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68 Responses

  1. Momentary
    Momentary August 9, 2011 at 10:55 am |

    Thanks for this, from a borough neighbour — very well said.

  2. Bitter Scribe
    Bitter Scribe August 9, 2011 at 11:13 am |

    Let’s hear it for the Tory ownership society, soon to come to this side of the Atlantic.

  3. medium
    medium August 9, 2011 at 11:19 am |

    I think looting is a very radical political action. Maybe it’s not intended to be one by some looters. Maybe it is not seen as one, or as you put it just seen as “hardly political”.
    But which action could challenge the capitalist concept of “right of property” better then looting?

  4. Fat Steve
    Fat Steve August 9, 2011 at 11:25 am |

    I disagree with #3
    To minimize the political element to looting is like minimizing the political element to drug addiction. Just because something is on it’s face done for the ‘wrong reasons’ doesn’t mean that ingrained issues have no effect on it. Looting makes the powerless feel powerful. If someone has practically nothing for their entire lives- is it difficult to understand why in our consumer oriented society having 10 flatscreen TVs gives said person a sense of power?

  5. Momentary
    Momentary August 9, 2011 at 11:30 am |

    medium:
    But which action could challenge the capitalist concept of “right of property” better then looting?

    Squatting. Adverse possession.

    Shoplifting.

    Building a strong socialist political base.

    Just off the top of my head.

  6. Emily
    Emily August 9, 2011 at 11:45 am |

    Well said. People need to stop framing destruction of people’s homes and small businesses as a protest against anything.

    The situation is bringing out the worst in a lot of people.

  7. BHuesca
    BHuesca August 9, 2011 at 12:11 pm |

    I disagree with #3 – especially since so many of the youth looters targeted their very own neighborhoods, full of 87 year old shopkeepers, blind persons with service dogs rushed at by hordes (there’s a video link in the NYT article, but I’m writing from my phone so I apologize for no link), etc. – not exactly Whole Foods& Walmart Central.

  8. William
    William August 9, 2011 at 12:14 pm |

    Medium: Looting is theft and theft is a crime with victims who are generally unrelated to whatever political cause some starry eyed Marxist thinks is superior to someone’s livelihood. I’m always suspicious of people who argue that their politics give them a right to demand obedience from others.

    Peaceful protest? Awesome. Burning police cars, destroying or looting government property, maybe even doing real physical harm to people with badges and uniforms? Fine and dandy. Stealing from a person who has the bad luck of living too close to a police station? You’ve just lost all my sympathy, you’re reducing vital political action to socially darwinist acts of violence against whoever happens to be in your way, and if its my property I’ll take advantage of the wonderful Castle Doctrine we have here in the US. Looting isn’t about politics, its about greed and taking from those weaker than yourself.

    Put another way: I’m all for breaking down oppressive narratives around sexuality but, as someone who has been a victim of rape, I reserve the right to shoot you where you stand and wait to call 911 until you’ve bled out if you try to use my body without my consent for your political action.

  9. Andie
    Andie August 9, 2011 at 12:16 pm |

    I had similar thoughts during the riots that occurred in Toronto during the G20 meeting….

    I’m all for protest and civil disobedience, but I feel like once you start engaging in destruction for the sake of destruction, the message gets lost and you stand to alienate middle ground people who may have been sympathetic to your cause had you not just smashed in their store-front or set their car on fire.

  10. Andie
    Andie August 9, 2011 at 12:17 pm |

    BHuesca:
    I disagree with #3 – especially since so many of the youth looters targeted their very own neighborhoods, full of 87 year old shopkeepers, blind persons with service dogs rushed at by hordes (there’s a video link in the NYT article, but I’m writing from my phone so I apologize for no link), etc. – not exactly Whole Foods& Walmart Central.

    Even in those cases, looting a wal-mart isn’t going to destroy the corporation any more than setting a church on fire is going to take down the Vatican.

  11. chava
    chava August 9, 2011 at 12:32 pm |

    Looting is wrong. Jesus, we have to justify this now? It’s horrific mob violence excused by anonymity and groupthink. And FWIW, those “chain stores”? Families put up a shitload of money to own franchises.

  12. Fat Steve
    Fat Steve August 9, 2011 at 12:35 pm |

    chava:
    Looting is wrong.Jesus, we have to justify this now?It’s horrific mob violence excused by anonymity and groupthink.And FWIW, those “chain stores”?Families put up a shitload of money to own franchises.

    Thinking about something and examining peoples’ motives isn’t the same as justifying.

  13. Kathleen
    Kathleen August 9, 2011 at 12:42 pm |

    medium and Fat Steve — you’re not getting a lot of sympathy here, but I think you’re obviously correct.

    Andie — Toronto and the G20 is an incredibly silly parallel to make, not least because the violence there was almost entirely police-led.

  14. chava
    chava August 9, 2011 at 12:44 pm |

    I disagree with this.
    Looting doesn’t have to do with political powerlessness, it has to do with greed and violence, backed by a breakdown of social norms. Disenfranchise a group, arouse some racial hatred, and just lean back and wait for the looting.

    In this specific circumstance, yeah, I think the breakdown of norms has a political root. That doesn’t make looting itself a behavior motivated by righteous rage.

    Fat Steve:
    I disagree with #3
    To minimize the political element to looting is like minimizing the political element to drug addiction. Just because something is on it’s face done for the ‘wrong reasons’ doesn’t mean that ingrained issues have no effect on it. Looting makes the powerless feel powerful. If someone has practically nothing for their entire lives- is it difficult to understand why in our consumer oriented society having 10 flatscreen TVs gives said person a sense of power?

