Three weeks have passed since England witnessed mayhem, looting and rioting on its streets. Images of rioters burning down their own communities, trashing their local amenities and clashing head-to-head were transmitted worldwide. Video footage of hooded males smashing shops and loading up cars with plasma televisions, designer clothes and sneakers stunned the British public. It was hard for us to digest that such a level of disorder could be allowed to escalate from London to Birmingham and Manchester and other pockets of England.
The British are conflicted as to how to describe the events that happened. Were they riots, public disturbances or insurrections? The debate within the major cities rages on about why a ballerina, a real estate broker and a teaching assistant joined the mob to destroy their local high streets and town centers.
What drove the events: criminality or poverty? Did a generation with a love for luxury goods and unhappy with austere times ahead perhaps choose to take back what had been taken from their pockets by the bankers and the politicians?
Community meetings are springing up all over England as it emerges that black audiences, in particular, are more than disgruntled with the wall-to-wall news coverage on British television networks.
Earlier this year I was working on a series of projects for which I had been interviewing academics, former police officers, filmmakers, youth workers and politicians about the possibility of riots occurring on England’s streets this summer. Why? The 30th anniversary of the riots in Manchester, Liverpool, London and Bristol was looming.
In 1981 England was hit by the worst riots since World War II. It was an iconic time in British history; unemployment among young blacks was alarmingly high, and the relationship between police and young black men was one of contempt on both sides. Many of those I interviewed who reflected on the events during that tumultuous summer had been on both sides of the violent uprisings in 1981. They shared with me that they were feeling anxious that the signs that were present then were emerging once again.