10 August 2011
Who are troublemakers behind UK riots?
Images of youths wearing balaclavas and hooded sweatshirts ransacking shops, rioting and torching buildings continue to provoke outrage in the UK.
Those behind the masks have been demonized by some as opportunistic criminals from ghettoized communities dependent on welfare handouts.
London Mayor Boris Johnson said those involved were guilty of "wanton criminality" for which there was no justification. Right wing newspaper columns have blamed youngsters "who believe there is no need to work."
But academics and community leaders say the identities of those who have taken to the streets and their reasons for doing so are far more complex -- representing a tinderbox of economic and social tensions whose explosion was almost inevitable.
On the third night of violence across London, as police in riot gear fended off hails of missiles in streets filled with smoke from burning cars, it was clear their adversaries hailed from different backgrounds -- young and old, black and white.
Likewise, in retail parks where looters forced open the chain store security gates and helped themselves to flat screen televisions and sporting goods, both men and women could be seen running away with bags of stolen goods.
Says Paul Bagguley, a sociologist from the University of Leeds, while the identities of those involved may vary, different types of disorder tends to attract different social groups -- patterns he says matches previous uprisings in Britain.
"In terms of direct conflict with the police, it is mostly young men, but in terms of looting, it's more mixed -- young men and young women involved," he said.
Bagguley said, however, that those involved share low-income backgrounds, suggesting that while the violence may have been triggered by anger over a fatal police shooting last week, the long-term impact of the global economic downturn has helped fan the flames. ** London (CNN)