Theo Brainin

Riots: The Changing Picture

So, I’m up late trying to get a sense of what is going on at the moment, largely from confused and contradictory reports on Twitter, following the #londonriots hashtag.

TV coverage has been minimal, and doesn’t seem to be acknowledging that riots are ongoing, as the flood of tweets suggests. BBC is leading with news on Asian markets and reporting tonight’s riots in the past tense. As a result a lot of people are talking about a “media blackout” but that makes little sense as the Guardian and the Telegraph are reporting. I would guess that live tv reports from the scene might encourage further opportunistic looters to head out, so perhaps the BBC and Sky News are avoiding adding fuel to the fire.

There are basically two ways of looking this. One seeks to explain the riots as the end product of a complex set of social phenomena, catalysed by a police shooting. This NYT article is a perfect example of the perspective – it reads like a “best of” of recent British news. According to this point of view, the riots are rooted in austerity, with cuts to youth programs and other social services to blame, alongside ” a widely held disdain for law enforcement [in Tottenham], where a large Afro-Caribbean population has felt singled out by the police for abuse”.

The NYT article paints the cuts as “recurring flashpoints”, linking the present riots to the student fees protests. It even manages to slip in phone hacking, somehow.

I just don’t buy the protest story, or that these latest riots in Enfield and Edmonton are really political at all. I certainly don’t see what they have to do with the fees protests. Reports are mostly of teenagers rioting and looting – not people who would be paying tuition fees. Moreover, I don’t see how breaking into McDonalds, or setting fire to Krispy Kreme, without a placard in sight, is a response to the cuts. I don’t even really see how it’s a response to the police shooting.

Granted, these are the actions of disenfranchised young people. If social programs had brought greater prosperity and equality to areas like Tottenham, the people who grew up there might not be burning police cars. If they were all stockbrokers, it probably wouldn’t be happening. But blaming the cuts, which have only been coming into effect since the last election, is a bit of a nonsense. The people rioting existed before the cuts, they didn’t degenerate into marauding zombies when George Osbourne announced the budget.

Furthermore—I’d accept that the legitimate protest which provided the springboard for the first night of rioting was likely related to tensions between the police and certain ethnic communities in Tottenham —but given the spread of the rioting to areas on the other side of the city, it’s an explanation with limited scope.

So what else can we say? Well, not too much, given that the one voice largely missing from the coverage is that of the rioters themselves. However, I have some intuitive sympathy for the view expressed by @hopisen:

…surely this isn’t rioting but exploitation of perceived opportunity to nick stuff plus psychology of crowds and maybe bit of texting?

Or, as he went on to write:

If by Change you mean “Flat screen TVs” then yes, the people outside Brixton Curry’s want change..

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One comment on “Riots: The Changing Picture

  1. Pingback: Responses to Tips for Social Media | victoriaturk

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This entry was posted on August 8, 2011 by in Analysis and tagged , , , , .

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