Yes, the rioting began after the police shot and killed a 29 year old man under disputed circumstances, as is often the case in poor neighborhoods where rumors and police coverups have a long tradition worldwide. And, yes, there is no excuse for the criminal actions of anyone involved, including in particular those seeking to take advantage of tragic circumstances no matter who is at fault. (See Washington Post article on rioting, which also has a photo gallery)
But, it’s no accident that these things happen in the poorest of poor neighborhoods where unemployment is consistently at demoralizing highs. These are places too often where hope hasn’t been seen in years if not generations. Hopelessness is grinding and wears down the individual soul and the entire community. (See NYT’s article )
These are neighborhoods and people where there are no vacations from the heat, police, unemployment, poverty, and hopelessness, yet the UK Prime Minister “denounced the violence as ‘utter unacceptable'” from his month-long vacation in Italy. For people who have no understanding of what poverty really is or what it means to be hopeless and look into the eyes of your children and see an emptiness that you can do nothing about, this statement from that location during that activity is simply inexplicable, other than to confirm the feelings of alienation and hopelessness. This isn’t to make any excuses for anyone. The rioting was unquestionably utterly unacceptable.
The point is to raise a key question.
As the US and much of the world embark on an age of austerity that will increase unemployment, shred what is left of the safety net of social services, and introduce a harshness into politics worldwide, we might just want to pause and ask if the social costs of a lost generation is worth it to balance our books in the short term to pay off debts created by a financial industry meltdown where the superrich still get richer, where income inequality gets historically wider, where there is no accountability for the financial wilding of the superrich that ushered in the meltdown, where the superrich aren’t paying any of the tab for the meltdown, where austerity is being inflected only on others, and, finally, where the superrich aren’t only not remorseful, but are arrogant about their riches, their place at the top and demanding more, more, more.