Could the London Riots Happen in the US?


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.


For more Care2 coverage on the London riots, click here.

Related Care2 Coverage

London Mostly Quiet But Violence Spreads To Other Cities

Riots Cause British Prime Minister To Recall Parliament

London Riots Spread to Other Cities on Third Day

More Riots Break Out in London: Were These Planned?

Dozens Injured After Violence and Looting in London

Photo of aftermath of the Croydon riots by motorised


Roger Monk
Past Member 6 years ago

I know the building in the photo above. It was old and rather lovely. I'm going to miss it. I have absolutely no idea why it was set on fire.

Glenn M.
Glenn Meyer6 years ago

Riots will begin here in the U.S., just as in the U.K. for the same reasons stated below. Causes such as deficits, big government, and racial tensions are all just blowing smoke to disguise the truth.

Glenn M.
Glenn Meyer6 years ago

Cutting spending on, so called, entitlements is ineffective for addressing the deficit. Cutting programs that support the low and middle class will further strain both who don’t even receive lower prices as a result of the U.S. job losses and create a disconnect that will end in another financial collapse. The justification for attacking government benefits as opposed to raising taxes is the creation of jobs. But where?

Corporations have over-powered our government which now believes that out-sourcing and off-shoring of U.S. jobs is inevitable and necessary with expectations that the middle class should fall on their swords. It is the underlying cause of the financial collapse and borders on national security with the loss of our middle class tax base. Yet, this nation does nothing, not even demand it be restricted by whatever method. International businesses are doing the UN-AMERICAN activity of destroying U.S. salaries, U.S. businesses that hire in the U.S., and as an end result, destroying the U.S. marketplace while still demanding BUSINESS ENTITLEMENTS and protections for themselves.

Infrastructure spending and tax breaks will not replace enough jobs to keep up with the hemorrhaging loss of U.S. jobs from out-sourcing over seas. Neither party will do anything about it unless we begin grass roots efforts to protest out-sourcing and off-shoring of U.S. jobs. If nothing is done we will deserve what we get and it will get a lot worse before it gets better

John Doe
james rico6 years ago

i do not know the whole story about these rioters and i don/t think many others do either. but they took in lots of people from third world countrys for cheap labor. now these is no work and no future for many of these youth. they feel abandoned. add drugs and bad diet to the mix and this can happen they are desperate. at this point and we are not getting the true story of what is causeing this.of course the world wide ressesion is the catelist that started it off

Dumitru Z.
Dumitru Z.6 years ago

All the demands the rioters claim are on an entitled basis. Instead of an open position from governments institutions for a dialogue, they treat us with bullets and tear gas. So, you treat us with violence and refusal of dialogue, and you'll get same from us.

Patrick F.
Patrick f6 years ago

It CAN and WILL happen in America sooner or later. As long as government exists, so will rioters.

Michael M.
Michael M6 years ago

You aint seen nothing yet ! Only on this side of the pond the police will have to contend with ARMED rioters and if they so much as injure one rioter they will likely pay with their lives.

Suzanne M.
Suzanne M6 years ago

These rioters are not seeking anything but power and thrills. They are organized, but there is no message-they steal from their neighbors. This certainly is no flash mob with this much. Longevity. They are bullies and cowards. They pick targets, destroy and move on, taunting police and terrorizing the public. What will they do when normally peaceful folk decide they've had enough and want their neighborhood back? Whoever started this is just like Bin Laden-anfry at life and trying to find excuses for hurting people. As for ho Londoners raise their children-many are caring, attentive parents-some are ignorant or overstressed-just like the U S or anywhere-But pack mentality is contagious-a bunch of followers who think they have a common bond-until they mess up, lose a few friends, remember better, quieter times. I personally hope ringleaders are caught, tried and locked up before people get killed or crippled-and I hope that Americans somewhere don't jump on the bandwagon-cuz that's all it is. My heart goes out to families trying to cope with this-may peace settle through London soon.

Bobette G.
Roberta Green6 years ago

Any group can riot given enough reason. Though it isn't the best method of achieving the wanted result, frustration is a great motivator..especially if it has been fulminating for a long period of time.

Jonathan Y.
Jonathan Y6 years ago

Not only have similar riots happened here in the U.S. but they have been common and some very recent! What an astounding question.

We all remember the Watts riots where the Nat'l Guard was called out, but many don't realize the more recent Rodney King riots caused more casualties in LA than Watts. Just two years ago we had a riot in Oakland over the shooting of a prone man on a BART platform. And, right after Katrina there was rioting and disorder in many neighborhoods of NOLA. We're the most urbanized developed nation and our cities have produced hundreds of riots, most of them racial, over the years - not all of them make the national news. But many are in our history books like the Bonus March or the shootings on the Embarcadero in San Francisco during the Depression, or the draft riots during both the Civil War and the Vietnam War, or the riot outside the Democratic Convention in 1968.