  15. Z S
    Z S August 9, 2011 at 12:45 pm |

    Here’s a woman who lives near the riots, remonstrating with the rioters who she says have burned her hardworking, honest friend’s small business:
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/new​s/uknews/crime/8690275/London-​riots-Woman-confronts-rioters-​in-Hackney.html

    A 90 year old barber, picking up the shreds of his livelihood after they looted his store:
    http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2011/08/london_riots.html#photo23

    A furniture store owner, keeping it together as he discusses the destruction of an 140-year-old family business including the effect on his elderly father: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-14454250

    And here, watch these brave freedom fighters mugging a boy who was injured during their “protest”: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-14456065

    Says it all really.

  16. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub August 9, 2011 at 1:00 pm |

    Pointing out that there are underlying political causes to these sorts of riots is not the same thing as fist-pumping or calling this a political protest. It’s also not condoning the actions of the rioters, which are reprehensible. Keep in mind that some of the people who are talking about applying a political lens to this and the political causes of this (not calling this a political protest) live in similar communities that have ALSO been affected by riots. So–they aren’t exactly rooting for communities to be destroyed or people to be assaulted or killed-and in fact have pointed out that this is why they’re skeptical of riots, and have a lot to say about the fact that privileged white progressives are turning people in their communities into unwitting mascots. BUT they also have pointed out that there are factors that fueled this, that the concerns about their safety during riots evaporate when the riots are over (and never existed before the riots)–they’re still living in crappy conditions with a tottering infrastructure. People still get killed from violence, from lack of healthcare, from hazardous living conditions. People get subpar schools, living conditions, and homes, and peaceful protest and doing things the right way gets you ignored at best or blamed for your situation at worst.

    The thing is, we’ve seen this before, many times. We know why it happens, we know that as a society we write the people in these communities off. Yet we change nothing. We’re then shocked when there’s a riot after an act of state brutality?

    Pointing that out doesn’t mean I’m saying that the rioters are grand protesters or that they are justified in what they’re doing. It’s saying that there are causes and that no one seems to give a shit until violence erupts.

  17. Andie
    Andie August 9, 2011 at 1:57 pm |

    Kathleen:
    Andie — Toronto and the G20 is an incredibly silly parallel to make,not least because the violence there was almost entirely police-led.

    In retrospect, but at the time I felt a lot of the things that were expressed in this piece, and I think the sentiment is still valid.

  18. Bitter Scribe
    Bitter Scribe August 9, 2011 at 2:00 pm |

    But when you talk about destructionnnnn…..
    Don’t you know that you can count me out

  19. Sonia
    Sonia August 9, 2011 at 2:27 pm |

    A 90 year old barber, picking up the shreds of his livelihood after they looted his store:
    http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2011/08/london_riots.html#photo23

    Come on, he’s an old white male, can he really expect sympathy?

  20. Jamie
    Jamie August 9, 2011 at 2:51 pm |

    THANK YOU. It was much less exciting, but my dear Vancouver *cough* recently had a riot post-hockey game. I know, I know. The most frustrating part, though, was the considerable press coverage calling it a ‘protest’. Damn, if only I could get that many people to come out to a REAL protest.

  21. Anon21
    Anon21 August 9, 2011 at 3:08 pm |

    William: Burning police cars, destroying or looting government property, maybe even doing real physical harm to people with badges and uniforms? Fine and dandy.

    Yeah, I don’t know about this. There are shitbag cops, no doubt about it, but not everyone with “badges and uniforms” deserves to be put at risk of physical violence, and I frankly don’t buy that attacking police officers should be considered any more acceptable than looting from innocent bystanders.

  22. William
    William August 9, 2011 at 3:35 pm |

    Yeah, I don’t know about this. There are shitbag cops, no doubt about it, but not everyone with “badges and uniforms” deserves to be put at risk of physical violence, and I frankly don’t buy that attacking police officers should be considered any more acceptable than looting from innocent bystanders.

    Police enforce unjust laws, they are disproportionately deployed to poor and brown areas to use coercive power in order to bludgeon citizens into compliance and silence, they wage an immoral war on drugs which targets people who need health care. Even “good police” tend to stand silent while their coworkers beat, torture, murder, rob, and rape the people they are paid to protect. This isn’t a matter of a few bad apples or shitbag cops.

    Now, maybe its that I grew up in Chicago and know exactly how much it costs to buy a cop into abdicating their duty. Maybe its because a week doesn’t go by in my neighborhood where I don’t see a black teenager over the hood of a car with a cop going through his pockets in the hopes of finding an excuse to send him away to be raped. Maybe its because I’ve been hurt by cops as has my father (who was gassed for peacefully protesting) and his father and his father (both of whom were beaten for union involvement). Maybe its because I’ve had a gun pointed at me up until an officer saw that I was white and then decided this must be a routine traffic stop. Maybe its because every single time I have needed the police they have failed or ignored me. Maybe its because they have targeted me. Maybe its because Chicago is different and somehow police elsewhere are somehow less vicious, savage, violent, and thuggish.

    But…the burning police cars tend to suggest otherwise.

    When you make your living hurting people in the name of inexcusable authority you don’t get to cry when that authority breaks down and the people you’ve beaten for generations kick you to death in the streets. Police won’t see sympathy from me until they establish a track record of being anything other than violent thugs.

  23. Safiya Outlines
    Safiya Outlines August 9, 2011 at 4:05 pm |

    Go Chava!

    This blog is rightly big on there being no excuses or justification for violence against women. Point 3 as mentioned in the OP is in a similarly inexcusable category of violence and remember that this is violence with a disproportionate impact on POC, women and the poor.

  24. Sonia
    Sonia August 9, 2011 at 4:50 pm |

    About every half-century, Europe has a tendency to wipe out the bottom 10th or so of its population. Another wipeout is a bit overdue. The next few years are going to be nasty.

  25. Kathleen
    Kathleen August 9, 2011 at 4:54 pm |

    Jamie — what? What press coverage where called the Vancouver hockey riot a protest? Can you provide some links?

