London Riot Seems All Too Familiar

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By: Noah J. Nelson

As the news of young people rioting in the United Kingdom rolls hand in hand with word of  the stock market, it feels a bit like the end of Western Civilization. What surprises me isn't the news--but the reactions I'm seeing in social media. All the people asking "why"?

Because London police officers allegedly shot and killed a father of four and then failed to be very clear about how and why it happened. That's why.

Anyone who lived through the aftermath of the killing of Oscar Grant in Oakland, or whose memory stretches back to the time of the Rodney King beating in Los Angeles, knows that when police actions violate the public's trust, there is a pretty good chance that young people will act out in the few ways that they see available to them. Impotent rage is only impotent until you can find a cop car to overturn and torch.

There's footage -- ample footage -- of the looting that's going on. This always raises the question -- what is so just about raiding a big screen TV?

When the whole of your society is based on the acquisition of material wealth, and great numbers of  people see no chance of acquiring that wealth, the real question is why we don't see riots more often. It doesn't help that the austerity measures the British government has enacted has slashed both youth program funding and police budgets, meaning more aimless kids on the streets and fewer, inevitably stressed out cops to monitor them.

Take a look in the crystal ball America, unless we want to see more of our cities headed this way.

It doesn't matter if the rioters are using the shooting only as an "excuse" to loot and pillage the shopping courts of middle class neighborhoods. What matters is that there are sufficient numbers of people, so disenfranchised from their society, that burning down a city block doesn't seem like such a terrible thing to them in the moment. While that may be a mentality born of pathology, it's a pathology of the culture more than that of the people in it.

In other words: This is what happens when you split the world into haves and have nots. Or has everyone simply forgotten the entire sweep of human history?

My heart goes out to the family of Mark Duggan not just for their loss, but for the fact that they are unlikely to ever really know what happened to their loved one now that his death has become a political flash point. So, too, do my sympathies lie with those whose homes and livelihoods are being sacrificed to rage. The human scale of these events is often lost as the balance sheets for damages are totaled like some kind of satanic scoreboard.

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