Guest Post: London’s Burning—A Riot By Any Other Name?

Last month, London burned.

Rioters took to the streets and for five days, smashed, robbed and burned their way through a number of suburbs. News footage showed teenagers being robbed by groups of people pretending to assist them, restaurant goers being mugged over dinner by large mobs, vigilante groups taking to the streets for justice, and thieves trying on shoes before stealing them from looted shops.

Buildings which had stood for over 150 years were burned to the ground, and riot police were ignored or attacked by large mobs of young people who sacked the streets.

The riots, which caused over a billion dollars worth of damage, saw more than 1000 people arrested and left five people dead, have been blamed on criminal gangs, social networking sites and a lawless generation of young people who lack respect.

British Home Secretary, Theresa May, has denounced the riots as being acts of “sheer criminality.”

“The violence we’ve seen, the looting we’ve seen, the thuggery we’ve seen—this is sheer criminality,” she said, and by saying so she has, like so many others, simplified the issue to deal with it in the simplest terms possible. But these watery explanations about lawless youths do not fully address the issues of rioting and are rife with problematic reasoning and contradiction.

A perfect example of the problems with this type of reasoning can be found in an Australian publication which discussed the London riots. The Herald Sun’s Andrew Bolt took a similar approach to May, and attributed the violence that took place on the streets of London to a loss of family values in a contemporary world. (But let’s be honest here; what does Bolt not blame to a loss of family values?) Missing no opportunity to push his conservative agenda, Bolt claims that in the London riots, “What we saw was the kind of people hidden in the cavities of decaying society” and that these people, or at least what he refers to as its “underclasses”, are “lazy, resentful and greedy, being handed everything from the food on their plate to the plasma in the corner”.

He then gives a number of examples of the youths participating in the riots, documenting their crimes, and painting a picture of a generation of young people who are out of control. But herein lies the first contradiction; if young people are the main perpetrators of these types of crimes, as Bolt highlighted by giving examples of 11-year-old children participating in the riots, how can he object to them being given the food on their plate, or even a plasma television? (Not that I have ever heard of the poor being given free plasmas anywhere in the world, now that he has mentioned it). Since when do we not feed our children, or expect them to provide for themselves? And does it really seem logical to blame the riots on the poor for being spoiled with food? Doesn’t it seem more likely that there may be something more to this story? Rather than simplifying the issue by blaming riots on a loss of family values and a delinquent underclass, it would be better to engage with the complex history of rioting that exists across Europe and with the unique psychological effects of rioting, particularly on children and young people, who live in areas of diverse socio-economic backgrounds, and who experience high levels of feelings of relative depravation as a consequence.

Relative deprivation is basically where someone feels as though that have been deprived, not in worldly comparison, but in comparison to affluence or privilege that surrounds them on a daily basis, and which they are unable to access. It is becoming increasingly common across the Western world, and other places, as the global division between rich and poor becomes wider and as wealth becomes more visible through the media. Relative deprivation is an increasingly important phenomenon, which has been linked not only to rioting, but to other acts of violence and civil unrest, including terrorism. The psychological impacts of relative deprivation need to be further studied and better understood, particularly when “blaming-the-poor” narratives keep appearing in articles like Bolt’s, potentially adding more fuel to the civil unrest fire by ignoring the phenomenon.

Having noted the importance of feelings of relative deprivation, it is also quite plausible that the deprivation felt by these young rioters, may not only be relative. The social and political changes which have occurred in London over the past 12 months, and which have had negative consequences for many Londoners, are also likely to have had a significant impact on the rioters. One of the most notable in this case is police violence.

Riots are not typically the acts of criminals, although criminals have been known to capitalise on them; rioting has been used since before the seventeenth century by groups and individuals to express civil unrest and negative feelings toward authority figures. Although usually triggered by a particular event, riots occur after ongoing and sustained civil unrest.

