What exactly is the root cause of the London riots? Is there a single mitigating factor or multiple underlying causes?
Mostly along political lines, many liberal commentators will blame socio-economic conditions causing unrest while voices that are more conservative tend to blame youth gone bad as a result of failed social agendas. As in most cases, the true underlying causes may not be so clear-cut. The answer to question in the title may well be ‘Yes”.
London has a large number of disenfranchised youth that are disconnected from productive society. For years, the term “feral youth” has been used to describe the problem of idle youth turned to crime. Increasingly, law-abiding citizens are hesitant to confront or even report on these young criminals.
Drug use is on the rise, and there is a whole demographic living on benefits with substance abuse problems making them even more unemployable. There is no way out for most of them.
Among white low-income males, illiteracy rates are astounding, up to 63% by at age 14 according to Ms. Sergeant reporting for the Mail Online in a 2008 article… The jobs that these low skilled individuals can get are less than the benefits they receive for not working. This leads to a tremendous expenditure keeping healthy people idle, as well as creating a class of citizens completely disconnected from productive society.
In addition to problems with education and opportunity for working class youth, organizations like U.K. Uncut are seizing on disenchantment and fomenting unrest.
Law enforcement in the U.K. has traditionally been unable to cope with the issue of feral youth. A lackluster economy only feeds the flames, putting more young people into poverty and discontent.
Increasingly around the world, conditions are getting tougher for those at the shallow end of the wealth pool. Unrest has broken out in the Middle East, and to some extent in America with the political standoff in Wisconsin.
On the other hand, riots in London are nothing new. Just last December students protested austerity cuts that raised tuition costs. The phrase “Read them the riot act” comes from the Riot Act of 1714 enacted by British Parliament in 1715.
Perhaps ironically, the culture that has arguably done the most to promote civilization has a long history of being prone to civil unrest.
Yet the latest riots leave us more questions than answers. Following the shooting of an unarmed Mark Duggan by police, a funeral protest turned violent. The violence spread until it became widespread looting and people “taking back their taxes”.
In the legal aftermath, sources are reporting that in some areas, most of those arrested were “commuting” rioters from areas with heavy gang activity. Reports of people with walkie-talkies directing looters were heard from witnesses as credible as Gavin Barwell, the local MP of Croydon.
As with the protests in Egypt, social media played a part. Some leaders are calling for the ability to shut down social networking sites while police used intel from same to protect some targets.
Around the globe, the summer of 2011 has been a time of unrest. From people who are hungry for food to people who feel wronged by their governments. While one can be dismissive of the London Riots as a local phenomena and point to the long history of civil unrest in the U.K., governments around the world need to take note.
One thing is clear, no matter what triggers a disturbance the possibility of other actors willing to use the chaos for their own ends cannot be discounted.