest’, but a bunch of thugs taking what they want.

What makes you think it’s an Either/Or, Joseph?

Even the Most Noble of Causes has its share of opportunists, who may well act thuggish when its suits them.

…and even the Most Craven Mob of Ne’er-Do-Wells may demonstrate profound problems in their society—of which they may be victims.

There’s clearly a profound alienation between the UK’s Haves and Have-Nots (even if the “Have-Not” is merely a big screen TV). It doesn’t seem to me that finger-wagging will bridge this alienation (OCICBW).

JC Fisher

John B. Chilton

I’ve just run into a study that’s prompted by these riots. The results are that budget cuts lead to riots.

“we assemble cross-country evidence for the period 1919 to the present, and examine the extent to which societies become unstable after budget cuts. The results show a clear positive correlation between fiscal retrenchment and instability. … Even if (and it’s a big if, given the IMF’s latest research) Alesina et al. are right, and growth can follow cuts, the pain may be concentrated amongst some groups. If these become massively unhappy… it can start to look pretty ugly out there in the streets…”

Joseph Voelker

There seems to be a lack of connection between what Dr Bagguely of Leeds says and what we are experiencing here. The people who have been arrested and charged to date seem all to have jobs (the BBC notes that they include 1) a youth worker; 2) a graphics designer; 3) someone newly enlisted in the army.) They are not stealing necessities, but ‘luxury’ goods like flat screen TVs and trainers (that it, track shoes). And they are hurting people: many people have been left homeless; we have seen footage of injured people being mugged; diners have had wedding rings stolen. This is not a ‘protest’, but a bunch of thugs taking what they want.

John B. Chilton

“‘They did research in the riots in America in the 1960s and the only statistically significant thing was simply being available,’ he said.”

Actually, not the only significant thing. And, poverty doesn’t matter:

“We find some support for the notions that the opportunity cost of time and the potential costs of punishment influence the incidence and intensity of riots. Beyond these individual costs and benefits, community structure matters. In our results, ethnic diversity seems a significant determinant of rioting, while we find little evidence that poverty in the community matters.”

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