Sunday, November 13, 2011

Riots 'like a rave'

The August riots in England: Understanding the involvement of young people, published by the National Centre for Social Research (Novemeber 2011) is a report commissioned by the Government's Cabinet Office, with all that implies. But it does at least have the strength of actually being partly based on interviews with people involved, and gives the lie to the notion that the riots were simply a gang-organised mindless explosion. Here's a few extracts:

'Why did young people get involved (or not)?
• Something exciting to do: the riots were seen as an exciting event – a day like no other – described in terms of a wild party or “like a rave”. The party atmosphere, adrenaline and hype were seen as encouraging and explaining young people’s involvement by young people themselves and community stakeholders.
• The opportunity to get free stuff: the excitement of the events was also tied up with the thrill of getting “free stuff” – things they wouldn’t otherwise be able to have.
• A chance to get back at police: in Tottenham, the rioting was described as a direct response to the police handling of the shooting of Mark Duggan. Here and elsewhere in London, the Mark Duggan case was also described as the origin of the riots and the way it was handled was seen as an example of a lack of respect by the police that was common in  the experience of young black people in some parts of London. Outside London, the rioting was not generally attributed to the Mark Duggan case. However, the attitude and behaviour of the police locally was consistently cited as a trigger outside as well as within London.

“People doing it because they’re angry at police. Police and people don’t have a good relationship and feel mad when get pulled by the police. Government were going to close [swimming] baths and people were angry about this ‘cos the only thing for young people to do.” (Young person, in custody)

“I think some of them just wanted the free stuff and some of them wanted to get back at the police. … Some of them might have been there because of the cuts, because of the EMA. … There were different reasons why people went there. Some it was for the enjoyment, to be with friends, some because they were angry with the government, the police.” (Young person, Peckham)

“We was just bored really and obviously nothing like this has ever happened for however long we have been alive. It was a first really, and we decided just to go up there just so we can say we had been there, not to act cool or anything, just to say, it is so big, it will probably be put in history, so we decided to go up there. We were that bored.” (Young person, Birmingham)

'However, the excitement was an attraction not just for the bored and underoccupied but also for young people who were otherwise engaged in work or education. In some instances, the events were described in terms of a wild party or, as one young person put it, “like a rave”. A sense of glee pervaded these accounts – people were often grinning while describing their experience – a delight that the normal order of things was briefly turned upside down. There was satisfaction in having “put two fingers up” to the “authorities” and pleasure in the memory of a day of disorder and misrule'.

“[I felt] excited, adrenaline, scared, but a good scared, like: ‘Wow, wow, wow, is this happening?’ And the bin on fire was wow. It was a new experience. [I] think it was for everyone. People were excited, especially getting PS3 boxes.” (Young person, Peckham)

Communities, commodities and class in the August 2011 riots

Also good is an article from Aufheben, Communities, commodities and class in the August 2011 riots.

'Detailed examination of the August unrest allows a tentative designation of three forms of disturbance. These categorisations are fairly loose, as repertoires of activity such as collective violence directed against the police and organised looting were features of most of the disorders to greater or lesser degree. However, there were clearly some differences in the primacy of activity in the August unrest that were related to the motivations and temporal positioning of the events.

The first disturbance form, designated the 'community riot', is characterised by locale rather than purely by its activity. These incidents in August 2011 were typically located in largely proletarian inner-city areas of mixed ethnicity (e.g. Tottenham, Hackney, Brixton, Toxteth, Handsworth). Typically they were triggered by police actions (e.g. the shooting of Mark Duggan and the police reaction to the subsequent demonstration in Tottenham, the 'stop and search' operations in Hackney) in areas, which had a significant pre-history of both contested policing and 'riotous' responses.37 These incidents were characterised by a large amount of violence directed against the police, static defence of 'territory' by the 'rioters' (such as Tottenham High Rd. and the Pembury estate in Hackney), attacks on important 'symbolic' targets (such as police stations, courts, public buildings) and the active and passive support of different sections of the local population (e.g. Tottenham and Hackney). Looting was clearly a subsidiary activity in these events.

