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Vancouver: Early indicator of Blackberry-rioting potential in London?

August 8th, 2011 · 30 Comments

Every new news bulletin from England seems more unbelievable — not to mention the news flashes from Philadelphia and Chicago about curfews being imposed there to prevent rioting.

As I read the latest comprehensive story, I can’t help thinking of comparisons with Vancouver: the media fascination with the Twitter/Blackberry-led revolutions; the immediate jump to all kinds of theorizing about the whys (alienated youth, demoralized police, etc.) and the consequences (political, Olympics); the search for someone to blame.

All the flip side of the optimism from Western media pundits about the Twitter-propelled protests of the Arab spring (and now summer).

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  • Beneath surface similarities, I suspect the events are very different. It’s natural to think of recent events here, but a comparison to London may be about as relevant as comparing Vancouver’s experience to that following the Rodney King verdict to the Rodney King riots in L.A.

    Class is the most obvious difference. Many Vancouver rioters were middle class. Most of the London rioting seem to be in poorer neighborhoods by their inhabitants. The trigger was different too: here it was a hockey game (with some alcohol), there it was a political protest against a police shooting.

  • The Fourth Horseman

    Well, yes…and no, @ Geof. While there may be poorer folks rioting, they are also “mindlessly” looting. And their reactions—the high of beating back the cops—seem to mirror those our own rioters.

    Also, so far, we haven’t had a riot over a police shooting. That demonstration in England started out peacefully but turned ugly.

    It seems that the general mayhem was exacerbated by twitering and texting. It became a “be in”. The usual suspects taking pics. BTW, their rioters have been more aggressive, apparently attacking/beating journalists who are filming them. Lesson learned there, eh?!

    Sometimes, aresholes are just arseholes.

  • spartikus

    Sometimes, aresholes are just arseholes.

    Sometimes. Sometimes looting is just looting.

    Sometimes not. Sometimes looting is an expression of something else. There was looting in the LA Riots, but most observers today don’t attribute the desire to loot as the primary cause of that riot.

    I don’t know what the case is in the UK – early days – and all that. But it’s gone from London to Birmingham to Liverpool – and that means something. What it is I dunno, but there’s obviously kindling there. Personally I would be very hesitant to leap to any conclusions at this particular moment.

  • IanS

    Why does it have to be one thing (looting) or the other (expression of “something else”)? I suspect (based on news reports to date) that the rioting was triggered by outrage over the shooting and has likely developed into an opportunity to loot and smash things.

  • spartikus

    that the rioting was triggered by outrage over the shooting and has likely developed into an opportunity to loot and smash things.

    That might explain the spread in a specific locale, over hours.

    But this has been days, spreading from city to city.

    The base desire to “loot and smash things” doesn’t make much sense to me in that context.

    You can think of riots as fires. You need a source of ignition, you need a fuel, it needs to be fed.

    Vancouver’s riot was like a fire that starts in a small enclosed space -> it was intense, it was localized, it burnt out quickly.

    The UK riots seem more a forest fire.

    And I guess the point I’m trying to make with this metaphor is there are extremely “dry conditions” in the UK.

  • IanS

    @Spartikus #5,

    You might be right. I still think it’s overly simplistic to apply an “either or” analysis.

    Besides, I’ve read of instances where wildfires have spread long distances, even over firebreaks, in high winds (to stretch the metaphor a little further).

  • spartikus

    I don’t what to say to you, Ian. I specifically stated “I don’t know what the case is in the UK” and not to leap to any conclusions.

    How that is setting up an “either/or” is not clear to me.

  • IanS

    @Spartikus #7:

    I think it’s pretty clear from both our posts that the two of us are just speculating. There’s no need for you to say anything to me.

  • spartikus

    Okedoke. Sorry if I was defensive.

  • @spartikus #9

    No problem. It’s a hazard of online discussions.

  • IanS

    Gah… not paying attention.

    That last post was me.

  • gmgw

    The best first-hand reportage and most cogent analysis of the events in London I’ve yet come across can be accessed at: .

    The difference between what happened in Vancouver and what’s happening now in London and other UK cities could not be greater. Vancouver’s event was a drunken street party that got way out of hand; by contrast, what’s happening in London et. al. is the same thing that happened outside Paris and in other French urban centers several years ago, and in years past in Brixton and Notting Hill: Low-intensity urban warfare, rooted in class war, exacerbated by the forcible repression of and denial of full equality to, and ghettoization of, an economically challenged racial minority comprised in large part of immigrants and the children of immigrants.

    The undercurrent of racial tensions in France and the UK could be said to be analogous to plate tectonics: Pressure gradually builds along a fault line until a slippage occurs; suddenly the San Andreas cuts loose, bringing widespread destruction and terrorizing a populace left to wonder when the next one will strike. The difference, of course, is that earthquakes can’t be prevented, whereas events like the Tottenham insurrection could be, were there the political will to do so. Unfortunately, there’s no more likelihood of that coming about then there was the last time. And so the countdown will begin again…

  • spartikus

    I know, I know…we have to hold out the possibility that it might be base looting…and yet…

    (I’m just going to see if I can embed this video in this comment)

  • spartikus

    Apparently not.