The catalyst which triggered the London riots was the suspicious police shooting of Mark Duggan, an unarmed civilian, killed by police. One witness has alleged Duggan was shot at close range while pinned the ground by the police, and although this account is far from substantiated, it is known the Duggan was unarmed at the time of his death and that the bullets which the police claimed were fired at them, came from a police gun. The riots began as a peaceful vigil outside a police station, where friends and family of Duggan gathered to demand police adequately explain the circumstances of Duggan’s death. Other people, not involved in the vigil or immediately known to the Duggan family, triggered the riots by setting fire to a police car when police refused to acknowledge the vigil or address the mourning family. From then on, the riots rapidly escalated and spread throughout the city, far removed from their peaceful beginnings, and without being condoned at any point by Duggan’s family.

It is important to note that although Duggan’s shooting was the catalyst to the riots, it was not an isolated case. Police violence has become an increasingly troubling problem for the English over the last few years, particularly since the introduction of tasers in 2004, and in the last 12 months alone London Police have been widely criticised for a number of violent acts, including the brutalising of a non-violent student protester with cerebral palsy by fully-riot-gear-equipped police officers, who dragged him from his wheelchair (his only source of mobility) and then hauled him across the pavement. Similar acts of police aggression can be seen even after the riots, in the deaths of Dale Burns, 27, Jacob Michael, 25, and Philip Hulmes, 53, who all died within the last month, following incidents in which police used either tasers or pepper spray. In each case, there were at least eight officers arresting a single person, and in Michael’s case, there were 11 police present after Michael himself called them for help. During his arrest for an unknown crime, he was pepper sprayed, pinned to the floor, handcuffed and then beaten for up to 15 minutes by all 11 officers before being arrested. Two hours later, Michael died in police custody.

The purpose of presenting this evidence of police violence is not to vilify police and champion rioters, but rather to demonstrate that the issues which have contributed to the civil unrest that led to riots are complex and widespread. It also highlights that there are significant policing issues which need to be addressed in the UK and which are, by Scotland Yard’s own admission, causing a “growing anti-police sentiment” which is marked by “fury” and that during the riots “there was an atmosphere of absolute hatred towards the police and the establishment—the government—because they feel abandoned, the cuts in youth services, the cuts right across the board.” The increase in police violence is, in turn, leading to an increase in civil unrest. It is no coincidence that one day after the death of Hulmes, a marked police car was petrol bombed while patrolling in North London; just as it was no coincidence that riots ensued after the shooting of Duggan.  The same thing happened in Tottenham in 1985 with riots against racially motivated police violence and it will happen again, if these issues are not addressed.

Police violence was a trigger for the London riots, but not the only cause of civil unrest in London. Other recent and highly inflammatory occurrences include the rising unemployment rate (just under 8% of the population cannot find a job in England, a figure which continues to rise), an openly corrupt media blatantly flaunting basic human rights and the law (see billionaire Rupert Murdoch and his cronies escaping criminal charges after deleting vital evidence in the murder investigation of Milly Dowler, where phone messages were deleted by journalists in the first few days after Milly’s disappearance. As a result friends and relatives of Milly concluded wrongly that she might still be alive.), the rapidly increasing cost of living (the cost of a loaf of bread has tripled in the last five years), and the extremely fast-rising cost of education (the cost of a university degree has also nearly tripled in England in the last year). These are but a few of the troubles ailing England; it is not surprising that young people might feel helpless and angry, or that they might not care if their actions disrupt plans for the Olympic games, or upset local diners and traders.

Furthermore, that the riots spread so far so fast doesn’t mean London’s “underclasses” are felonious criminals. It is well known that once a riot begins, individuals begin to exhibit pack-like behaviours in the heightened excitement and highly charged atmosphere. Young people and children are particularly prone to this psychological influence, which makes it very easy for them to be caught up in the activities of the crowd, and similarly, it can be difficult for them to associate their actions with concepts of right and wrong.

Yet little of the reporting that has taken place about the London riots has yet to examine rioting in London, and indeed the wider context of Europe, and to examine the social, political and psychological aspects of rioting, not to mention the economic considerations, which most certainly would have played their part.

