London recreational looting in August 2011

Hozinja took this photo and made this comment ‘Caught in the middle of rioting on my way home last night. Fortunately the trouble was brief on Walworth Road and no buildings were set alight. Just young kids sensessly looting. These two girls stormed out of Boots with a few pickings as the police were making their way down the road.’ The two girls are wicked but they are not ‘senseless’. They are looting a shop and they know that they are unlikely to be arrested. If, as elsewhere, a large group is involved then it would be riot (‘A violent disturbance of the peace by a crowd’) and I agree with Christine that the Riot Act should be read and enforced. This act was a British statue from 1715-1973. It may have been in need of modification but it should not have been repealed. Our forebears were right to involve a non-policeman in the decision. Typically a magistrate would read the Riot Act and anyone who remained at the scene would be guilty for that reason alone. The wording was ‘Our Sovereign Lord the King chargeth and commandeth all persons, being assembled, immediately to disperse themselves, and peaceably to depart to their habitations, or to their lawful business, upon the pains contained in the act made in the first year of King George, for preventing tumults and riotous assemblies. God Save the King!’
But how to deal with the riot is less important than the prevention of future riots. I agree with John Bird (founder of the Big Issue magazine) that every person who receives unemployment benefit should do something in return for the money. But what could they do? My suggestion, thinking about my area of interest, is that 20% of the greenspace in London could be used for urban agriculture and that the work could be done by the presently unemployed.
Straying outside my professional interests, there are many elderly and infirm people who could stay on in their own homes, instead of being brutalised in ‘care’ homes, if they had personal helpers.
The underlying truth is that ‘the devil makes work for idle hands’ – assuming he counts looting a Boots shop as ‘work’.

30 thoughts on “London recreational looting in August 2011

  1. Christine

    The desire to steal whether it is looting or shoplighting seems to relate to more than a person’s social circumstances [ ] and [ ].

    Rather than making quasi jobs for people without jobs it would be better to create real jobs for them in which they have a future to look forward to (like everyone else).

    How many people do you know that would choose to be unemployed? [ ] and [ ] If so, why?

    So perhaps the question is how to create jobs in urban areas?

  2. Lawrence

    I am surprised that there are not more riots. People today may be forgiven for forming the simplistic view that the world is being run by a select group of self-interested individuals who are getting richer while the rest are getting poorer. Politicians do little to offer an alternative view, not to mention any kind of vision.

    The OECD [ ] has the UK as seventh highest of its members when it comes to income inequality. This rate of inequality is rising at above the OECD mean. More staggering is the UK gap in voting rates between those aged under 35 and those aged over 55 – this is 3 times the OECD average gap. One can sense a young generation on the one hand losing access to the process of wealth distribution and on the other hand without confidence in the democratic process. Against this background one should not be too surprised that recreational looting is seen as a viable diversion.

    I was surprised to read that water cannons have never been used in the UK outside of Ireland – they are the modern equivalent of the Riot Act in many European countries and are not infrequently used, even in the best behaved of cities.

    Tom may be pleased to read that “Pro-social behavior in the UK is high, the 5th highest in the OECD, with 57% of people volunteering time, giving money, and helping a stranger in the previous month.”

  3. Tom Turner Post author

    If one views crime from a biological perspective, instead of from a social or religious perspective, then it appears as a Darwinian strategy which cannot be eliminated (unless it is replaced by more successful strategies) so I have little hope of crime being eliminated.
    But what is the difference between a real job and a quasi job? I regard the entire bottled water industry as providing something worse than quasi jobs: they are non jobs and the a large contribution to sustainability could be made by stopping it. (How is the inspirational Bundanoon getting on with its ban?) But growing organic food without the use of oil, oil-based nitrogen, expensive transport etc – I see this as a hyper-real job!
    Newham, one of the poorest boroughs in London, has a public relations budget of £5.6m/year. IF they cost £60,000/year each then this is 93 staff. Are these real jobs or quasi-jobs?

  4. Christine

    There is a difference between volunteering (see [ ] ) and doing community service (see Wynona Ryder.) Basically the difference is volunteering should be entirely voluntary.

