The London Riots as a Signifier of Change
2011 was the year of the protestor. Most people remember the protests in Egypt and the Arab Spring, which saw millions of people stand up for their rights and demand social justice. And for most, the Occupy movment is still fresh in our memories, with a strong base of support still operating and growing every day. But one protest hasn’t really been talked about as much, and that is the London Riots which happened in August. Many people shrugged off these protests as mindless violence. British Prime Minister David Cameron called it “criminality pure and simple.”
But the events that happened in England, specifically since the coalition government took over, give an idea of what is going on in England. One of the big problems, as in many other countries, is the massive chasm that exists between England’s rich and poor. According to the Guardian “the richest 10% are now 100 times better off than the poorest. With personal debt being pushed as the only way to keep the economy afloat, the average household debt has been skyrocketing for years. Add to this the brutal cuts to government services and people can’t afford to live anymore.
There’s also a lot of mistrust for the Metropolitan Police. Everyone can trace the first riot to the shooting of Mark Duggan, but police mistreatment has been happening since long before that. The Metropolitan Police have an unfortunate habit of mistreating ordinary Londoners, especially those of black and minority backgrounds. The IPCC (Independent Police Complaints Commission) also opts to protect police rather than convict those guilty of wrongdoing. Of the 333 deaths in police custody since 1998, no police officers have ever been charged.
It’s this severe inequality and mistrust that played a part in the uprisings throughout England. It’s no surprise that when citizens, already struggling to survive as it is, were confronted with an injustice like the death of Mark Duggan, their patience failed. England needs change. They’re unhappy with living in poverty, unhappy with their coalition government, unhappy with high unemployment and unhappy with discrimination by police officers. These are people for whom regular political discourse and outreach has failed. Everything that happened in England with the riots, and currently with Occupy London, is a desperate attempt by the people to have their voices heard.
But there were lots of people who used these events for their own good. People were running through the streets who didn’t care about any of the issues. They were there to rob and loot and assault anyone they please. The BBC showed lots of footage of rioters saying they were doing it all because they can and they’d do it until someone stopped them. Who knows, for a lot of people involved, robbing a store or assaulting a police officer could have been the first time they felt empowered in their lives. The issues still come out, even if rioters didn’t know it.
I definitely don’t support violent protesting/rioting/looting/whatever else went on in England. I support peaceful non-cooperation, peaceful protest. It’s the right of every citizen to protest when their government isn’t representing them properly. But this kind of violence, even though its wrong, speaks to the severity of the issues the country has to deal with. And this is just one example. These sorts of problems exist all over the world, and I think that is why we’ve seen such an outpouring of support for the Occupy Movement. But the London Riots in August stand as an example of a time when people reached a tipping point. And its important to not forget that and constantly strive to be the change we wish to see in our world, lest we end up in the same situation again.
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