The second category of disturbance can be labelled as 'commodity riot', as the primary aim of the participants was to appropriate goods. In August these events were the most common, were precipitated by the participants rather than the police and characterised by some level of pre-meditated target selection and organisation (using BB messaging, e.g. Enfield, Oxford Circus, Bristol and many other areas). They were usually aimed at large concentrations of commercial outlets (such as shopping centres, malls and retail parks), involved significant crowd mobility (including the use of bikes and vehicles to transport 'booty') and avoided contact with opposing superior forces (of police). The 'cat and mouse' manoeuvring between the police and 'looters' that occurred in many incidents - the latter aided by mobile phones and instant messaging - was a by-product of the primary aim to acquire useful (and valuable) commodities for the protagonists. Looters operated in numerous but smaller groups than in 'community riots', often travelled significant distances to 'hit' selected targets and were not spatially tied to their home locales.

The final (and fairly unusual) type of disturbance, which occurred in August in a few locations in London (Ealing, Pimlico, Sloane Square, Notting Hill), was the 'anti-rich riot'. These were characterised by pre-planning, movements by participants out of home locales to attack areas that were perceived to be dominated by the wealthy and were marked by widespread destruction of cars, cafeacute;s, restaurants, boutiques and commercial properties that were not necessarily high value 'looting' targets. Face to face robbing, terrorising and violence, directed at rich residents of these areas were a significant feature of these events'.

Looting, violins and ballet

I remember people looting a music shop on Charing Cross Road during the 1990 London poll tax riot, a young Chinese guy sprinting down the road carrying an electric guitar, somebody else grabbing a saxophone. People have been jailed in Manchester after similar scenes at a music shop in the city:

'[S.H.] was clutching a looted violin when he was arrested in the aftermath of riots in Manchester. Smelling strongly of drink, the aspiring musician quipped: ‘I’ve always wanted to learn to play the violin.’ His parents wept in the dock as district judge Alan Berg told the 19-year-old it was an ‘absolute tragedy’ that he had thrown away his prospects in this way.Hoyle, of Manchester, was arrested at 3am on Wednesday when police encircled a group of youths and saw him clutching the violin, thought to be from a music shop which had earlier been looted. He tried to run away as police arrested a girl, but the court heard he was chased and caught, telling officers: ‘I can understand why people riot, you really are fascist ********.’ Hoyle had never been in trouble before and is on Jobseekers’ Allowance, the court heard.
Sentencing him to four months in a young offenders’ institution for theft, Judge Berg told Hoyle he had brought ‘shame and disgrace’ on his family. But he told the shamefaced teenager: ‘Nobody forced you to get drunk and pick up the violin.’

An aspiring ballerina was arrested after police published images of her looting two boxed flat screen TVs from a hi-fi store where £190,000 of damage was caused. The 17-year-old, who has been studying ballet since she was seven and wants to be a dance teacher, gave herself up after seeing a CCTV image of herself in a newspaper.  The dancer was among a group of masked women caught on camera looting Richer Sounds, in Croydon. She was remanded in custody' (Daily Mail, 2 September 2011)

'Just two days after gangs of youths rampaged through Manchester smashing windows and looting shops, the city's retailers were in defiant mood. "We are Manchester, we don't give in that easy," said Trina Rance, operations manager at Dawson's, one of Manchester's largest music stores. Standing by a wrecked £14,000 grand piano, she described how she learned on Tuesday night that looters had broken into the shop.What followed was anarchy, with looters helping themselves to musical instruments and smashing equipment. One hooded youth was filmed walking casually down Portland Street carrying an expensive electric guitar he had stolen, the price tag still fluttering' (BBC, 11 August 2011).

'A soldier from Greater Manchester has been jailed for eight months after trying to sell a guitar that had been stolen during August's riots. [LB] 20, bought the guitar for £20 from an unknown man in Manchester city centre, during the height of the disorder on 9 August.He was arrested two days later as he tried to sell the instrument at a music shop in his home town of Leigh.He was sentenced to eight months in jail at Manchester Crown Court.Bretherton bought the Gibson Les Paul guitar, which had an estimated value of £2,000, from a looter in the street. It had been taken from Dawson's music store on Portland Street shortly before. The soldier, a member of the 7th Parachute Regiment Royal Horse Artillery, took the guitar into a music shop in Leigh two days later.As he attempted to sell the instrument, the shop owner became suspicious, locked him in and called the police' (BBC, 21 October 2011)

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