  26. matlun
    matlun August 9, 2011 at 5:05 pm |

    Safiya Outlines: This blog is rightly big on there being no excuses or justification for violence against women. Point 3 as mentioned in the OP is in a similarly inexcusable category of violence

    Yes. Point 2 discussing violence against the police is nice too. As someone with a sister who is a cop, this gives me such a warm and fuzzy feeling.

    These posts justifying the riots are just totally morally bankrupt.

  27. WestEndGirl
    WestEndGirl August 9, 2011 at 5:29 pm |

    This is the very best post I’ve seen on the subject:
    http://hurryupharry.org/2011/08/09/most-of-the-kids-are-alright/

    However, I have to say I lost any personal feelings of sympathy I had for those disenfranchised kids when I saw people leaping from burning buildings for their lives, beating hard-working families out of their precious and hard-worked for shops and old people beaten to the ground for putting out fires…

    Whatever grievances there are – and there are – that is nihilism and greed plain and simple. A Clockwork Orange indeed.

  28. Berryfresh
    Berryfresh August 9, 2011 at 7:01 pm |

    The point the socialist debate fails to acknowledge is that there are plenty of people in those communities who share the exact same circumstances and frustrations and who have had exactly the same interactions with the police (which are being mightily overblown) who did not choose to trash their neighbours property, beat up those weaker than them, disrespect themselves and others and steal for pleasure. This is not a political protest. It’s looting and thuggery.

    The rich don’t have a monopoly on being an asshole.

    The commentary is clearly missing a discussion on an ingrained culture of crimminality and violence which intersects with but is certainly not limited to poverty and social exclusion/ isolation.

  29. Cheshire
    Cheshire August 9, 2011 at 7:10 pm |

    I think it is important to remember that it may not be the same people, doing each bit those who protested may not be those who looted, I wonder how many of the looters are opportunistically using the breakdown in civil society to steal.

  30. Gretchen
    Gretchen August 9, 2011 at 7:18 pm |

    Sheelzebub:

    The thing is, we’ve seen this before, many times.We know why it happens, we know that as a society we write the people in these communities off.Yet we change nothing.We’re then shocked when there’s a riot after an act of state brutality?

    Pointing that out doesn’t mean I’m saying that the rioters are grand protesters or that they are justified in what they’re doing.It’s saying that there are causes and that no one seems to give a shit until violence erupts.

    This.

    @ matlun. I don’t think anyone here is saying that police deserve violence, or that your sister isn’t ‘one of the good ones’. But in the areas of london where police have been targeted, it is understandable (not justifiable or something that deserves fist pumps). Police have long held a reign of terror, humiliation and subjugation in these areas, so i do *understand* why they are seen as targets.

    I really don’t think it is morally bankrupt to try to understand the numerous motives behind the riots. Othering and demonising the various parties involved isn’t going to get us anywhere, other than giving the government the impetus to instigate further social control.

    @Chava: looting can be seen as greed, but it is greed based upon a consumerist society constantly telling people that to be worthwhile human beings and socially included they must own x, y and z, with social status based upon labels and ownership. Being denied access to these items due to poverty – unsurprisingly – leads to opportunism when events arise whereby you can take ‘status’ items that you otherwise would not be able to afford. Is it right in a world of private ownership to steal? No. Is it ok to terrorise small business owners? Of course not. Is it ok to blanket label everyone involved as mindless thugs and totally ignore surrounding social factors? Also no.

    @William, Fat Steve and medium: What you said.

  31. franksverymuch
    franksverymuch August 9, 2011 at 7:39 pm |

    I think charver’s (which is a sort of ugly class slur as far as I’m aware) comments are symbolic of a kind of weird hysteria in Britain that any attempt to understand or explain what the hell is going on is somehow conflated with justifying it, which is just ridiculous.
    Obviously the riots were a disaster, have caused terrible pain and the people who’ve been rioting are insane.
    But what kind of person (not directly involved) try’s to shut down anyone seeking to explain why the poorest and most wretched people in Britain are in revolt across the country. We could just all call them scum and the same thing would happen in a few years time, we want to try to understand why this happened and how we can stop it.
    Dan Hind on the matter…
    http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/opinion/2011/08/201189165143946889.html
    Whoever the hell compared this to violence against women: haven’t feminists been leading the efforts to explain why violence against women happens and how it can be stopped? how is this different?

  32. Kathleen
    Kathleen August 9, 2011 at 9:47 pm |

    Berryfresh — oh, do tell us more about that “ingrained culture of crimminality and violence”.

    Elaborate on your thoughts! I look forward BOTH to the refreshing and insightful perspectives on the lamentable moral failings of the underclass, AND to the innovations in spelling your additional commentary might offer.

    also, can you explain what you mean by “the socialist debate”? It is a club? Do they have t-shirts?

  33. xenu01
    xenu01 August 9, 2011 at 9:49 pm |

    Because if you treat the three issues as three separate events enacted by three separate groups of people, well- you’d have to give legitimacy to the cause of the peaceful protesters. An example of this where I live are protests following the slap-on-the-wrist conviction of Oscar Grant’s murderer. There were peaceful protests and community action FROM THE START. There was some rioting- people focus on one foot locker, but it was rabble raiser anarchists from out of town. The people with real beef? Would never riot.

    And yet, one year later it’s
    “”It represented one of the darkest hours in Oakland in public opinion,” says Tsay. “You don’t have to close your eyes, and you can imagine Foot Locker being looted. We want to fight that and replace it with something as beautiful as the reality of Oakland.”

    No, sorry. Oscar Grant’s murder was one of the darkest hours Oakland has ever experienced, and it was one incident in a long chain of incidents which disproportionately affect young black men.

    But see- it’s so much easier to discuss the looting of a Foot Locker than hundreds of years of systemic racism targeting people of color in the USA.

