From August 6 to 10, London and then other cities in the United Kingdom suffered widespread rioting, burning, muggings, and looting. Five people were killed, and more than 200 were injured. Property damage topped $330 million, and more than 1,000 people were charged with crimes in the worst riots in England for decades. What had happened? Why did a society that is often seen as polite and calm erupt into such violence?
The incident that started it all was the shooting of a black alleged drug dealer by police. Shortly thereafter, the streets erupted into chaos. Rioters burned buildings and cars, stole merchandise, and beat up business owners trying to protect their property. In proposing causes for the violence, a person’s own views often influence where the blame is laid. Left-wing commentators blame class inequality, cuts to social services, lack of good jobs, racism. In contrast, right-wing observers accuse immigrants, a culture of dependency on government, multiculturalism, rap music. Social networking, including Facebook and Twitter, is widely faulted for helping rioters gather quickly.
So, when the arrested rioters appeared in court, people all along the political spectrum were surprised. For sure, there were underclass unemployed youth; but there were also middle-class people with jobs, and some of those arrested were as young as 11 years old. Among those charged were a lifeguard, a chef, a millionaire’s daughter, and an elementary school teaching assistant. Most of the faces in court were white.
Accusations and soul-searching will surely continue. There may be as many reasons for the riots as there were rioters. But despite the mayhem, the cooperative British spirit reasserted itself as hundreds of Londoners hit the streets with brooms and trash cans to clean up the mess. And this time social networking helped instead of hurt, spreading the word among volunteers where they were needed the most.
Image credit: AP Photo/Matt Dunham
- England Riots: Maps and Timeline
Find out the details of what happened where and when.
(Source: BBC News UK, August 15, 2011)
- Shock Over “Respectable” Lives behind Masks of UK Rioters
Read about how the identities of the rioters surprised the nation.
(Source: CNN, August 11, 2011)
- There Is a Context to London’s Riots That Can’t Be Ignored
This opinion piece presents one writer’s view of the riots’ cause.
(Source: The Guardian, August 8, 2011)
- Experts Cite Underlying Causes for UK Riots
Read a different view, including comments from the British prime minister, David Cameron.
(Source: Voice of America, August 10, 2011)