England's attempt to fully understand rioting touched off by a policeman's fatal shooting of Mark Duggan, a 29-year old Black man, in many ways mirror the debate that followed the urban unrest that the United States underwent in the wake of Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination in 1968. The BBC and other news organizations have cited the competing arguments on the underlying causes of the outbursts.
Here are some of the most commonly cited causes:
Christina Patterson, writing in the Independent newspaper, said: "Race didn't cause these riots, but it played a part… Too many black men have been killed by police. Too many black men and women have been treated like criminals when they're not. This is not the cause of these riots, but it's there in the mix, a mix where the key ingredient is feeling powerless. Cuts won't help. Growing unemployment won't help. Some investment in youth services, and better schools, and mentoring schemes might, but money alone isn't the answer."
GANGSTA RAP AND CULTURE
On Aug. 8, the Daily Mirror carried the headline, "London riots: Is rap music to blame for encouraging this culture of violence?" To Paul Routledge, the author of the story, the answer is definitely yes. He wrote, "The mayhem erupted overnight, but it has been building for years. And putting more police on the streets – while vital to end the threat to life and property – will not solve the crisis.
"I blame the pernicious culture of hatred around rap music which glorifies violence and loathing of authority (especially the police but including parents), exalts trashy materialism and raves about drugs. The important things in life are the latest smart phones, fashionable trainers and jeans and idiot computer games. No wonder stores selling them were priority looting targets. Stir into this lethal mixture the fostering of irrational anger against the world and disrespect for others and the end result is self-absorbed young people living at boiling point."
Christina Odone of the Daily Telegraph wrote: "Here are three numbers to bear in mind when talking about the riots: 8 billion (pounds spent by social services each year on children and young people); 3.5 million (children from a broken home); and one fifth (school leavers who are illiterate." The writer suggests looking at some other numbers as well. She said, "A large number of youngsters are brought up without dads. The majority of rioters are gang members whose only loyalty is to the gang and whose only authority figure is the toughest of the bunch. Like the overwhelming majority of offenders behind bars, these gang members have one thing in common: no father at home."
Camila Batmanghelidj, founder of The Place To Be and Kids Company charity, wrote in the Independent: "It's not one occasional attack on dignity, it's a repeated humiliation, being continuously disposed in a society rich with possession. Young, intelligent citizens of the ghetto want an explanation for why they are at the receiving end of bleak Britain, condemned to a darkness where their humanity is not even valued enough to be helped. Savagery is a possibility within us all. Some of us have been lucky enough not to have to call upon it for survival; others, exhausted from failure, can justify resorting to it."
An editorial in the Sun stated, "[Prime Minister] David Cameron spoke for most of us when he said police were initially too thin on the ground and misjudged their early response."
Conservative columnists Max Hastings, writing in the Mail Online, charged: "They are essentially wild beasts. I use that phrase advisedly, because it seems appropriate to young people bereft of the discipline that might make them employable; of the conscience that distinguishes between right and wrong. They respond only to instinctive animal impulses – to eat and drink, have sex or destroy the accessible property of others. Their behaviour on the streets resembled that of the polar bear which attacked a Norwegian tourist camp last week. They were doing what came naturally and, unlike the bear, no one even shot them for it."
London mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone told the BBC: "If you're making massive cuts, there's always the potential for this sort of revolt against that." Marian FitzGerald, visiting professor of criminology at the University of Kent, noted, "The full implementation of the cuts to local authority services that will have the biggest impact on these areas will not be fully felt until next year. However, it may be that because there's so much talk about police spending cuts, the rioters may have internalised the message that they're less likely to be caught."
Zoe Williams, writing in the Guardian, offered what she called a pragmatic explanation. Williams said, "This is what happens when people don't have anything, when they have their noses constantly rubbed in stuff they can't afford, and they have no reason to believe that they will ever be able to afford it."
I knew the rioting in England had taken on an American flavor when I looked at a quote from a reader replying to a BBC story about the unrest. The reader said, "I agree there are many reasons for this situation. However, I put poor, uninformed, and inexperienced parenting at the top of the list. You have babies trying to raise babies."
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.