  34. xenu01
    xenu01 August 9, 2011 at 9:50 pm |

    So thank you for this- I’ve been interested in hearing about this from a social-justice oriented UK perspective, because all we’re hearing over here is “blah blah blah race riots fire! looting!”

  35. Ashley
    Ashley August 9, 2011 at 10:03 pm |

    Looting doesn’t have to do with political powerlessness, it has to do with greed and violence, backed by a breakdown of social norms.

    I would argue that the culture of greed and violence is deeply political. Combine a culture that insists that we must buy buy buy with an economy falling apart and “austerity measures” that deny people any hope of buying the things the media insists they must, and you end up with terrible situations like this one. This is the sort of breakdown that happens when government becomes too small to do its job properly and nihilistic greed is encouraged. It’s the inevitable result of the neoliberal takeover of just about everything. And yes, political powerlessness of the vast majority is exactly how that happened.

    So the looting is “political,” but not in the sense that the looters consider themselves political actors, and certainly not in the sense of creating a better world.*

    Being able to recognize that people’s actions have political causes is not the same as thinking their actions are good or useful, or condoning those actions.

    *(as the OP says, the original protests over the shooting were a very different story, and they were consciously political and aimed at improving things)

  36. Sid
    Sid August 9, 2011 at 10:34 pm |

    This interview on the BBC is so telling of the underlying issues:

  37. eibhear
    eibhear August 9, 2011 at 10:48 pm |

    @Sheelzabub,
    I should point out that there is no such thing as lack of healthcare in the U.K. People may give out a bit about waiting lists and such like, but healthcare is free, and we are very lucky for it.

  38. William
    William August 9, 2011 at 11:15 pm |

    I would argue that the culture of greed and violence is deeply political.

    Its deeply human is what it is. To paraphrase Warren Ellis: people are the flaw in every revolution. Sure, you can imagine that its capitalism (or whatever boogeyman we’re using this generation) but I’ve got 5000 years of human history to argue that anywhere people are you end up with greed, oppression, and violence. Sometimes civilization restrains that, sometimes it encourages it, sometimes it just breaks down. Fighting for Utopia is denying what we are and desperately clinging to the hope that the new boss won’t be the same as the old boss.

    Thing is, you can’t really make that happen if you protest a culture of greed by stealing from your neighbors…

    Combine a culture that insists that we must buy buy buy with an economy falling apart and “austerity measures” that deny people any hope of buying the things the media insists they must, and you end up with terrible situations like this one.

    Thats both an excuse and a denial of human agency. This isn’t a “terrible situation,” its a bunch of thieves shitting on their own community and using the death of a human being as cover for it. If they wanted to engage in some direct action they could be protecting their neighborhoods from police instead of stealing shit.

    This is the sort of breakdown that happens when government becomes too small to do its job properly and nihilistic greed is encouraged.

    Well yes, if government was larger and stronger they could stop these kinds of breakdowns. By stepping on the peaceful protesters who started it and slaughtering the pissed off people who didn’t show deference to their masters.

    We get it, you dislike the buzzwords you dislike and are opposed to greed and think that the answer to an abusive government is more faith in the good folks who rule. Its just that the wrong people wield coercive power, not that people step on one another’s necks.

    It’s the inevitable result of the neoliberal takeover of just about everything. And yes, political powerlessness of the vast majority is exactly how that happened.

    So the looting is “political,” but not in the sense that the looters consider themselves political actors, and certainly not in the sense of creating a better world.*

    Being able to recognize that people’s actions have political causes is not the same as thinking their actions are good or useful, or condoning those actions.

    Except what you’re ignoring is that most of the community isn’t taking advantage of a breakdown of social order to steal from people. Thats the problem here. You’ve got your political axe to grind and so you’re reading political messages in the actions of the kinds of people who behave only because they’re afraid of getting caught. Every time you invoke neoliberalism you’re selling the idea that whats happening could be solved by your pet theory. This isn’t the time for that shit and, frankly, it looks a lot like an attempt to appropriate the death of a man due to police violence for your cause.

    In other words, your politics strike me as that really nice TV a looter has had his eyes on. A man’s death is just your excuse.

  39. eibhear
    eibhear August 9, 2011 at 11:35 pm |

    @Sid,
    I like Darcus Howe ( he’s quite well known in the U.K.), but I think he’s a bit out of touch. My reception isn’t very good, so I couldn’t hear the interview very well, but I think he was talking a bit about the 1980’s, which isn’t all that relevant now, and he also mentioned his son, whom he doesn’t really know at all ( don’t know about his grandson). Of course people were initially angry about the ( not unusual) shooting of a black man by the constabulary, the latter’s (not unusual) contempt for the man’s family, and the fact that the constabulary ( as usual) lied about the circumstances of the killing, but I really don’t feel that the initial outrage is truly connected to the majority of the subsequent events. I think that a great many people took advantage of the early outpouring of fury at the incident for their own, corrupt, ends. From what I can glean thus far ( and fortunately my own area hasn’t been targeted yet), some of the looting has been directed by organised crime, but most seems to be perpetrated by oppurtunistic crimininals. Of course there are problems of deprivation and racism ( though I should point out that one doesn’t really get true race riots in London these days- the segregation isn’t pronounced enough), I don’t think that that is what these outbreaks of violence are about. I think they’re more about copy cat behaviour ( a real danger with the ubiquity of modern media) and expediency.

  40. Berryfresh
    Berryfresh August 10, 2011 at 12:17 am |

    Kathleen:
    Berryfresh — oh, do tell us more about that “ingrained culture of crimminality and violence”.

    Elaborate on your thoughts!I look forward BOTH to the refreshing and insightful perspectives on the lamentable moral failings of the underclass, AND to the innovations in spelling your additional commentary might offer.

    also, can you explain what you mean by “the socialist debate”?It is a club?Do they have t-shirts?