England has a close history with rioting, which spans over centuries, and it is not now, nor has it really ever been, merely the acts of criminal groups who opportunistically pray on an unsuspecting society. Instead, riots reflect a much deeper and wider frustration, which in 2011 was triggered by episodes of police violence. The areas which were most badly damaged in the riots are those which have high levels of poverty, and relative deprivation, where the rich and the poor share spaces as neighbours, living in deep contrast of one another. Blaming the poor for being spoiled is like saying “let them eat cake.” It didn’t work for the French all those centuries ago, and it won’t work now.

—Tessa Keane.

Related: Life Below the Poverty Line is a Horrible Place.

Elsewhere: [The Age] London Riots Spread as Police Lose Control.

[Herald Sun] Rioters Show a Nation Split & Family Values Gone Forever.

[CBC News] London Riots Erupt After Fatal Police Shooting.

[London Progressive Journal] Jody McIntyre: Victim of Police Brutality & Media Distortion.

[The Guardian] Man Does After Taser Arrest Near Bolton.

[The Guardian] Notting Hill Carnival: Tensions High After Recent Deaths, Say Police.

[The Observer] Notting Hill Carnival Curfew Plan is “Pie in the Sky”, Warn Police on Ground.

[The Guardian] Missing Milly Dowler’s Voicemail Was Hacked by News of the World.

[The Telegraph] London Living Costs on the Rise.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

Rachel Hills answers the age-old aspiring-freelance question: “When should I stop writing for free?” [Musings of an Inappropriate Woman]

Last week, I emailed Hills to get her thoughts on feminist author Erica Jong’s assertion that the “younger generation” (she references her daughter, who is in her thirties) isn’t interested in sex. [Musings of an Inappropriate Woman]

Also at Musings of an Inappropriate Woman, check out these reblogged images above.

Why is there such a big problem with porn? There’ll be more to come on this next week. [Jezebel, via The Scientific American]

Feminism, not enough sex, too much sex, and Muslims were the cause of the Norway terrorist, according to the Norway terrorist. [Jezebel]

Check me out: I’m Girls Are Made from Pepsi’s “Lady of the Week”!

Amy Winehouse VS. Norway: “On Caring About More Than One Thing at Once”:

“If the only world event worth commenting on is the most severe tragedy, then where does the pissing contest end? Yes, what happened in Norway was terrible, but what about what happened in Japan? What about what happened with the Asian tsunami? What about 9/11 here in the good ol’ US of A? (You said you’d never forget!) What about everything bad that has ever happened?” [Jezebel]

Girl with a Satchel’s Erica Bartle gets her faith on on MamaMia. You go, girl!

Also at MamaMia, Mia Freedman’s stirring the pot this week! She writes on Cadel Evans’ Tour de France win and if sportsmen should be considered heroes, the News of the World phone hacking scandal, and runs a guest post by Tony Abbott on why the carbon tax is a bad idea.

“What Your First Screen Crush Says About You.” [Jezebel]

Despite its misogyny, does hip hop actually promote lady love? [Jezebel, Autostraddle]

10 easy steps to radical self love. [Gala Darling]

Why rape cases don’t get prosecuted, parts one and two. [Jezebel]

“The 10 Coolest Witches in Pop Culture.” Where’s Teen Witch? And the Halliwell sisters? Disappointed. [Flavorwire]

“How Not to Propagate Bad News.” [Girl with a Satchel]

She’s out of your league. Kind of relates back to this article from a couple of weeks ago. [Jezebel]

I’ve just signed up to RSVP.com, so this article is kind of appropriate: “Questions We Wish Were Appropriate to Ask on a First Date.” [Jezebel]

Body image, burgers and the First Lady. [WSJ Speakeasy]

Four commentators, including a mum and a teen, weigh in on the Lady-Gaga-as-role-model debate. For more on this topic, check out this article. [Sydney Morning Herald, Girl with a Satchel]

Hugo Schwyzer in defence of talking to girls about beauty. [Healthy is the New Skinny]

“Does Free Birth Control Stand a Chance” in the USA? [Jezebel]

The problem with Black Swan. [Persephone Magazine]

What exactly is a “Mama Grizzly”? And no, I’m not talking about bears. [Newsweek]

“Born This Way” or choose to be gay? Does it really matter? [The Bilerico Project]

Do most men pay for sex in some way, whether it be porn or prostitutes? [Jezebel]

Images via Haley Tobey, Musings of an Inappropriate Woman.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

Race and online dating. [Jezebel]

Hermione the heroine. [HuffPo]

Jezebel also writes in praise of “The Women of the Harry Potter Universe.”