    Whereas community service is used so that people who have committed an offence against society make amends to the community and hopefully learn community spirit along the way. Should people without jobs be made to do community service in the hope that they wont commit a crime? Perhaps that is putting the cart before the horse?

    A real job provides a living wage (re Newham) and it is just that a job, not something that people do in return for survival only social benefits.

    Yes. Gardening and agriculture is a hyper real job so it is important not to make something that people do for pleasure and enjoyment into other people’s punishment.

  5. Tom Turner Post author

    Lawrence, I wish they could think of a better way of expressing their discontent – but I entirely agree that they have much to be discontented about. Inequality of income is a problem with an international dimension. Executives find it easy to get jobs in other countries (eg the USA) which pay higher salaries and any country which pays below the ‘going rate’ is in danger of losing its top talent. This is slightly less of a problem in countries, like Germany, which have a higher proportion of privately owned firms (the famous Mittelstand) and in countries where good spoken English is less common.
    Christine, I think looking after old people is another example of a hyper-real job. Everyone should have a job and everyone should be paid for their job, and no one, except those who cannot work, should be paid for doing nothing. I am not arguing for community service: I arguing for everyone who is able to do a job doing a job. They will find that working is better than being idle. Doesn’t Australia have a system for withdrawing unemployment benefit after a year or so? – which is a way of encouraging people not to plan for a life on the dole. I think some 7% of London households are made up of people who have never worked in 3 generations.
    Look at the face of the girl in the above photograph. She is enjoying the adventure and enjoying having something to do. It was disappointing today that David Cameron began the debate by saying what he had decided to do. (They should have had the discussion first and taken the decisions later). And I was sorry to hear Cameron say that ‘I have said before that there is a major problem in our society with children growing up not knowing the difference between right and wrong.’ The girls in the photograph would not be wearing masks if they lacked this information. Rather, they know that they have a bad deal and they do not know what they can do to make it better. Nor do I know what they can do. So other people have to do something for them. Water canon would help disperse riots but it would not solve their problem.

  6. Christine

    The problem London is experiencing seems to be multi-faceted. The initial trigger was a death followed by a public disturbance expressing frustration regarding this incident. The riots that followed subsequently seem to be more opportunistic. Who has taken up the opportunity to join in this sort of activity and why?

    Some of them are children, others are teenagers, I have not heard mention of anyone arrested yet without a job (teaching assistant, graphic designer) and one was a public school girl. The profiles are very different than stereotypes would suggest.

    It will be interesting to see the final sociological perspective of the group arrested from the riots. Perhaps then the picture will become clearer.

    And yes Tom you are right, hoodies and masks suggest the participants clearly know the difference between legal right and wrong if not moral right and wrong.

  7. Tom Turner Post author

    Politicians, like contributors to phone-in programmes, are talking about ‘locking them up and throwing away the key’, which seems a very bad idea to me. I would much rather have the full sociological anaysis you suggest and would follow it by a very carefully designed ‘punishments to fit the crimes’. Instead of putting the girls in the above photograph in prison for 6 months, which is the type of thing being discussed, I would like to have them cleaning the chewing gum off pavements for 6 months if they are seen to work hard and 12 months if they are slackers. This would also be a good punishment for any teaching assistants or graphic designers who have been involved. I once spent a winter working out of doors in cold/damp/frosty weather – and I think it would be good for them!
    Re the amazing range of participants, I think it is a sign that they are bored with their lives. A surprising number of older people say that the Second World War provided the ‘best’ years of their lives, though they hated the suffering, death and destruction.
    PS I keep thinking that ‘riots’ are political but the medieval origin of the word is much closer to what has been going on in London: ‘the pursuit of a wanton, dissolute, or extravagant lifestyle; debauchery, dissipation’

  8. Jerry

    I agree with you about the punishment for teaching assistants and graphic designers! Maybe, bad landscape designers should also be counted in the outside work punishement!

  9. Tom Turner Post author

    A good punishment for any bad landscape architects involved in riots would be to hand-weed those vast beds of prickly shrubs (berberis, pyracantha etc) which they specify, preferably when it is windy and wet.