    By socialist debate I thought it would be clear that I meant debate from a socialist perspective.

    I wish for your sake (as the prospect clearly thrills you) that I could point out the moral failings of the ‘underclass’ but the point I was quite obviously making is that there are none. There are many in precisely the same circumstances as these thugs who choose not to indulge in mindless violence, greed and opportunism. These people are ignored when all responsibility for the individual choices of others in the same set of circumstances are ascribed to one simplistic political theory.

    The notion of sub-cultures of criminality is a simple concept which I’m sure somebody of the sort of superior intellect you are so desperate to share with us all can easily understand. To deny that these sub-cultures exist in the communities where criminal acts regularly occur (be it Wall Street or Tottenham) indicates that you haven’t spent a lot of time in these communities or else you’d prefer to ignore it because it doesn’t fit with your pet theory. Of course expressions of violence as power and criminality as normality intersect with poverty, lack of opportunity and social isolation but they cannot be neatly explained by them. Again, it would be to deny these men and women personal agency and erase those in the same set of circumstances who make alternate choices.

    I’m pleased that my single typo filled you with such smug glee. Let’s hope that you find another in the above and that is makes your day.

  41. Ashley
    Ashley August 10, 2011 at 1:20 am |

    William– You are missing my point. I never said the looters are protesting a culture of greed. Quite the opposite. They are living it out, in much the same way that not all men rape, but rapists live out rape culture. And when I talk about government, I don’t mean the police. I mean the part of the government that provides services and helps create economic opportunities for people.

    If you believe that everything people do is simply a result of their own individual agency, what interest do have in feminism, or in any movement that holds as a basic tenet a belief in the power of social institutions to create classes of oppressed people?

  42. chava
    chava August 10, 2011 at 2:33 am |

    Yeah, you see, I don’t buy that. You’re basically saying that after the Proletarian Revolution human nature will be so magically altered that nothing like this would ever happen.

    Aside from that, I just do not buy capitalism and consumerism as a root cause for looting. Looting isn’t always about taking when you have nothing–often it is just about taking from those who can’t defend themselves because you can . I think wartime looting, the looting of disenfranchised groups during WWII, etc should make this point fairly clearly.

    I’m not denying that when you grind a group of people into the ground for years, at some point, yeah, you’re an idiot if you don’t expect them to violently toss the rules of that oppressive society out the window (Haitian rev’n, 1789, etc). BUT–looting is a behavior that transcends in these circumstances. It’s just a nasty part of human nature that shows up when we think we can get away with it.

    Gretchen: @Chava: looting can be seen as greed, but it is greed based upon a consumerist society constantly telling people that to be worthwhile human beings and socially included they must own x, y and z, with social status based upon labels and ownership. Being denied access to these items due to poverty – unsurprisingly – leads to opportunism when events arise whereby you can take ‘status’ items that you otherwise would not be able to afford. Is it right in a world of private ownership to steal? No. Is it ok to terrorise small business owners? Of course not. Is it ok to blanket label everyone involved as mindless thugs and totally ignore surrounding social factors? Also no.

  43. chava
    chava August 10, 2011 at 3:52 am |

    To borrow wartime vocabulary– there’s an argument to be made for viewing the police as combatants in this kind of situation. I’m not crazy about it because I don’t see it leading anywhere productive–but I have a much easier time with it, morally, than looting.

    William: Police enforce unjust laws, they are disproportionately deployed to poor and brown areas to use coercive power in order to bludgeon citizens into compliance and silence, they wage an immoral war on drugs which targets people who need health care. Even “good police” tend to stand silent while their coworkers beat, torture, murder, rob, and rape the people they are paid to protect. This isn’t a matter of a few bad apples or shitbag cops.

  44. reclaimthesun
    reclaimthesun August 10, 2011 at 7:58 am |

    Great reflection.

    Did you see this response? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=biJgILxGK0o

    ^do you think what he says has some merit, esp. concerning a “resurgence?”

  45. William
    William August 10, 2011 at 9:20 am |

    You are missing my point. I never said the looters are protesting a culture of greed. Quite the opposite. They are living it out, in much the same way that not all men rape, but rapists live out rape culture.

    Men who commit rape are not uncontrollably compelled by rape culture. Rape culture grants rationalizations, it protects rapists from consequences, it supports dominant power structure, but it doesn’t make men rape. Hell, that feeds into rape culture. Men are not animals forced to rape by being vulnerable to cultural messages. Rapists rape because they do not respect the humanity of other people and thus choose to rape.

    And when I talk about government, I don’t mean the police. I mean the part of the government that provides services and helps create economic opportunities for people.

    Those parts are inextricably intertwined. You cannot separate the good government from the bad government. One supports, creates, and fosters the other. The provision of services and creation of opportunities is supported by a monopoly on physical force, its funded by taxes ultimately collected at the point of a gun. Sometimes that leads to good to good outcomes, sometimes to bad outcomes, but the underlying system of dominance and power remains the same. A larger government necessitates a larger enforcement body.

    More importantly. Power is held by the powerful, government is made up of the privileged, and decisions are made for the benefit of the well connected. If governments gave a shit about the poor we wouldn’t be where we are now. The system does exactly what it was designed to do. I think its telling that your solution to a government which abuses people is to suggest that somehow the nice side of the same hand ought to be bigger.

  46. matlun
    matlun August 10, 2011 at 10:26 am |

    chava: To borrow wartime vocabulary– there’s an argument to be made for viewing the police as combatants in this kind of situation.

    Which type of situation?
    If you are talking about a situation of open revolt against the state then yes. Otherwise no.

    Going for the armed revolution option is perhaps a bit radical?

  47. matlun
    matlun August 10, 2011 at 10:38 am |

    One thing I have not seen discussed a lot is the reaction from those choosing to fight back.

