THE SHOPPING RIOTS
By Gwyneth Holland, Sr. Editor, Europe - Iconowatch
As the world and his wife now knows, England was last week beset with a string of riots. The unrest began in London but sprung up later in towns across the country, including major cities like Manchester, Bristol, Liverpool and Birmingham. While the burning buildings and terrorised citizens looked much like other imiages of unrest around the world, the events in England had a troubling undertone — consumerism.
Disenfranchised youth may have railed against police mistreatment of young black and Asian men in London’s most deprived boroughs, but their outrage soon mushroomed into a protest not just against the police, but against government cuts, splintered communities and — most visibly — against the things the rioters didn’t have. Taking particular punishment were electronics stores, jewellers and department stores, where rioters ran out of broken shopfronts with armfuls of aspirational goods. As the Guardian’s Zoe Williams put it, “these are shopping riots”, not simply the “pure criminality” declaimed by Cameron’s government. The Financial Times commented that in comparison to the young revolutionaries in Egypt and Tunisia, “Our young people have nothing to lose and nothing to gain, except thrills and new trainers”.
The spreading riots set a new paradigm for the fast-moving story, with social networks being used to alert rioters of the next location. But those networks were likewise used by people to keep one another safe, by warning of new pockets of violence and helping people to unite against wrongdoers and coordinate damage cleanup. Twitter-fuelled cleanup campaigns hit the streets last Tuesday morning, while online campaigns sprung up to support local businesses who had lost everything. The “Keep Aaron Cutting” campaign (http://keepaaroncutting.blogspot.com/) raised £35,000 to enable 89-year-old Tottenham barber Aaron Biber to get back on his feet, while DeLoot London (http://www.delootlondon.co.uk/) aims to help independent shopkeepers restock after looting.
While the riots created a subset of public enemies, it also created some public heroes, like the fearless Hackney woman who questioned the politics of looters: "We're not gathering together to fight for a cause, we're running down Foot Locker and thieving shoes”. The English are still looking for answers to why the rioting and looting took hold so quickly and brutally, but the effects of last week’s events will be far-reaching. For rioters this may mean swift justice, but for everyone else, it also means reexamining the social divisions that led to the riots.
What's behind London's shopping riots - Iconowatch