  10. Christine

    Tom what are you attempting to achieve by the punishment? Do you believe that consideration should be given to the seriousness and premeditation of their involvement as well as their self-rationalisation?

    Perhaps good role models and volunteering within the profession (as a form of restitutive justice) might do more, as a first step, to instill positive values in the bad landscape architect?
    [ ]

    It seems especially harsh that the mother can be evicted because of the crimes of the son. Did she even know he was a participant? To what extent can a parent be considered responsible (and therefore also punishable) for the behaviour of their children? [ ]

  11. Tom Turner Post author

    The things I would like to achieve by organized removal of chewing gum from the streets of London are (1) cleaner pavements (2) suffering by those involved (3) experience of hard work by those involved (4) avoidance of the ‘life of crime’ which so often results from a spell in jail (5) avoidance of the cost of keeping thousands of extra people in jail (6) an opportunity for other potential law-breakers to see what happens to offenders (another aspect of justice being ‘seen to be done’).
    Yes, I do think that seriousness and premeditation should affect the sentencing and yes, I like the idea of restitutive justice. Punishments should be carefully ‘designed’ to fit the details of the crimes. I also agree that evicting mothers or fathers because of what their wild kids have done is unfair. But if parents have been negligent or have turned blind eyes to the misdeeds of their children then that is a cause for concern – and for action if anyone could think of appropriate action to take (should parents be on hand with buckets and scrubbers when the chewing gum is being removed?).
    Please look again at the girl on the right-hand side of the above photograph: she looks like a healthy young person with every prospect of a useful and happy life. Society needs to find out what led her to this action and to ensure she does not become recidivist. Politicians say she needs to experience ‘the full force of the law’. I think she needs to experience the truth that ‘to be happy and prosperous one must be busy and industrious’. Politicians should recognise that the school system has let them down. It is based on the idea that everyone should learn academic subjects which will let them go to university and ‘get a good job’. This may be true for half the population but it is a lie for the other half: they need to learn skills which prepare them for the jobs which are likely to be available when they leave school.

  12. Christine

    The girls are probably friends. This probably also says something about the age of the girls and the influence of peer pressure on their behaviour. Both girls look healthy and with every prospect of a useful and happy life.

    It is true that to ‘be prosperous’ one must generally be busy and industrious. It is not necessarily true that to ‘be happy’ one must be busy and industrious [ ] and [ ].

    Experiencing island time in Vanautu taught me that sometimes it was the expat community who were more concerned with productivity and the material benefits it brought them that the local community who lived in a highly fertile ‘paradise’ where it was relatively easy to procure your day to day needs.

    A ‘useful’ life depends on how the meaning of life by any community or individual is understood. Aung San Suu Chii is not considered very useful in her society at present.

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      Christine, I agree peer pressure that a desire for adventure are likely to have been significant factors. Humans undoubtedly like adventure and many supposedly ‘recreational’ activities appear to be not very pleasurable eg racing a small boat in a cold rough sea – as on the Fastnet Race.
      Re life on Vanautu, I wonder if this is closer to a hunter-gatherer society. Archaeologists say that life was probably better before the Neolithic Revolution: less work, better food, better health. The Garden of Eden story seems to reflect this situation: man lived in paradise and after taking up agriculture learned that ‘In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.’ (Genesis 3:19).

  13. Christine

    Do you think God took climate and acclimatisation into account when he said “in the sweat of your face”?

    Another questions, albeit a theological one, is whether the Christian era ushers in a return to the state of original innocence? So, for a Christian should work be a form of punishment or an activity of co-creation?

    A second reformed church view on the subject:
    [ ]
    I suppose there are a variety of demoninational views on this topic? Perhaps they influence political views?