    Many are arguing that the police (and therefore the government) have failed in their duty to protect civil society. Some of the local communities have felt forced to protect themselves.

    It is interesting that the rioters have less fear of the police than the civilians.

  48. matlun
    matlun August 10, 2011 at 10:39 am |
  49. Dawn
    Dawn August 10, 2011 at 2:06 pm |

    Seriously, all the US folks need to learn one thing, US=/=UK.

    We have different social-political structure, people are much better off over here, unemployed people get free medical care, a roof over their head, an income, help to find a job, offered training and many other things that unemployed people in the US can only dream of. While there is racism, it’s subtly different to the US racism.

    It’s not perfect but really, I’m having a hard time buying that these people are just the poor widdle victims of a bad system and I’ve had my problems with the cops.

    They’re just like the assholes I deal with in my town, the ones who smash up the local college, or commit violent attacks, not because they’re disenfranchised woobies, but because in reality they’re spoilt, irresponsible children who are pissed off that life didn’t get handed to them on a plate. They’re the ones who expect a six figure job at 18, then wonder why they can’t get one because they don’t have a single qualification due to bunking school.

    They’re the people who drag their communities into the mud, and are for most part no different to the jackbooted thugs in the upper classes, the only major difference is they’re willing to tear their own down just to get a bit more for themselves.

    You want to talk about sociopolitical issues, talk to the people who aren’t smashing the place apart, those who’ve suffered worse than these adolescent thugs and who still have an ounce of basic human decency.

  50. smmo
    smmo August 10, 2011 at 3:48 pm |

    William:

    You cannot separate the good government from the bad government. One supports, creates, and fosters the other. The provision of services and creation of opportunities is supported by a monopoly on physical force, its funded by taxes ultimately collected at the point of a gun. Sometimes that leads to good to good outcomes, sometimes to bad outcomes, but the underlying system of dominance and power remains the same. A larger government necessitates a larger enforcement body.

    More importantly. Power is held by the powerful, government is made up of the privileged, and decisions are made for the benefit of the well connected. If governments gave a shit about the poor we wouldn’t be where we are now. The system does exactly what it was designed to do. I think its telling that your solution to a government which abuses people is to suggest that somehow the nice side of the same hand ought to be bigger.

    Do I smell a libertarian? Oh dear.

    “A riot is the language of the unheard.” Martin Luther King Jr. Of course it’s a mess, and most people aren’t very smart and simply don’t do complexity, from any side. Aren’t we used to that, as feminists?

    It wasn’t 6 months ago that nearly 500,000 people peacefully protested in the UK against austerity measures. Fat lot of good that did anyone.

  51. franksverymuch
    franksverymuch August 10, 2011 at 4:14 pm |

    @Dawn
    Britain is, apart from the national health service, not that different from the US, I’m afraid.
    US Late-2000s poverty rate: 17.3%
    UK Late-2000s poverty rate: 11.3%
    6% = not that big of a difference
    The unemployment benefit is literally calculated so it couldn’t be lower and the policing of deprived areas these areas (of late) is pretty much analogous to policing of deprived areas in the US.
    listen to this description of the lives of some of the rioters.
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-14464531
    your analogy of expecting a six figure sum is pretty wide of the mark.
    there’s no doubt that many of the rioters were socially dysfunctional and I understand people not wanting to see them as victims but it’s pretty straightforward that the dysfunction is linked to the conditions in which they live.

  52. matlun
    matlun August 10, 2011 at 4:45 pm |

    @franksverymuch: The difference between 11.3% and 17.3% is a lot. 11.3% is only 65.3% of 17.3%. Or about 2/3.

    While the Income equality measures puts UK fairly close to the US, the social safety nets are much better.

  53. WestEndGirl
    WestEndGirl August 10, 2011 at 6:06 pm |

    Um Franksverymuch, you my friend, are an utter utter privileged douche.

    Chava’s name is a Hebrew name; meaning life and is another version of Eve.

    I mean it’s not like it’s an Anglo name or a European name, so it’s not like you could Google it or something before you went jumping in on the splainy attack or anything is it?

    Oh and your White privilege is just heaped on with a whole helping of ableism on your part too. Delicious.

    The only person approaching a chav ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chav ) around here is you.

  54. William
    William August 10, 2011 at 6:07 pm |

    Do I smell a libertarian? Oh dear.

    Once upon a time, yeah. Honestly, I’m just someone who has been badly failed by virtually every system I’ve encountered and don’t have much faith that the programs of the privileged exist to do much else other than advance their privilege. Libertarianism is just one more name on the list of shit that looks nice and all until you get close and realize that its just more of the same with a different coat of paint.

    Or, you know, you can just try to dismiss me because I don’t have faith that this time, somehow, the people who have treated me like shit my entire life are gonna give me a hand up because they’ve got good intentions. Whatever works.

    Martin Luther King Jr. Of course it’s a mess, and most people aren’t very smart and simply don’t do complexity, from any side. Aren’t we used to that, as feminists?

    It wasn’t 6 months ago that nearly 500,000 people peacefully protested in the UK against austerity measures. Fat lot of good that did anyone.

    I’m not against rioting and I think we need constructive solutions. What rubs me the wrong way is the suggestion that somehow a bunch of people pissed off about police killing people in the streets is being co-opted by everyone with a cause from portraying rioters as violent thugs to be stomped down to paternalistic socialists looking to use anger as an excuse for selling people more of the same government which has shown them nothing but the back of it’s hand. Instead of talking about communities we’re talking about fucking capitalism. Instead of talking about why police kill people and then refuse to answer questions from peaceful protesters we’re talking about rape culture as a stand in for capitalist oppression.

    Meanwhile, communities are falling apart. But I suppose thats all good, because we’re arguing about what we’d like to put in their place when they’re gone. Provided we maintain our attention span long enough to still care in two weeks. Or that anything actually changes. Ors and ifs while the song remains the same.

