US mayors, contending with their own fiscal crises and diminishing federal support, have been looking warily across the Atlantic at rioting, looting and violence in London, Birmingham, Manchester and other cities throughout Britain. Similar riots seem unlikely to occur in the US, says Politico, though some politicians from urban centers said the riots are a reminder of violence in American cities such as Newark, Detroit, Chicago and Los Angeles in the 1960s.
A vastly larger police force — 16,000 in London alone — and bad weather in the form of heavy rain combined to prevent a fifth night of rioting in London and other cities, says the BBC. More than 1,000 have been arrested and with police cells overflowing, courts have begun to process cases far into the night.
Prime Minister David Cameron says that a “fight back” is underway against the “groups of thugs” involved in the riots. He attributes the violence to “a complete lack of responsibility, a lack of proper parenting, a lack of proper upbringing, a lack of proper ethics, a lack of proper morals.” As the New York Times observes,
Cameron appeared to signal with his speech — and especially with one dismissive phrase about “phony concerns about human rights” — that the governing Conservative Party, which he leads, while perhaps vulnerable politically because the riots occurred on its watch, is spoiling for battle with those groups in the opposition Labour Party and elsewhere that argue that the riots grew out of social deprivation and despair.
On Thursday, the prime minister is to make a statement about the riots in the House of Commons, where debate is likely to ensue about whether his government’s harsh austerity measures, which have drastically slashed many social programs, played a role in the rioting.
Many have asked if tensions between racial and ethnic communities may have played a role in the riots.
On Tuesday night in Birmingham, three young Pakistani men were killed by a car driven by a 32-year-old Afro-Caribbean man; the three men were part of a large group seeking to protect businesses. The 32-year-old man has been arrested and charged with murder. But the Guardian says that, “despite speculation, there is scant evidence to suggest race or ethnicity has played any significant part in the rioting and looting taking place across England.” While the riots that began in Tottenham near a housing project occurred after a peaceful march to protest the killing of a young black man, Mark Duggan, by police, “the subsequent riots have not been caused by members of any one community.”
While many of those arrested and charged are from an “underclass of alienated young people, with no jobs and few prospects,” others are from different walks of life, all the more notable in light of Cameron’s comments about the rioters being “thugs,” as the New York Times points out:
… those who stood before the courts for bail hearings in London, many of them still in their jeans and hooded sweatshirts, included a graphic designer, a postal employee, a dental assistant, a teaching aide, a forklift driver and a youth worker.
One 19-year-old woman was listed on court documents as living in a converted farmhouse in a leafy, upmarket area of rural Kent that is part of what Londoners call the stockbroker belt. A 22-year-old woman gave her address as an upscale block of flats in a gentrified neighborhood of Hackney, one of the worst-hit riot areas in London. Local residents said that many of the residents of the apartments, which are valued at about $500,000, belonged to a community of affluent, middle-class people with jobs in London’s news media and art world.
Writing in the Guardian, Aditya Chakrabortty says that analysis of the political reaction to the riots suggests that it is “simplistic and partisan”:
If you’re a left-winger, the causes of the violence and looting are straight-forward: they’re the result of monstrous inequality and historic spending cuts; while the youth running amok through branches of JD Sports are what happens when you offer a generation plastic consumerism rather than meaningful jobs.
For the right, explaining the violence is even simpler – because any attempt at understanding is tantamount to condoning it. Better by far to talk of a society with a sense of over-entitlement; or to do what the prime minister did yesterday and simply dismiss “pockets of our society that are not just broken but, frankly, sick”.
Expect to hear more of the same “partisan” boilerplate — not unknown here in the US — on Thursday, says Chakrabortty, when Parliament meets.
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Photo of aftermath of the Croydon riots by motorised