London Burning : Causes and Consequences


The shock of seeing out of control hooded and masked young people, some in gangs, rampaging through the streets of London, attacking police, setting fire to shops, cars and private property and looting at will has produced images that will haunt many minds of the general population for many months to come. More worrying is that many of the likely contributing factors are present, not just in many of the cities of England, but in many cities in the Western world.

In 2008 a conference called by the police and the Lord Mayor of London had previously identified some of the triggers of lawlessness and antisocial behaviour.
From the crime statistics of that year they already had noted there was a clear over-representation of African-Caribbean and African born, both among victims of and of instigators of violence. At the time there was also a mounting gap between the haves and the have-nots in areas prone to violence and it was observed when both groups are in the same general area the have- nots tended to become more anti-social in their behaviour. It might for example now be noted that a number of those amongst the current rioters who have been interviewed had expressed their contempt for both the rich and for the police.
It should however be noted this most recent series of disturbances was more a gap problem than one of grinding poverty. The have-nots are clearly not as poor as those in third world countries and it was very noticeable that much of the looting was targeting high cost items such as jewellery and i- phones rather than items such as food more commonly associated with survival needs.

In the 2008 September seminars where experts in youth crime and social problems shared their experiences about youth violence it had been noted that the following issues were identified as contributing to the problem:
Personal risk factors that appeared to increase the risk of offending were:
• insufficient learning of empathy during preschool period
• poor parental supervision, discipline, family conflict, condoning problem behaviour
• low achievement, truancy, school disorganisation resulting in educational polarisation and vastly diminished employment prospects. The visible association between failure and race aggravated the social dislocation and feelings of resentment.
• gap between puberty and beginning work with prospects for self improvement.
• low family income or poor housing
• drugs and alcohol availability
• early involvement in problem or aggressive behaviour, including bullying
Media coverage of violence adds to the fear and makes carrying and using weapons more acceptable.

The de-industrialisation of many of the cities when accompanied by the phenomenon of older people staying in the work-force leads to a clear reduction in employment opportunities for the relatively unskilled.

The high youth unemployment prospects for such a group of young people in effect gave them few positive outlets for their energy. We may surmise that this makes the present rioting appear a welcome change for some of the rioters.

Although such events as the recent riots usually have multiple causes there is no indication that any of the above factors has become less important since the 2008 seminars, but the naïve statements of the current crop of rioters suggest that many of the actions have not been thought through to include realising likely consequences. The excitement of stealing previously unattainable goods from those they classify as rich, torching property, and as some of them put it, teaching the police that the young people can do exactly they like appear for a good number to have been strong motivating factors. For what it is worth, and it is only an opinion, I suspect if less publicity was given to such scenes in the media and more was given to the ordinary people suffering as a result, some rioters might rethink. The recent cancellation of key football matches may yet prove to dampen the enthusiasm of some of the rioters – as might the constant visible reminder of burnt out buildings in previously valued neighbourhoods. We are yet to see if the consequences will be more dire. For example if the violence is not brought under swift control it seems more than possible that the Olympic Games will also be threatened and the considerable costs of righting the current situation for the cash strapped government will be most unwelcome.

When it comes to social problems, governments, the churches and a raft of social agencies are traditionally rather better at diagnosis than organising treatment.  In this instance it begins to look as if the diagnosis preceded the evidence of the full blown disease.

Any thoughts about what those affected should be doing next?

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6 Responses to London Burning : Causes and Consequences

  1. Charles says:

    Take fifteen of the ring leaders line them up against a wall and shoot the bastards[ I expect all of them were born out of wedlock]
    If there are still problems take another fifteen and take the same action. If nothing else, by continuing this action, there will be none of them left after awhile. In this case the sword is mightier than the pen!

  2. peddiebill says:

    Well done Charles. One of your more considered responses. You left out the bit about sending the minor offenders to Botany Bay.

  3. dave says:

    From an article in (8/9/2011 by Hal Austin):

    One letter writer to the Independent (Monday), writing from Derbyshire, said:

    “In our cities, we are neglecting the young and the old alike, but at least the government can take comfort from the fact that the thousands of elderly people imprisoned in undignified squalor are unlikely to take to the streets.”

    The same article makes this observation (but I have not taken the time to witness beyond a quick clip on American TV):

    It is important to remind people that from television pictures the rioting crowds and their supporters have been composed of all ethnic and religious groups but of course the blacks get the blame.

    From an article in about the violence in London (8/10/2011):

    Violence is always deeply tragic. … Violence as a response means that hope has been destroyed, that the victims of the system no longer believe (or can even pretend to believe) that “change from within” is even possible in any meaningful way. … When you leave people no choice but to engage in violence, they’ll engage in violence.

    The same article suggests this question: Was a violent protest against ongoing, ceaseless acts of institutionalized cruelty inevitable?

    The 2011 riots in Greece in reaction to severe austerity measures did not have the race angle in the London coverage but perhaps the current global economic situation suggests at least one similarity.

    The planned deployment of armed federal troops on American soil (in violation of the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878) has been suggested as a sign the political leaders expect eventual unrest due to the imminent economic hardships.

    The answer to the question about what to do next implies the various levels of government will consider a systemic change to confront current social problems rather than ignore them. The unabated push for globalization is universally squeezing all but those at the top.

  4. peddiebill says:

    I havent got the slightest doubt about the US or UK ability to organise force to smash riots. The more interesting and worrying question is why the riots should occur in the first place. The apparently unrelated immediate cause of the latest English riots and the rapid spread of disorder certainly suggests an event waiting to happen. Globalisation alters who finishes up in the favoured spots and unfortunately those favoured are unlikely to see any real need to lose some of their advantage in helping those who finish in the aggrieved have-not sector. What a pity that some of those New Testament principles are not seen as relevant.

  5. Charles says:


  6. peddiebill says:

    Charles, your suggestion for shooting ringleaders no doubt appeals to the Alf Garnets (and red-necks?)of the community, but if you think about it that alternative has been tried many times with little success. Wasnt it the police shooting someone that triggered this recent set of events.
    Syria is at the extreme end of your suggestion with many of the other Arab Spring revolutions not far behind. Perhaps I missed the immediate outbreak of peace in Syria when the tanks went to work. Gadaffi tried the same tactic in Libya. Check out control techniques in Iraq. No slapping wrists with wet bus tickets in Iraq although they have been known to use electric drills. In the US the cops regularly shoot looters and those engaged in less anti-social acts than the ones in the UK. The anti social acts continue. Next door in Canada they are much more civilised and the riot rate is far less. In fact the murder rates seem to be highest in the States where the death penalty is most used. See my articles on gun control. Compare the results of the riots towards the end of the Vietnam war with those we have just witnessed in London.

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