    Here it is.

  • IanS

    @ Spartikus #12:

    But… but.. just yesterday, on this blog, you were trying to pretend that you hadn’t drawn any conclusions. Is that all it takes to flush out your real position?

    But I’m not being critical. It’s pretty obvious you have a perspective on this and that you, like most people, will work to fit the event into that perspective. If the pennyred blog post reinforces your opinion, then go for it. You might want to check out the discussion on too.

    As for me, I still find a more balanced, complex perspective more persuasive. For my money, the analysis advanced in this article from the Guardian:

  • IanS

    @spartikus #12,

    But.. aren’t you still pretending not to be taking a position? 😉

  • spartikus

    As the minutes and hours tick by, one does begins to form an opinion. For example, I have learned that since 1998 in the UK, 333 people have died in police custody.

    Almost all of them are black.

    No policeman has been convicted.

    That works out to 25/year. A blogger I read wryly observes:

    1) the police are beating a ton of people, and some of them can’t take it; or,

    2) they are deliberately beating certain specific individuals to death.

    Which do you think it is?

  • IanS

    @spartikus #15,

    And, not surprisingly, your newly formed opinion coincides almost exactly with your pre-conceived views. What a surprise.

    Having said that, while your half hearted attempt to pretend you hadn’t formed an opinion was mildly amusing, you are certainly entitled to your opinion, just like everyone else. I’ll leave you to it then.

  • spartikus

    And, not surprisingly, your newly formed opinion coincides almost exactly with your pre-conceived views. What a surprise.

    More than a bit strained, Ian. Perhaps you could point out above what, exactly, my “pre-conceived” view was.

    All I see from yesterday is the suggestion there may be more going on than the primal thrill of looting.

    Subsequently there have been statements like the one of Darcus Howe above and the fact that a lot of black people seem to die while in police custody.

    It’s suggestive, but not definitive.

    I don’t see any objection to your link The UK riots: the psychology of looting. It seems like as good a take as any.

    Perhaps the “pre-conception” here…is the one you have for me?

  • spartikus

    Anyway, I seem to have offended you, which I regret. I have respect for your skills of debate.

  • IanS

    @spartikus #20,

    You haven’t offended me and there is nothing to apologize for.

    I was just poking a bit of fun. I know humour often doesn’t translate well online, but I though the 😉 helped.

  • spartikus


    I think you might have missed that #12 was not posted by me.

  • IanS

    I saw that. But #13 was.

  • gmgw

    Op-ed from that notorious lefty rag, the New York Times:

  • brilliant

    How is it that hundreds of charges have already been laid in the UK riots but in ours not one.

  • spartikus

    A terribly sloppy agenda-filled academic study written by communists that only reinforces my preconceived notions of what to eat for lunch.

    Austerity and Anarchy: Budget Cuts and Social Unrest in Europe, 1919-2009*

    Does fiscal consolidation lead to social unrest? From the end of the Weimar Republic in Germany in the 1930s to anti-government demonstrations in Greece in 2010-11, austerity has tended to go hand in hand with politically motivated violence and social instability. In this paper, we assemble crosscountry evidence for the period 1919 to the present, and examine the extent to which societies become unstable after budget cuts. The results show a clear positive correlation between fiscal retrenchment and instability. We test if the relationship simply reflects economic downturns, and conclude that this is not the key factor. We also analyse interactions with various economic and political variables. While autocracies and democracies show a broadly similar responses to budget cuts, countries with more constraints on the executive are less likely to see unrest as a result of austerity measures. Growing media penetration does not lead to a stronger effect of cut-backs on the level of unrest.

  • Max

    @brillaint #25:

    Not just hundreds arrested, charges laid and off to jail.

    Just watching Hardtalk on BBC. They are blaming most of the looting on kids that think they are entitled to everything. They are blaming the parents for not instilling any type of morals and for expecting the ‘government’ to do everything for them.

    But it isn’t just kids being picked up, they have also charged a social worker, ballerina and primary school teacher.

    They stated that texts were being sent to target shops – break in an grab a new pair of trainers or electronics, rather than ‘burning’ down a police station in retaliation for the shooting.

    This riot has gone way past the why it first started, a police shooting. It is now just crimes of opportunity.

    They are looking at bringing in the army.

  • Bill

    @brilliant #25

    It starts to make sense when you realize that the legal industry, like the other taxpayer funded industries of health, education, poverty and aboriginal affairs, are designed to meet the financial needs of the service providers so the victims, patients, students, poor and aboriginals get the short end of the stick.

  • IanS

    Here’s an article which, IMO, makes a lot of sense, not only with respect to the riots themselves, but also to peoples’ perceptions of them:

  • Max

    If anyone is intersted, the Guardian has a running data up-date on the persons charged in the riot. Names, ages, work, the why, etc.