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Who are the rioters?

August 10, 2011

A number of people have highlighted how, initially, the mainstream media didn’t manage to – or didn’t particularly try to – interview any of the rioters or the looters. However today a little more information is coming out about who they were and what they have to say.

The Guardian’s Paul Lewis who has been tireless in covering the riots in both London and elsewhere in the UK has a piece today exploring who the rioters are: “Young men from poor areas… but that’s not the full story“. He emphasises that the rioters were drawn from no single group, and engaged to a varying extent in the events:

Take events in Chalk Farm, north London. First the streets contained people of all backgrounds sprinting off with bicycles looted from Evans Cycles. Three Asian men in their 40s, guarding a newsagent, discussed whether they should also take advantage of the apparent suspension of law.

“If we go for it now, we can get a bike,” said one. “Don’t do it,” said another. Others were not so reticent; a white woman and a man emerged carrying a bike each. A young black teenager, aged about 14, came out smiling, carrying another bike, only for it be snatched from him by an older man.

They were just some of the crowd of about 100 who had gathered on the corner; a mix of the curious and angry, young and old. It was impossible to distinguish between thieves, bystanders and those who simply wanted to cause damage.

The Guardian also reported today that the first looter to appear in court is a 31 year old primary school assistant.

The Today Programme broadcast an interview with looters in Manchester. They sound young, and mostly say that they are looting “because they can”. But while they are not expressing any kind of coherent political demands, there is obviously anger about government policies – one of them mentions the abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance. Similar and more explicit themes come out in a piece by Reuters:

“The politicians say that we loot and rob. They are the original gangsters. They talk about copycat crimes. They’re the ones that’s looting, they’re the originals,” he said.

One of the Kurdish man’s friends pointed to alleged payments made to the police by journalists, claims currently under investigation as part of a wider phone-hacking scandal centred on the now defunct News of the World newspaper, part of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp media conglomerate.

“Everyone’s heard about the police taking bribes, the members of parliament stealing thousands with their expenses. They set the example. It’s time to loot,” the youth said.

To state the obvious it’s clear that a complex array of factors are propelling people to engage in the disorder and looting, and of course this makes it all the more difficult to comprehend. Why would someone engage in looting if they can afford the things they are stealing? When they have a full time job? It’s easy to slap the labels of “greedy” and “criminal” on them and be done with it. It’s harder – but all the more important – to get to grips with the pervasive alienation that has led to the riots.

 

A few more things to read on the riots:

In Broadway Market

Even looters with Blackberrys can be ‘poor’

Austerity, Economic Decline, Social Unrest, and Political Instability

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