Common denominators among the rioters are youth and poverty
LONDON - Each of the young rioters who clogged Britain’s courthouses painted a bleak picture of a lost generation: a 15-year-old Ukrainian whose mother died, a 17-year-old who followed his cousin into the mayhem, an 11-year-old arrested for stealing a garbage can.
Britain is bitterly divided on the reasons behind the riots. Some blame the unrest on opportunistic criminality, while others say conflicting economic policies and punishing government spending cuts have deepened inequalities in the country’s most deprived areas.
Many of the youths themselves struggle to find any plausible answer, but a widespread sense of alienation emerges from their tales.
“Nobody is doing nothing for us - not the politicians, not the cops, no one,’’ said a 19-year-old who lives near Tottenham, the blighted neighborhood where the riots started. He only gave his nickname, “Freddy,’’ because he took part in the looting and was scared of facing prosecution.
Britain has one of the highest violent crime rates in the European Union. Roughly 18 percent of youths between 16 and 24 are jobless, and nearly half of all black youths are out of work.
As the government battles colossal government debt with harsh welfare cuts that promise to make the futures of these youths bleaker, some experts say it is narrow-minded to believe the riots have only been a random outburst of violence unrelated to the current economic crisis.
“There’s a fundamental disconnect with a particular section of young Britain and sections of the political establishment,’’ said Matthew Goodwin, a politics professor at University of Nottingham. “The argument that this doesn’t have anything to do with expenditure cuts or economics doesn’t stand up to the evidence. If that’s true, then what we have here are hundreds of young, crazed kids simply acting irrationally. I don’t think that’s the case.’’
Nearly 1,200 people have been arrested since the riots erupted Saturday, mostly poor youths from a broad section of Britain’s many ethnicities.
Courts have been running nearly 24 hours a day to hear all the cases since the rioting began. Most are heard in a blink of an eye and only give a snapshot of some of the youngsters’ lives. Many of the defendants have not had a chance to talk at length with their attorneys, and most cannot be named because they are minors.
An 11-year-old boy was among one of the youngest to appear in court yesterday. The youngster spoke only to confirm his name, age, and date of birth.
He pleaded guilty to burglary after stealing a waste bin worth about $80. A charge of violent disorder was dropped.
Attorneys for some defendants said their clients were good kids who have caring families but got caught up in the violence.
Daniel Cavaglieri, one of the lawyers for a 17-year-old who appeared at Highbury Magistrates Court, said the youth was studying mechanics and trying to finish school. He was accused of following his older cousin to loot a clothing shop and was charged with intent to steal.
“His mother is furious he was out and about at that time. She genuinely thought he was at a friend’s house,’’ Cavaglieri told the court. “He’s going to be grounded.’’
It’s unclear what role racial tensions have played in the riots, if any.
In Tottenham, most residents are white, but blacks from Africa or the Caribbean account for around a quarter of the ethnic mix. It is also home to Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, and Asian immigrants. The rage has appeared to cut across ethnic lines, with poverty as the main common denominator.
But there is a history of racial tension in many of these neighborhoods, and the riots themselves were triggered by the fatal police shooting of a black man.