Revisiting the riots: Research highlights youth anger at police

pic: Belinda Otas

A three-month investigation into the causes and consequences of the August riots has concluded that the disturbances occured as aresult of combination of alienated youth and frustration with local policing.

The study ”Reading the Riots” was conducted by the London School of Economics in conjunction with the Guardian newspaper.

Here, four months on, EastLondonLines presents an overview of the research findings and revisits its own coverage of the disturbances that rocked our boroughs.

Inspiration for the Guardian project came from Detroit in 1967, where after bloody riots in that city a newspaper journalist teamed up with researchers at the University of Michigan to investigate the motivations of rioters.

In order to interview as many people as effectively possible, the Guardian and the LSE selected 25 researchers from a variety of backgrounds, many of whom had strong links to the communities where rioting took place. The study is based on “in-depth, free-flowing interviews” with 270 rioters, including 13 people convicted for riot related offences. Secondly, it includes data analysis of over 1,100 defendants who have appeared in court charged with riot-related offences. The research also included a separate analysis of 2.5 million riot related tweets carried out by Manchester University.

pic: Koos Couvee

Findings of the research show there was more purpose to the disturbances than recognised by the government at the time. Many rioters interviewed expressed a sense of alienation with wider society and anger about policing, particularly the killing of Mark Duggan and stop and search tactics.

Interviewees also spoke of their grievances over the cuts to the Education Maintenance Allowance, the university fee hike and the London Olympics, which many youth in east London feel will not benefit their future educational and job prospects.

Rioters were encouraged to go out looting by the police’s inability to control the situation, the research suggests. One young man told the Guardian: “It was like Christmas came early.” Frustration with the way in which the riots were policed was echoed by shop owners interviewed by EastLondonLines during and after the riots.

The research also showed that the involvement of gangs was minimal. In fact, many rioters told researchers that postcode rivalries were set temporarily aside. The rioters felt that they had a common enemy – the police – and rioted and looted together.

A particularly strong correlation between riots and poverty was revealed in a map which shows the majority of suspects coming from poor areas. The Guardian has also published a number of interactive maps, including one that shows the journeys taken by rioters to riot hotspots.

Whilst some the interviews may have given a portion of rioters the opportunity to rationalise their behaviour afterwards, it is clear from the Guardian’s video produced for BBC Newsnight that anger with the police and the government, combined with the opportunity to get free stuff as the police appeared unable to stop the looting, motivated many, predominantly young people, to take to the streets.

pic: Belinda Otas

East London witnessed some of the country’s worst scenes of rioting, particularly in Croydon, Lewisham and Hackney on August 8. Tower Hamlets saw looting on Bethnal Green Road and the Isle of Dogs, but remained relatively quiet throughout the week.

EastLondonLines started covering the riots on that Monday in Hackney, when we ran a live blog with a number of reporters on the scene around Hackney’s Pembury estate in the afternoon and Lewisham and Croydon in the evening.

On Tuesday, when the riots had spread to Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham, our second live blog focused on the response to the disturbances from London authorities, residents and local businesses.

Concerns about policing featured heavily. At the Bar-Ish, further north on the Kingsland Road, customer Ulun described how the shops closed early and all the Turkish owners and other male members of the community had congregated on the streets outside, ready to defend their premises. He said: “If the police are not going to protect us, we will do it ourselves.”

The Guardian project focuses for a large part on the motivations of mainly young people involved in the riots, who often cited their treatment at the hands of police as a factor. In the weeks after the disturbances ELL spoke to children at a youth centre in Hackney, covered a march calling for a better future for youth, and analysed new stop and search figures for Croydon.

EastLondonLines also published a number of comment pieces. George Hallam, of Lewisham People before Profit derided police tactics in a letter to the Guardian published on August 17 and Lewisham born Goldsmiths graduate Jason Grant sought to explain why young people in Lewisham rioted. And five days after the riots that rocked East London, we published a compilation of posts from local bloggers.

In all, since the riots erupted in the first week of August, EastLondonLines has published over 50 articles directly related to the disturbances, including a timeline of events in our boroughs.

The following table details the amount of coverage we have given to each aspect of the riots. The lion’s share of our coverage focused on policing, impact of the riots on local businesses, arrests and court cases of suspects, and how the situation is in the east London boroughs three months on.

Last month, EastLondonLines published a series of articles titled ‘After the Riots’, based on interviews with local business owners and residents on how commerce and community relations stand three months after. In Croydon, music shop Rock Bottom suffered £180,000 worth of damage, and help from insurance is “very slow”, owner Carl Neilson told EastLondonLines. He added: “The council has stopped the rates on the place and they gave us £1,000 which has not gone far.”

We also asked a range of people in East London if the riots could happen again, with one person in Tower Hamlets saying: “I hope it doesn’t happen again, but the problems are always there, and if the issues are not resolved it could happen over again. The riots were not about any particular group like black or white, old or young, it was about people who have fallen outside society.”

pic: Peter Trimming

Other events EastLondonLines covered, such as the recent ‘Riot Response’ event held at The Albany in Deptford, focused on the stigmatisation of young people in inner city areas as both cause and consequence of the riots, issues around policing, and inequality in contemporary British society. Events like this have tried to make sense of the riots, yet at the same time proposed a few ways forward.

The second phase of the Guardian and LSE research project will involve interviews with police, court officials and judges and a series of community-based debates about the disturbances, and is to be published next year.

Please tweet us @eastlondonlines if you wish to comment on our coverage, the Guardian’s research project, or the riots in general. We would love to hear your thoughts.

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