Tavi Gevinson on growing into her beauty:

“I could pretend to be an archetype of a feminist superhero and say I never want to be a conventionally attractive person. But, while I have so much respect for the people who can say that truthfully, I’m not there yet… I admit to the basic human desire to be attractive…

“Maybe I liked my face. Is that not okay?” [The Style Rookie]

If the DSK case has taught us anything, it’s that “any deviation of the victim’s life from the concept of the ‘perfect victim’ is exploited and becomes the focus of attention, as has happened to the DSK victim. Ever had a drink? Been to a party? Been a little bit late to a meeting? Lost your temper? Tried to fight back? Lied to your friends about what’s going on in a relationship? Forgiven someone? Posted a Facebook photo of you hugging someone? Well then clearly YOU ARE A DRUG-ADDLED VIOLENT SLUT BITCH and that necessitates a billion more hearings to talk about how VIOLENT and SLUTTY and DRUG-ADDLED and BITCHY you are.” [Think on This]

Still with Strauss-Kahn, Bob Ellis airs his always controversial, archaic and small-minded misogynist thoughts on the “honeytrapping” of “good men”. [ABC The Drum]

“When Rape Victims Lie.” [Sasha Said]

And this wraps up the DSK portion of the program:

“… I have no sympathy, empathy or even good thoughts for Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Not just because of the rape accusations but also because of his betrayal of the socialist ideals he was supposed to uphold as a prominent member of the French Socialist Party. His ideals that went through the drain when he accepted to become head of the IMF, one of the most subjugating, neo-imperialist institutions imposed on the Global South.

“And now, of course, there is no longer a case against him. However, and this is where I’d like us to focus, there is no longer a case because, it is claimed, the victim lied on issues unrelated to the rape allegations. Let that sink in for a second: a woman who is an asylum seeker/refugee, who hails from one of the poorest countries on earth (where the IMF played a big role in promoting the prevailing poverty and economic hardships that afflict her homeland) was found to have lied in order to get on with her life.” [Tiger Beatdown]

Jokes about Casey Anthony: too soon? [Splitsider]

“So you want to move to New York?” Here are the realities. Not as grim as you might think, yay! [Yikes Machine]

“The World Map of Useless Stereotypes.” If they’d reduced the space allocated for New York, they might have been able to include Australia. Oh yeah, maybe they were playing up the stereotype of us being the forgotten continent of sorts. [Jezebel]

The Lion King promotes homosexuality? And nine other “crazy things” that have come out of potential 2012 Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann’s mouth. [Think Progress]

Elitism in the public school system. [Persephone Magazine]

If global gender equality was represented by the FIFA Women’s Soccer World Cup, this is what it would look like. [Jezebel]

Ten life lessons, according to Ja Rule. Hilarious! [Thought Catalog]

“If I Were a Girl,” also on Thought Catalog, is equal parts poignant and insulting. Interesting to get a guy’s point of view on what it would be like to be a girl.

Read what happens when “a teen… calls the Westboro Baptist Church” to talk about feminism! [Jezebel]

Waking up to the Leiby Kletzky murder crime scene. [Jezebel]

Sleazy News of the World-esque journalism has a place somewhere, right? [Gawker]

“Penis shaming.” [Rachel Rabbit White]

On “Writing Race.” [Zero at the Bone]

More on the should-we-tell-little-girls-they’re-pretty debate. [The Beheld]

Part two of Camilla Peffer’s “In Defence of Women Behaving Badly.” [Girls Are Made from Pepsi]

Men in crisis: “Digging deeper into modern Masculinity.” [Rachel Rabbit White]

Images via The Style Rookie, Buzzfeed.

On the (Rest of the) Net: Jumbo Edition.

