London’s feral youth?

By Jennifer Leadley, Researcher, Valuing What Matters

Image by Nicobobinus via Flickr

After the riots that swept across London last night, the next few days will undoubtedly see a host of theories put forward about why and how a local Tottenham protest escalated into two nights of widespread violence and looting.

It’s not difficult to understand why emotions are running high in Mark Duggan’s community.  As an outsider I too am completely perplexed as to why we have had so little information about the shooting of Mark Duggan on Thursday night.  But the copycat riots springing up across London don’t seem on the face of it to be an uprising of popular anger in the style of the 1992 Rodney King LA riots. On the face of it, many of the rioters seemed less political and more economically minded – for every burnt out police car, there are many more looted shops.

The dominant narrative that our establishment figures seem to be offering however is one of out of control feral youths and organised troublemakers looking for an excuse for a rampage. The Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse commented yesterday that

Obviously there are people in this city, sadly, who are intent on violence, who are looking for the opportunity to steal and set fire to buildings and create a sense of mayhem, whether they’re anarchists or part of organised gangs or just feral youth frankly, who fancy a new pair of trainers.

The image of hoodied no-good yoofs gathered around a glowing smartphone to tweet on the next big opportunity to smash in the windows of a Sports Direct store though seems just a bit simplistic to me. 

I want an explanation from the establishment that’s a little more sophisticated than the boogieman in a balaclava.  Perhaps one that has at least reflected on the wider context. What about breakdown of local police-community relations; dramatic youth unemployment rates in the wake of the a recession caused by banking elites; the reports of 75% of Haringey’s youth services being cut in the last year; the abolition of the Educational Maintenance Allowance; the weeks of revelations about the roles of the Met’s most senior police officers in the News International scandal.  It’s hardly surprising that marginalised young people are losing their trust in the social and economic system which claims to offer them opportunities and the authority figures who front it. And without trust of course the implicit consent to be policed, on which social order is founded, is at put to the test.

Vandalising and violently terrorising people’s communities is unacceptable behaviour.  But that should not preclude a search for explanations.  Our political elite should not be so quick to depict the rioters as ‘feral youth’, with no more profound motivation than greed or malicious boredom.  Those burning and looting in London last night were reflecting back the society they see and are a part of.   At the moment this society is looking pretty unfair, unaccountable and uncaring for many - these riots may not be recognisable as frustrated protest to shocked onlookers but this explanation cannot and should not be dismissed so carelessly.

posted 3 years ago