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London riots, one year on

14th August 2012

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There have been over £300 million worth of compensation claims in London alone and 1,500 convictions for riot-related offences nationwide, as the clean up from the summer 2011 riots continue. The root cause of the rioting and looting has been the source of much speculation, but the government's position has been clear for some time.

David Cameron said: "You will feel the full force of the law. And if you are old enough to commit these crimes, you are old enough to face the punishment."

Riot police - London 2011

He went on to reject the idea that the riots had anything to do with government cuts or the economic conditions, saying: "No, this was about behaviour. People showing indifference to right and wrong, people with a twisted moral code, people with a complete absence of self-restraint." 

Not only is there an aggressive undertone in the threats of punishment, but there is a blatant disregard for social factors that undoubtedly played a significant part in the events of last summer. 

In response to the Conservative/ liberal review of the riots Slavoj Zizek wrote: "What’s wrong with this account is not only that it ignores the desperate social situation pushing young people towards violent outbursts but, perhaps more important, that it ignores the way these outbursts echo the hidden premises of conservative ideology itself." 

There were many people involved in the riots, citing multiple reasons for their involvement including pure opportunistic greed, desperation, and to send a political message to those in power. To many in London the riots did not come as much of a surprise.

In a video for the Guardian a week before the trouble began, Chavez Campbell said: "The streets in London are rough, you got a lot of knife crime and all that. When you shut down youth centres it cuts kids' roots off, their links so they don’t really have anywhere to go.

"When school holidays start I think it’s going to be swarming, I think people are going to be trying to find stuff to do, people are going to want to get jobs and that’s gonna be tough. You know there’s gonna be riots, there will be riots, they’ll be riots."

Whether it is said that the riots were due to social exclusion, opportunism, spending cuts, consumerism or racism, all arguments point back to the capitalist structure of our economic system. 

Social exclusion suggests that the riots occurred due to deprivation within society during the economic slump, caused by high unemployment amongst low income families. The rise in unemployment in such areas was affected hugely by an over reliance on private sector jobs at a time when the public sector is subjected to dramatic cuts and pay freezes.

Economic instability means companies start to cut costs, and that unfortunately means the loss of many part-time jobs. The reliance on a self-regulated private sector is a fundamental cog in the capitalist machine. 

Another strong belief of the capitalist system is that free markets will regulate themselves. This was applied by Margaret Thatcher to the banking and financial sector, which in turn had a significant part to play in the economic crash of 2008.

The spending cuts that are currently being implemented by the Conservative/ Liberal Democrat coalition are a result of the inadequacies of self-regulation and the failure of the capitalist system.

Racism and capitalism have gone hand in hand since the days of slavery. Much has changed over the past 200 years, yet it took the self regulated markets until 2009 to appoint a black chief executive in the FTSE 100. Just three years ago a report compiled by the Archbishop of York John Sentamu, Dr Richard Stone and former West Yorkshire police chief Tom Cook stated that the police were still institutionally racist.

When Mark Duggan was shot dead by police in Tottenham on the eve of the unrest last summer, claims of institutional racism were made. The perceived racism in the police force is unfortunately not a new phenomenon. Since the murder of David Owluwale in Leeds in 1969, and Stephen Lawrence in London 1993 there have been ever increasing claims of race related prejudice within the police service. 

In reference to continued and extensive use of stop-and-search powers and a failure to promote and retain black police officers, Dr Stone went on to conclude: "There has been a lot of effort, but no significant change. To me that bears out the definition of institutional racism. It's very worrying."

The report concludes: "Research examining why officers left the service has indicated that those from black and minority ethnic groups are more likely to have been dismissed or required to resign compared with their white counterparts (8.5% and 1.7% respectively) or to have left following voluntary resignation (46.6% of leavers from black and minority ethnic backgrounds and 25.9% of all leavers from white backgrounds.)".

According to the 2001 census 8% of the UK population were categorised as BME (black and minority ethnic groups), and such groups form 4% of the police force.

These independent reports only go to further the claim that positions of power in the the UK are often reserved for white men. 

David Cameron claimed many of the rioters were simply 'opportunistic'. When placed in a situation where luxury items were on offer, many submitted to temptation and greed and looted shops up and down the country. What was it that made these items so desirable that it became acceptable to commit crimes in that situation?

Quite possibly the extensive advertising campaigns from multi-national corporations. These adverts depict role models, and celebrities endorsing luxury products. Being subjected to multiple adverts a day, whether on TV, radio, billboards or in magazines, will ultimately dictate the desirability of a product.

To fit in with today's society certain standards are expected, standards that are well beyond our means. As a nation we cannot afford to keep living the lifestyle we currently have, and the riots were a perfect example of this. Many people of varying ages and social classes - not just "youths from working class backgrounds", as was widely reported - took part in the rioting and looting. Members in all sections of society are struggling, and it is vital that there is one unified voice speaking for them.

One voice for all those affected would be the most powerful social movement in the UK for decades, but to achieve this everyone must understand the root cause of the 2011 summer riots - capitalism. 

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