I didn’t realise I did so much reading this week, but the links below have proved me wrong. But it’s not even a drop in the ocean of the reading I still have left… Alas.

“… At what point along the line did we all decide that… what you weigh is the sum total of who you are?” [MamaMia]

11 ways to avoid being sexually assaulted. Remember, ladies: the onus is on you:

“Your default consent is ‘Yes’ until you say ‘No’. Not being able to say ‘No’, or not being able to remember if you said ‘No’, count as ‘Yes’. Saying ‘No’ also means ‘Yes’.” [Jezebel]

“Do Movie Characters Exist in a World Without Movie Stars?” [Sam Downing]

“Carbon Sunday”, as it has come to be known, “was a good day for Julia Gillard. It was the first good day she has had for a long time. She was strong, decisive and she was doing something really important. She looked like her old self. She was sure of what she was doing…. [That day] she really look[ed] like the Prime Minister because she ha[d] actually done something.” [MamaMia]

In other Prime Minister-related news, if you missed the profile on Gillard in The Weekend Australian a few weeks ago, here’s Sam Dusevic’s take on “Ju-Liar” “Gill-Hard Left’s” first year:

“I think she’s done nothing in her first year to foreclose on her ability in the next year to show authority which she inherently has the capability of showing,” Greens senator Bob Brown has said.

That was, until Sunday!

In praise of sleep. [Girl with a Satchel]

The shock jock. [Sydney Morning Herald]

Rachel Rabbit White on SlutWalk:

“Quiet Riot Girl (feminist blogger)… says ‘So some feminists believe all and any unsolicited /unwanted attention of women by men is “harassment”. Men have to wait to be asked/told to pay a woman any attention at all? Basically the Slutwalks are slutshaming hetero men.’

“How are men supposed to hit on women in public, talk to them or even ogle them? Because surely, ladies, we aren’t saying when we go out in a hot outfit we don’t want to be seen, or talked to by anyone.”

Confessions of a Cosmopolitan sex fact-checker. [Slate]

On the News of the World closure:

“It appears modern man fears media more than God.” [Girl with a Satchel]

To shave your pubes for cervical cancer, or not to shave your pubes for cervical cancer? That is the question that MamaMia and Jezebel are asking.

In defence of friendships with girls. [Persephone Magazine]

Do tradies get the short end of the street when it comes to cat-calling women on the street? [Bitch Magazine]

There’s more to Katie Price aka Jordan than meets the eye. [MamaMia]

“Period etiquette.” [Jezebel]

“The Myth of the Perfect Smile.” [Jezebel]

Is Blake Lively America’s frenemy? Is she the Rose Byrne in Bridesmaids to our national Kristen Wiig? … If she wants to broaden her appeal, she should try holding a kitten next time,” instead of more nude pics. [Grantland]

What is feminism? [The Ch!cktionary]

You know how some people get really depressed in winter? My mum is one of them. Well, it has been revealed that some people get really depressed in summer. I’m one of them. [Jezebel]

The “War of Words” we face when we put ourselves out there. [The Australian]

What do Lady Gaga and late night comedienne Chelsea Handler have in common? [Jezebel]

“Rolling in the Deep” dates. How listening to Adele could get you more dates. [Jezebel]

The “undermining of feminist sensibilities” in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight. [Bitch Magazine]

“The Mental Burden of a Lower-Class Background.” [Jezebel]

What fascinates us so much about “The Murderous Side of Motherhood”?:

“But in some way, doesn’t the fact that a child is a mother’s ‘own flesh and blood’ mean that a primal part of us, as humans, understands the act of killing a child? Because if a child is made of your own flesh, then it is a part of you. An extension of yourself. Under your control. Operating under your agency, existing because you created it, and therefore yours to govern, manipulate, command, discipline, punish—and destroy.” [Jezebel]

“Celebrity Culture Makes Young Women Dumb.” [Jezebel]

Do plus-sized models encourage obesity? Velvet d’Amour, a plus-sized model herself, sets the record straight. [Frockwriter]

In the same vein, why are plus-sized models fetishised? [Jezebel]

Images via Jezebel, Kiss Me on the Lips, Frockwriter.