A second set of riots broke out in north and south London on Sunday night, leaving officials even more concerned about the possibility for mounting violence. According to the Guardian, police were deployed to the Enfield and Brixton neighborhoods of London to deal with large groups of teenage boys, who seemed to have preplanned an attack against the police. In Enfield, about six miles north of last night’s riots, the boys had torn bricks from walls to throw at police. In Brixton, stores were targeted by looters.
There were reports of disturbances in other neighborhoods, leading to questions about whether the latest riots were planned and coordinated. The potential for future conflict is clear, especially since some commenters reacted by blaming the rioters as “lunatics,” engaging in a “chilling orgy of random destruction.”
This characterization does not adequately portray the anxiety and anger felt by London’s young urban poor, who have been particularly affected by Britain’s new austerity measures. These cuts to social services, combined with the feeling among some minorities that they have been unfairly targeted by the police, begin to explain just how the riots began. Officials claim that “certain elements” exploited the general climate of anger to encourage violent behavior. But others added that rumors about a violent conflict between a police officer and a 16-year-old girl added fuel to the fire.
Although there are many conflicting reports about how a peaceful march turned into a massive and destructive riot on Saturday night, social media had a lot to do with it. Hundreds of people tweeted pictures of burning police cars, inciting others onto the streets. One user said: “‘Everyone up and roll to Tottenham f*** the 50 [police]. I hope one dead tonight.”
Since social media played such a crucial role in Egypt’s revolution, it’s not surprising to see it happening again in another city. As we saw with Egypt, social media can catalyze movements among disaffected people that can be extremely powerful. Sunday night’s events clearly demonstrated that British officials have reason to be nervous about the potential for more organized conflict among the most marginalized of London’s citizens.
Photo from Christophe Maxin via Wikimedia Commons.