BY HUGO ODIOGOR
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”. With these words, a youngster set the tone for the rationale of London looters that unleashed a wave of violence and looting that swept through London and other major cities.
It is what social and clinical psychologists would classify as transfer of aggression as the gale of angst that swept through the streets of London, Tottenham, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Nottingham, Liverpool and Manchester, with arson, looting and vandalism manifesting what Nigerian-born Lola Adesoye identified as the “outpouring of social discontent caused by social and economic exclusion, stratification of the society along the lines of “the haves and have nots”, the collapse of the family and public education system as well as corruption within the law enforcement authorities”.
Parts of London exploded on Saturday following the controversial death of Mr. Mike Dungan, a Briton of Afro-Caribbean descent, who was gunned down by Metropolitan Police from Operation Trident. Reports said the father of four was killed when the cab that he was riding in was confronted by the police. Worse still was the attempt to cover up the incident by the Independent Police Complaints Commission which said the shooting was from “non-police firearm”. But independent accounts said that the bullet in the body of the dead man was issued by the police. This set the stage for the most horrendous street riots in the UK which raised racial tension and old social strains as noticeable in the 1980s.
But the orgy of violence which ravaged UK was multi-ethnic and multi-racial as hooded looters ransacked stores and homes. Scenes of smoke billowing from torched stores, cars, houses, smashed windows and broken glasses became features of television footages and news reports. Young people employed social media platform of Twitter, text messages, to coordinate the riots and beat the police.
The scale and scope of the UK destruction within three days made mockery of the Arab spring which broke out early in the year and swept through Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Syria, Morocco, Algeria, Jordan and Israel. An expert in international relations said the social and economic factors the propelled the so-called Arab spring were present in the UK riots.
The crippling unemployment, corruption, social and economic exclusion and, above all, the huge deficit budget arising from the country’s involvement in foreign military operations were listed as the cause for the explosion. Other local people in east London point to the wealth gap between the rich and the poor as the underlying cause of the riots; they also blame what they saw as police prejudice in the treatment of issues in Britain.
Social and economic strains
When over 750,000 teachers in Britain marched out in protest in June 2011, it was the biggest public sector strike since the 1926. Their anger was with the proposed cuts of 80 billion pounds ($130 billion) from public spending by 2015 to reduce the huge deficit. It equally planned to introduce austerity measures as part of that Conservative Party plan to macro-manage its tottering economy.
There have been past cases of social tensions in UK in recent times. In November, December and March, small groups broke away from large marches in London to loot. In the most notorious episode, rioters attacked a Rolls-Royce carrying Prince Charles and his wife Camilla to a charity concert.
Adesoye, who is an activist and social commentator in the UK, said the spasmodic outbreaks of violence reflects the failure in British public education system where teachers lack authorities to enforce discipline while the family units are disintegrating. The British authorities, he says, treat some of its citizens as scum and second class citizens. While the city authorities alienate the youth and they don’t feel to be part if it. The violence created a mob culture which fed on depersonalisation of the individuals who simply lost their identities in the conflict.
The young people who took part in the riots feel no sense of allegiance to the authorities and the country. They see the police as corrupt and scandal prone.
Over 16,000 policemen were unleashed on the streets creating the impression of a city under siege. The rioters had go on with their mayhem with little challenge from the police. John McDonnell, a legislator from the opposition Labor Party, said: “We are reaping what has been sown over the last three decades of creating a grotesquely unequal society with an ethos of grab as much as you can by any means. A society of looters created with MPs and their expenses, bankers and their bonuses, tax-evading corporations, hacking journalists, bribe-taking police officers, and now a group of alienated kids are seizing their chance.”
Prime Minister David Cameron cut short his vacation in Italy to attend to the crisis. He was furious on Wednesday when he promised to toughen police control as well as action to restore law and order. He said: “We needed a fight back and a fight back is under way”.