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      St Benedict’s monastic code was clear about the virtues of work:
      ‘Idleness is the enemy of the soul; and therefore the brethren ought to be employed in manual labor at certain times, at others, in devout reading. Hence, we believe that the time for each will be properly ordered by the following arrangement; namely, that from Easter till the calends of October, they go out in the morning from the first till about the fourth hour, to do the necessary work, but that from the fourth till about the sixth hour they devote to reading. After the sixth hour, however, when they have risen from table, let them rest in their beds in complete silence; or if, perhaps, anyone desireth to read for himself, let him so read that he doth not disturb others. Let None be said somewhat earlier, about the middle of the eighth hour; and then let them work again at what is necessary until Vespers. If, however, the needs of the place, or poverty should require that they do the work of gathering the harvest themselves, let them not be downcast, for then are they monks in truth, if they live by the work of their hands, as did also our forefathers and the Apostles. However, on account of the faint-hearted let all things be done with moderation.’
      It is common for young people in Thailand to spend a year living in a monastery and this could be a good arrangement for UK youth. Yesterday’s news was dominated by the Prime Minister saying he wanted the police to take advice on gang control from an American and the police saying it was a terrible idea. I think the police, having botched this episode, should learn from wherever they can and it would surely be good if they spent some time in a monastery before joining the police.

  14. Christine

    I can imagine a lot of bemused monks in Christian monasticism…with a young police force to care for as well as postulants. In the East they might have a more vocationally relevant opportunity to acquire some marital art skills? [ ]

    Perhaps young people could spend a year in a Thai monastery as part of their gap year (before apprenticeship or university) combined with an experience volunteering? [ ] Although they only accept males in the temple…

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      Me too. But I think the relationship between Christianity and everyday life has become problematic. The remarks priests make on public policy seem badly ill-judged and yet they have far too little to say on moral and spiritial questions. Better contact with the police could do the church as much good as it might, just conceivably, do to the police force. Shaolin skills miight well be of use in crowd control.

  15. Christine

    It is interesting to ponder whether the requirements for religious life might be different from the requirements for a secular life.

    The question of earning a living and supporting a family is perhaps central here.

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      I think of ‘religion’ as a western concept, involving rigid rules and a separation from other aspects of life. And I think of ‘spiritual’ primarily as a contrast to ‘material’. ‘Spiritual’ is difficult to define and ‘material’ is easy to define, so the contrast is easy. But for everyone, including Adolf Hitler, there are material and spiritual components to their motivation.

  16. Tom Turner Post author

    The Guardian has published a survey of 1,000 who have been brought to court and found them to be “overwhelmingly young, male and unemployed”. The report does not mention the issue of ethnicity, presumably to be politically correct. I did a search on ‘london riots sociological analysis’ and came up with this information:
    A report on ethnicity in the London riots using official data is available here:
    Very short summary:
    1) Over 50% rioters are black, below 30% are white (CCTV in 2)
    2) Black people are 10-65 times more likely to participate in riots (CCTV, data in 2)
    2) High unemployment in London -> riots? (map in 1D)
    3) Black areas -> riots? (map in 1A)
    4) Low social class != riots, low training !=riots (maps in 1B, 1C)
    5) Black areas = high unemployment (map in 1E-2)
    6) High unemployment + black areas = riots (maps in 3E)
    7) High unemployment + non-black areas = no riots (maps in 1E, map in 3B)

    The Allafrica website comments that: ‘Nigerians living in London have blamed African leaders for the riots that has rocked the United Kingdom since last Saturday. According to them, the riots which were allegedly led by 99 percent blacks, was a reaction to years of poor leadership in Africa and the harsh economic realities in the United Kingdom also. British austerity measures have hit low-income areas like Tottenham hard.’

  17. Christine

    It is interesting that Nigerians refer to the failure of African leaders in their home countries as an explanation for Nigerian nationalist involvement.[ ]

    Perhaps civics education and engagement in positive civics programs would be helpful within the Nigerian community? Would the housing estates be appropriate places to introduce sport based programs and civics programs so that ease of access and community ownership is fostered?

