The London riots: when it all started

Whilst serving customers at the restaurant where I work at 6.30 one Monday evening a few months ago, the door suddenly burst open and a police officer, gasping for breath, told us that the London rioters were moving towards our location in Mile End. We quickly packed away the drinks behind the bar and anything of value and our manager told us to go home then and there. This was during the London riots, a distant memory for some but a critical issue that will continue to rear its ugly head for many years to come. But this got me thinking. Why do people riot? Can riots ever bring about positive change? And what transforms an isolated feeling of resentment or anger into full-blown unrest all across London?

Is rioting ever justified?

Whilst discussing this recently with a friend of mine, she argued that were I of the same socio-economic background as the rioters, with (at least ostensibly) no clear prospects of success in any walk of life, I may well have been roped into the violence as well. But is this really the case? If you were walking past Clarks or Topshop one evening and you saw that the shop window was smashed in, would you be tempted to grab a handbag or that nice pair of shoes from the TV ad and walk off nonchalantly?

Can we forgive the London rioters?

Personally I believe that no matter what background or opportunities for social mobility you might have, the act of rioting is appalling and deserves punishment. There is a Facebook group I saw recently entitled “I don’t riot, burn down my city and cause harm to innocent people”, and I think we must accept that the whole Mark Duggan incident cannot be used as an excuse for the criminality that ensued. A climate of fear is created that does not change anything and rioting is without a doubt the wrong way to make a difference and to make a political statement.

Conclusions on the London riots

Some people believe that the punishments for the rioters are overly harsh, but their actions are intolerable and reprehensible. Whilst I can never guarantee that, were I born into a different socio-economic background, I would not have participated in the London riots, I would like to think that some form of personal ethics comes in to it as well. The situations when rioting might be justified are very extreme, much more extreme than those that were experienced between 6 and 10 August 2011. Regardless of whether it was a rash and unthinking deed by someone who does not usually commit these sorts of crimes, rioting, in my opinion, is totally unacceptable. Do you agree?

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