A Quick Word on the London Riots

That what we falsely call a religious cry is easily raised by men who have no religion, and who in their daily practice set at nought the commonest principles of right and wrong; that it is begotten of intolerance and persecution; that it is senseless, besotted, inveterate and unmerciful; all History teaches us. But perhaps we do not know it in our hearts too well, to profit by even so humble an example as the ‘No Popery’ riots of Seventeen Hundred and Eighty.

— Charles Dickens, 1841 [hat-tip to Noah Yuttadhammo for the quote]

“It says here
that the only way to stop the riots
is a large dose of law and order
and a touch of the short sharp shove.”

~ Billy Bragg [hat-tip to Jane Cerva for the quote]

People like to “blame” riots on the people rioting. It gives the impression that at some point in the morning a fella or lass popped out of bed and somewhere between the bedroom and the kitchen decided that they were going to throw a toilet off the room, or send a rock through a window, or steal a car…or burn one… or two. We focus on the people rioting. We say some are rioting for the right reasons and others riot for the wrong reasons. Students at Penn State rioted because their football team lost…or won. Who remembers? Others blame a culture of violence (psst…that is also usually falsely attributed to a person’s race). Some get even closer to the truth by admiting that it could be socio-economic factors that lead to riots.

Riots have a foundation in the social conditions prevalent to an area as well as in the racial or socio-economic characteristics of a particular city or part of a city. Some articulated that differences or inequity in the racial make up of the policing force versus the general population of a rioting city is pivotal in whether a riot erupts or not. Some say it is simply human nature. Society’s version of the cleansing breath. But in the end, all of these precipitating factors require some random and emotional laden event to spark the riot. Some punch in the nose or spit in the eye. From that point all precipitating are thrown right through the window as mob mentality and opportunism breaks out. Society is coughing up something lodged in their throat.

A riot is a living, breathing entity and are born of certain events, thrive and burn and then die. It can feel liberating like removing something that was choking us. It can feel like punch to the gut. It can feel like nothing as we gasp. The problem is that we don’t look at the root causes of this entity and blame the opportunistic element. But like some allude to, there are rare moments of racial and societal cohesion when these events occur. There are those that go arm in arm to protect the home and property of strangers. People protect museums and libraries. Society breathing.

Like hurricanes these are violent, cyclical events that have the potential to change the landscape of a city or a nation. We can only hope that after all the loss of life and property, it is a change for the better. Some people insist that these events are good things but they are only good if we learn from them…otherwise they are just tragic. That is the thing with society. It has no memory, it just lives on instinct. We are the ones that need to remember, learn and keep breathing. Everyonce in a while the lion needs to roar.