  18. Tom Turner Post author

    The BBC had an interview this morning with the mother of a girl who started getting into trouble in her early teens. Smoking led to shoplifting and then to drugs and prison. A carefully managed prison sentence with education and periods at home eventually sorted her out. The interviewer then asked the Mum why she thought things had gone so wrong and the Mum, who is a teacher, replied ‘I don’t know, but the thing she always said was “Mum, I’m not academic like you”‘. This story supports my prejudice that the school system is too academic. It provides for people who will go into the professions and it offers little on nothing in the way of useful skills, mental engagement or prospects of any kind for those who are heading for ‘other walks of life’. So boredom and despair set in and the devil then makes work for idle hands, in his customary manner.
    Do you think there is any comparability between the problems of the ‘underclass’ in Britain and the problems of indiginous Australians?

  19. christine

    It is always difficult when class and culture are confused. Immigrants join the class system of the country they migrate to.

    All cultures have a social system. So inherently if there is a valid distinction between vocational and academically oriented students then these distinctions ought to be uniform across cultures or exhibit culture specific patterns.

    So the answer is generally no. Excepting the response to policing strategies which are said to be heavy handed in both communities (and perhaps resulting in alienation of young people from law enforcement officers). And also a lack of police accountability when deaths occur.
    [ ]

    High incarceration rates are most probably the symptom of a socio-cultural problem rather than a reflection of a greater cultural propensity to criminality.

    It is difficult when a society allows incarceration to become the norm within communities so that internally it is not stigmatised as a phenomenon.

  20. Tom Turner Post author

    Here is a comment on the riots from Tim Price (a former bond trader): “Extraordinary scenes here in the UK, with a parasitical underclass robbing, torching and looting businesses. But enough of the bankers – why did a segment of Britain’s ‘lost’ urban generation suddenly turn feral ? The comparison between out of control financiers and disaffected violent youths is not merely a tired snipe against our unreconstructed banking class. There are wider social tensions busily simmering away. Perhaps some of the rioters who took to the streets of London, Birmingham and Manchester last week have started to twig that they face a lifetime of higher taxes (if they can get jobs at all) and diminished social services courtesy of decades of swelling “entitlement”, the accumulated benefits of the baby-boomers that preceded them, and the damage wrought by self-interested financiers playing at casino capitalism of no social merit whatsoever. Not so much Generation X as Generation Ex: ex-jobs, ex-growth, ex-prospects. We have had politicians pocketing illicit expenses, and bankers trousering unjustifiable bonuses even as the financial system totters at the cliff edge. Is trashing Miss Selfridge really so different?”

  21. Christine

    I was in London during the Gordon Gekko years (the Nigel Lawson stockmarket boom)before the bust that followed in the early 1990s.
    [—but-when ]

    It seems that the fundamentals of the economy become out of balance, and in this instance the Financial Crisis is global property bust rather than local bust! The stockmarket crisis has followed on the banking crisis.

    What is needed of course is a solution to the global economic crisis in the developed world that is productivity based (as it is in the developing world and Germany – ie engineering), rather than resource based (ie in Australia) or service sector based (ie in the UK).

    Given that the developed world has largely outsourced its production to the developing world and is then spending to import the products from the developed world the source of the credit imbalance is easy to locate.

    So what sort of production should the developed world now target to underpin economic growth?

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      Banking, insurance, financial services and professional services are good businesses to be in – providing the jobs are well managed. This requires good ethical standards, good regulation, good education, freedom from monopolies and, if things go seriously wrong, a good prospect of the businesses going bust and the managers losing their money and/or going to jail. When the UK banks went bust it emerged that none of the CEOs were trained bankers. I do not think there was much criminality behind the late-2000s financial crisis but all the other problems were present in the UK: low ethical standards from bankers, too many banks were ‘too big to fail’, too few bankers lost money and many of them made fortunes from government bail-outs. I have been trying to extend the old bankers’ adage that ‘in good times we do well and in bad times we do better’. Maybe it is OK as it stands or should we add that ‘and in terrible times we milk taxpayers‘?

      I would like to know more about the balance which the world’s largest company (Apple) runs with East Asia. Most Apple products are manufactured in Asia but (1) the manufacturer only makes a small margin on each item (2) Apple makes a a fabulous margin on each item eg 60% on the iPhone (3) Apple makes a great deal of money by selling products in Asian markets. So who is doing best from the deals? It must be Apple. So the west needs more orchards – and there should be a lot work for good gardeners!


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