    You want to call me a libertarian? They’ve got faith in the market. Me? I’m a cynic.

  55. Shoshie
    Shoshie August 10, 2011 at 6:46 pm |

    Ugh, co-sign WestEndGirl on Franksverymuch’s comments re: chava’s name.

  56. franksverymuch
    franksverymuch August 10, 2011 at 6:48 pm |

    clever girl…
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TO5wryDdEI0
    Well fine, but.
    I really don’t think that 65.3 is a world of difference, certainly they are close enough to be comparable.
    Furthermore poverty in the UK is concentrated in (among other areas) the very places where the rioting is emanating from.
    …regular
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/markeaston/2008/06/map_of_the_week_poverty_in_the.html
    …and child
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7642689.stm
    (that map of child poverty in London in the bottom left corresponds with the areas of violence pretty much as you would expect it to)
    the people involved in this are hardly, as @dawn characterised them, pampered yobs.
    I think this calls for a more sophisticated analysis than ‘those people are dicks’
    There have been (admittedly small) riots in Sweden which has as far as I’m aware, one of the best social safety nets in the world but still (admittedly tiny) pockets of relative deprivation.

  57. franksverymuch
    franksverymuch August 10, 2011 at 7:16 pm |

    terribly sorry to chava about the name.
    was an honest mistake.
    I’m dyslexic and charva and chava look exactly the same to me. (who’s ableist now)
    yes in the UK chaRva a classlist slur (I’ve heard it many times) see these are the first two things that came up when I google’d the misspelling (to check!!)
    1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chav
    2. http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=charva
    Also it is used primarily to dehumanise working class and poor people and that seemed to fit in with the unpleasant points @chava was making
    terribly sorry
    I’m not white and i don’t think that has much do do with anything. where the hell does ableism factor into any of this
    who the hell was attacking anyone.

  58. Sonia
    Sonia August 11, 2011 at 1:53 am |

    “A riot is the language of the unheard.” Martin Luther King Jr

    I suppose the riots against Blacks,more blacks and Immigrants, along with the KKK organized riots in the South are expressions of the politically powerless. Also, state supported riots against Sikhs in New Delhi, Muslims in Gujarat and many more all over the world are fine and dandy.

  59. chava
    chava August 11, 2011 at 4:43 am |

    Dude, I can’t see your original comment, but my distaste for looting has fuck-all to do with dehumanizing the poor.
    Poor & marginalized people are NOT THE ONLY ONES WHO DO THIS, and I object to painting looting and mob violence as something that should (or always is) perpetrated by them. It just doesn’t hold up to any cursory examination of human history.

  60. William
    William August 11, 2011 at 8:34 am |

    Chava: cosigned.

  61. Kathleen
    Kathleen August 11, 2011 at 8:35 am |

    Dawn,

    “but because in reality they’re spoilt, irresponsible children who are pissed off that life didn’t get handed to them on a plate. They’re the ones who expect a six figure job at 18, then wonder why they can’t get one because they don’t have a single qualification due to bunking school.”

    Doesn’t that kind of entitlement just make you sick? Boy, I wish those undeserving louts would take a cue from the elegant and gracious behavior of Prince Charles and Prince William and the rest of the aristocracy, who worked their fingers to the bone for everything they’ve got. These people who expect a nice life without sacrifice, by gum, they are incapable of grasping basic British values.

  62. franksverymuch
    franksverymuch August 11, 2011 at 9:48 am |

    Yes we all have a distaste for looting, I don’t think anybody here is in support of the looting. But rather trying to find out why it happened.
    In Britain there has been (it seems) a conscious effort to shut down debate about this, ‘it was just criminality’ put the army on the streets’ etc, which were echoed in your posts and it infuriated me enough that thought I’d take issue.
    Of course not all riots are primarily caused by poverty, social exclusion and the other things talked about in the article; but these ones obviously were.
    I don’t want to repeat myself too much (and I’m pretty sure nobody cares) so I’ll just quote some of the conclusions from the Scarman report commissioned after riots in the same places as today in 1981.
    Here’s a summary, as you have to pay 27 quid for the real thing.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/bbc_parliament/3631579.stm
    among other things… “complex political, social and economic factors” created a “disposition towards violent protest”.

    He found the disorders were not planned but a spontaneous
    outburst of built-up resentment sparked by particular incidents.

    He found loss of confidence and mistrust in the police and their methods of policing. Liason arrangements between police, community and local authority had already collapsed before the disturbances.
    The problems of racial disadvantage and inner-city decline were highlighted and a more concerted and co-ordinated approach to tackling them was seen as essential”
    That report was commissioned by probably the most right-wing, reactionary government in British history and chaired by a man who is best described as a conservative (he famously convicted ‘Gay News’ magazine of blasphamy for printing a poem);
    even they can understand that these things are caused by more than ‘consumer society’ and “a nasty part of human nature that shows up when we think we can get away with it” (although I’m sure that played a role).
    This is not the same thing as when an invading army loots a city or when canucks fans trash Vancouver
    But again, sorry about mistaking your name. I’m mortified

  63. Dawn
    Dawn August 11, 2011 at 11:46 am |

    @franksverymuch,

    The US has a higher level of racist violence than the UK, there are also a lot more incidents between racial groups and the police.

    Plus their system lacks the NHS, and they just enacted laws in two states that mean if you don’t have kids, you don’t get help full stop.

    The UK helps anyone who needs it, without saying “oh you don’t have kids, no help for you”.

    I grew up in an area like that, one thing I learned early on is that most of my peers wanted X and they wanted X now, they didn’t want to work for it or plan how to get it, they just considered the fact that they wanted it meant they should have it right now.

    Dysfunction is more than just social issues in reality. Simplifying it down as you’re trying to do just results in a wrong assumption.

