Thursday, 25 August 2011

The riots were about having fun, not about poverty or victimisation

It’s become quite clear by now that the majority of those rioting are victims of the government’s cuts; for many of the rioters, they have struggled through life and now shiny Olympic stadia being built in sight of their homes reminding them of their comparative poverty is perhaps one step too far. The murder of Mark Duggan pushed these youth, many whom had been targeted by police to be stopped-and-searched on a near-daily basis, over the edge. From having only essentials (plus a token Blackberry), the riots turned the tables: these people had power. So while I agree that the root of the riots rests in the socio-economic background of many of those involved, I would argue that the riots quickly became about enjoying the freedom they had in the perceived knowledge that they could do whatever they wanted.

Rioting developed swiftly from a response to the death of Mark Duggan to an all-out attack on anything that stood in their way: buildings, police officers and even fellow citizens. Rioters moved from one location to another, targeting specific areas. Indeed on a Monday night a teenager said, “The West End’s going down next.” That’s an awful lot of forward planning - certainly more than most university students would dare think about. Fortunately, our prime minister had decided that his tan was visible enough to make a re-appearance in light of “worst riots seen in London.

Being more serious though, the riots moved away from their roots, away from the normality of their lives, in which their families may have been struggling to make ends meet, to brutality. It became about destroying an area, setting it alight, and enjoying the boost of adrenaline felt when these youth understood that yes, they had more power than the police and the apparent knowledge that there were no consequences for their actions. After all, when police officers were told to idly stand by and watched these rioters demolish property, what else is there to think?

The mob-mentality soon kicked in and, with buildings ablaze and shops looted, it was not long before humans started becoming victims. One man, Richard Mannington Bowes, was attacked after trying to put out a fire started by rioters - no one enjoys people coming in their way after all - a journalist was attacked and his bicycle stolen and three men were even killed defending their community.

The robbery of Ashraf Haziq is but another example of the scadenfreude) and viciousness that became of the riots. No longer simply about showing the police who was in charge but now about exerting authority over anyone. In this video, you can see Haziq being helped up, dazed and confused – his broken jaw and bloody teeth are now being operated on in Royal London Hospital – while another youth comes up from behind him, steals his mobile phone and wallet, and performs somewhat of a victory-dance-cum-I’m-a badman routine. This is only more horrendous because this happened to Haziq, sponsored by the Malaysian government to study in the UK, while he was on his way to collect food for himself after a long day of fasting.

So how does this final incident typify my argument? It’s rather simple, really. If these riots were to do with their socio-economic background, if the people rioting truly felt that they had been targeted by police and by the government, if the protesters held a firm belief that had been victimised during their life, they would not then be putting others in a similar, if not worse situation. Empathy plays an important role in our daily actions and the lack of empathy shown by these youth and adults helps us to understand their true motives.

Let’s be clear: those who rioted and showed up our police force felt no sympathy for their actions and were relentless in their cause. The first attacks in Tottenham were, perhaps, a response to the shooting of Mark Duggan. But since then, each night has become a festival of booty with a daily mission being set to simply see just how much damage can be made, how much plunder can be looted and how costly these riots can become.

The media have now put forward a number of opinions on why the riots began with a history of tensions with the police and the impact of the cuts the most visited of theories. Yet, in my eyes, the rioters have distanced themselves too far from these by virtue of their actions. Looting, setting fire to buildings and small shops and attacking fellow citizens for no reason whatsoever is the reaction of people who have no real idea for why they are pursuing their actions. In other words, their adrenaline-pumped bodies were just having a bit of fun at the expense of our country.

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