But are we really listening?
Last night, tumblr and Facebook were practically exploding with posts of pictures, videos, and reports on the destruction and chaos the riots have been causing all over England. I was floored when I realized one phrase that I saw described the belief behind most of the posts: “pointless riots.”
Author John Green, who has a huge following on social media sites, tweeted:
“Syrians are taking to the streets seeking freedom. You dishonor yourself and your country when you take to the streets seeking Playstations.”
The situation in Syria is indeed terrible, and believe me, I am certainly appalled at the events going on in England. But let’s get one thing straight: People don’t start riots and set fire to buildings because they want Playstations. They might whine and moan about how “hard” life is without video games. Some people might even steal one. But massive amounts of youths don’t get together and destroy cities because they want games.
When I first heard about the riots, all I knew is that it was happening, nothing else. So I took a quick hop over to The Guardian, where they have an entire section dedicated to covering the riots. In a few seconds, I was able to find articles that helped me better understand what was at the root of the violence. According to what I’ve read at The Guardian, here’s the backstory: Mark Duggan, a young black man, was shot Thursday, August 4th by a police officer. Details are sketchy, but police officers claim that Duggan shot at officers first, while his friends and family argue that Duggan would never do such a thing. (Depending on what source you read, the media portrays Duggan as either a gangster and a thug, or a wholesome family man. My guess is he’s somewhere in between.) Regardless, Duggan’s family was not notified of his death. Instead, they found out from media headlines that he had been killed. A peaceful group of women and children approached a police station in Tottenham seeking acknowledgment of Duggan’s death Saturday. After the women and children left at the end of the day, other protesters (mainly men, according to The Guardian) acted on their emotions and became violent. Since then, thousands of youths have joined the rioting by setting fire to buildings, looting (okay, possibly Playstation-related), and even attacking innocent people.
Obviously, these riots are unjustifiable. Such harmful behavior under any circumstances is intolerable. But John Green and myriad other social networkers are ignorant to think that there was no larger problem behind these riots. As reported by one article in The Guardian, Duggan’s community, which is black, was outraged at the common respect and dignity they were denied by police — a situation which appears to be common in relations between the police and black communities, even years after a government investigation of racism in the police force. Another article reports that with youth centers closing and alarmingly fewer and fewer job opportunities for young people, whether they are uneducated or holding graduate degrees, the country’s youth sees little in its future. As Stafford Scott of The Guardian so eloquently explains,
“To behave in this manner young people have to believe they have no stake in the neighbourhood, and consequently no stake in wider society. This belief is compounded when it becomes a reality over generations, as it has done for some. … On Saturday, instead of imploding and turning inward and violent among themselves, as they have been doing for the past decade, the youths exploded. The trigger may well have been the killing of Mark Duggan and the insensitive treatment of his family, but this has been brewing for some time. The government cuts – especially the withdrawal of EMA; the new barrier of tuition fees; and rising youth unemployment have all added to their sense of isolation and lack of a stake in society.”
In fairness to John Green, he replied to his followers on Twitter who brought up these issues by consistently stating that rioting will not fix social injustice or political issues. Too bad he didn’t just say that in the first place. He’s right: burning buildings won’t fix the country’s problems. On the other hand, it’s not as though youths haven’t been trying to call attention to these problems earlier, as one journalist reports for MSNBC:
“…Here’s a sad truth, expressed by a Londoner when asked by a television reporter: Is rioting the correct way to express your discontent?
“‘Yes,’ said the young man. ‘You wouldn’t be talking to me now if we didn’t riot, would you?’
“The TV reporter from Britain’s ITV had no response. So the young man pressed his advantage. ‘Two months ago we marched to Scotland Yard, more than 2,000 of us, all blacks, and it was peaceful and calm and you know what? Not a word in the press. Last night a bit of rioting and looting and look around you.’
“Eavesdropping from among the onlookers, I looked around. A dozen TV crews and newspaper reporters interviewing the young men everywhere.”
It’s sad, but it does make rioters’ actions more understandable, if still completely inexcusable. I’d like to think that there’s another way to get coverage without such violence.
This is not to say that none of the rioters were only in it for the looting; surely, many joined in simply to take advantage of the chaos and possibly steal a Playstation or two. News reports can make it seem like the riots were started just by lazy, greedy thugs out for blood and loot. But looting is a common side effect of riots throughout history. As Stafford Scott writes, “…Looting comes from the belief that if you cannot get equality and cannot expect justice, then you better make sure that you ‘get paid’.” Rioting does not spring from an overmaterialistic desire for video games in fairly-treated youths. While the riots may have become an opportunity to steal for some, they started as a protest with a message.
By reducing the rioting to violence without purpose and greed, the social media I encountered is stripping this tragedy of any meaning it might have had. Those who are suffering are now suffering for nothing, because the message this riot is intended to deliver is falling on ears not that are deaf, but that are not listening. They are just as guilty as anyone who is only rioting for loot of worsening an already tragic situation.
I haven’t witnessed any of these riots. I live in America, and everything I’ve learned about the situation has come from the internet. Despite my best efforts, I’ve been unable to find any articles that describe all rioters as out solely to steal as many high-end electronics as possible. If you’ve come across any articles asserting that the goal of the riots is to obtain plasma TVs or Playstations, please send them my way.
Wishing the best for England,
PS Sorry, John Green, for singling you out, but you were the most famous/quotable social media user who did this.
PPS To whoever posted a message on tumblr saying, “Pray for England like you would pray for Hogwarts,” you’re a terrible person. You should not have to make analogies to fictional (if beloved) places in order to evoke care and concern for REAL PEOPLE.