    @Kathleen,

    Because there’s only two types of people in the world, the deserving poor who are poor because society is bigoted and the extremely rich who were born into a privileged world.

    And nobody ever has an over inflated opinion of their own worth or inflated expectations of getting stuff given to them because they’re just that deserving.

  64. Paraxeni
    Paraxeni August 12, 2011 at 3:10 pm |

    Oh Dawn, Dawn, Dawn. How do I hate thee, let me count the ways:

    Seriously, all the US folks need to learn one thing, US=/=UK.

    We have different social-political structure, people are much better off over here, unemployed people get free medical care

    It’s free, but I guarantee you that if you happen to live in an impoverished area – it’s likely to be shit.

    a roof over their head, an income

    The Joseph Rowntree Foundation consider ‘absolute poverty’ to be a person living while earning under £15k a year. Jobseeker’s Allowance is £65 per week. The cheapest place to live in this country has rents of roughly £350 per month. Add on food, utilities, council tax, clothing, hygiene and travel to find the work that JSA is conditional on applying for. Whoooo, it’s like a fucking Lotto win. My housing benefit covers less than half of my share of the rent.

    help to find a job, offered training and many other things that unemployed people in the US can only dream of.

    Hysterical laughter here. By “help” you mean “Given a no-waged ‘job’ for 4 weeks on the promise of employment, and then laid off after the month. Oh, and the work trial involves giving up JSA benefit as you’re no longer able to seek work. You then have to reapply for the benefit, which can take months. No JSA = no rent assistance, no council tax assistance, and no free prescriptions.

    Who runs the work trials? ATOS. Who tells people they’re not entitled to benefits? ATOS.

    The US has a higher level of racist violence than the UK, there are also a lot more incidents between racial groups and the police.

    A black British man is up to 67 times more likely to be stopped by the police.

    Plus their system lacks the NHS, and they just enacted laws in two states that mean if you don’t have kids, you don’t get help full stop.

    The UK helps anyone who needs it, without saying “oh you don’t have kids, no help for you”.

    FUCKING. BULLSHIT.

    I was homeless in 2004, desperately ill, had no income. I applied for housing all over my region, from roughly 8 housing authorities. I AM STILL WAITING. Why? I don’t have kids. OTOH people with kids only have to wait about three years to not be homeless any more, so lucky them eh? A friend of mine, my best friend actually, was homeless growing up. She spent 5 years in a hostel with her mother, and her three sisters. 5 years sleeping in shifts so they didn’t get raped or robbed. 5 years sharing two rooms with another family.

    I was told over and over again “”Get pregnant, you’ll stand a better chance of getting somewhere by 2007″. And that was before the housing crash, and before the recession.

    Yeah, I’d have done smashingly well in a local authority hostel, seriously ill and with a baby to support.

    Try actually living on the bottom of the heap before you judge those that have to. The many peaceful protests that have taken place in the past year were barely covered by the news. The ‘Hardest Hit’ march wasn’t covered at all on national TV. Sometimes screaming and shouting is the only way to be heard over the roar of “You’re poor/black/disabled so we don’t give a FUCK about you”

  65. Dawn
    Dawn August 12, 2011 at 3:53 pm |

    @paraxeni,

    At least we don’t have children dying from cavities here. The NHS isn’t perfect but it’s a whole lot better than the US system which leaves thousands of people without basic healthcare or forces them to choose between caring for themselves and feeding themselves.

    Really? My rent is £240, you might want to check your figures. If you get JSA, you should also be entitled to council tax benefit, and housing benefit.

    Go see your local CAB, you shouldn’t be losing your help while on no pay trials, you’re entitled to hardship pay at least. It’s a shitty level of money but it’s better than nothing.

    67? Where the fuck are you even getting these numbers, 6 TO 7 times possibly but 67 times?

    2004 was when I became officially no longer homeless. Your experience =/= everywhere.

    I’ve been on the bottom of the heap, I’ve been homeless, abused, I’ve lived on hardship pay, you want to talk about shitty, try covering all your bills with 2,000 for a YEAR including disability costs because some asshole bigot on a tribunal sided with a lying doctor despite me having evidence to back up the fact that he was liar.

    Don’t tell me I don’t know what it’s like to be poor, disabled and ignored in this country, I’ve been there and we’re STILL better off than people in the US currently are if they in one of the groups the US doesn’t give a shit about. People still cannot judge UK issues using US bias.

    Our problems are UK problems, they are not a carbon copy of the US’s. The poverty issue is complicated and as much as I’m pissed off with our leaders and the rich who’ve helped create a two tier system, I’ve never smashed up the homes of people in the same shitty situation or burnt buildings making people homeless, jobless or bankrupt.

    I’m tired of being threatened, and frightened because some asshole who is pissed at the world figures he’s going to take it out on the nearest vulnerable person, which is usually a disabled person, a woman, anyone who is either equally or more marginalised than him.

    You think this shit hurts the rich guys and the assholes responsible for social problems? No, it hurts people like me and you. This is NOT the answer, killing people just like us on the streets, burning their homes and shops, putting them out of jobs, if you think it is then you’re delusional.

  66. XtinaS
    XtinaS August 15, 2011 at 6:01 pm |

    Dawn:

    67? Where the fuck are you even getting these numbers, 6 TO 7 times possibly but 67 times?

    What I can find:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/oct/17/stop-and-search-race-figures

    26 times more likely, according to data from 2008-2009.

  67. Dawn
    Dawn August 16, 2011 at 1:27 pm |

    @Xtinas,

    Still not 67 times and the most recent figures are about 8 offhand.

  68. Paraxeni
    Paraxeni August 30, 2011 at 11:08 am |

    Dawn aka Lilenth – it was “26 or 27″. I’m visually impaired and use speech-rec software that sometimes glitches due to my accent.

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