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Reading the Riots

Posted: December 21 2011

Whilst busy working on our riots film, we’ve been following reports that have been released including the National Centre of Social Research, the Riots, Communities and Victims Panel, and most recently, the Guardian/LSE’s ‘Reading the Riots’ study. The last of these in particular has refuelled debates on the summer’s events. Far from a simple one-way presentation, each finding from this first phase (in-depth interviews with 270 rioters, and analysis of 2.5m riot related tweets) has been deliberated at length by the general public and key figureheads alike.

Key findings:

  • Many rioters conceded their involvement in looting was simply opportunism – an opportunity to acquire goods they could not ordinarily afford, and a chance to obtain ‘free stuff’
  • Rioters were generally poorer than the country at large
  • Other motivating grievances were also at play – from increase in tuition fees, closure of youth services – many complained of perceived social and economic injustices. Widespread anger and frustration at the police– particularly relating a sense of a lack of respect and discriminatory treatment
  • Gangs behaved in an atypical manner during the riots – temporarily suspending hostilities, creating what was effectively a four-day ‘truce’
  • Although mainly young and male, those involved came from a cross-section of local communities
  • Facebook and Twitter were not used in any significant way, but  Blackberry Messenger (BBM) was used extensively
  • 81% of those interviewed said they thought that the riots would happen again

Source: Guardian – Reading The Riots report

Many of these findings were familiar to us from our conversations with Leon and Helena in Woolwich, 100 days after the riots. The study highlighted some key points relating to the riots:

…initial assumptions must be questioned: David Cameron may now feel he spoke too hastily when he asserted on the 11th August that ‘gangs were at the heart of the protests and have been behind the co-ordinated attacks.’  Social media use was also different to how it was perceived initially.

…one ‘event’, but many stakeholders: police politicians teachers, businesses and brands, parents, and young people – very few, if anyone, in our society can say that they are unaffected by this issue. Accordingly, we think everyone should take responsibility in looking at what positive role they can play in the riots’ aftermath.

…a multifaceted issue requires multiple perspectives: the study importantly allows us to hear what the rioters themselves have to say, but this should not overshadow other important perspectives which we can learn from, such as those like Leon and Helena,. young people who did not riot but were in similar social circumstances. I raised the point in a live webchat with the Guardian researchers that this viewpoint had not been given much attention but was equally important – they agreed. Phase 2 of the Guardian/LSE study will involve community debates and interviews with magistrates and district judges.

…action must follow discussions: One of the most worrying findings from the study is that that 81% thought that the riots would recur. Whilst it is extremely important that we discuss and uncover the motives behind the riots, we need to take actions on the findings to ensure that no repeats of this year’s events are to follow.

The last point highlights that there is more to be said and to be done on this issue in the New Year, and we’ll be following this closely and commenting on the debate and findings from the next phases of these studies.

Since I last blogged we’ve released our full-length film 100 Days after the Riots with a more detailed look at the role of community, opportunity, and poverty.

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