The answer is more nuanced than that question makes it sound. It’s hard to say anything for sure about events in another country an ocean away, but it looks like what’s happening in England right now is a combination of sincere frustration and out-and-out hooliganism.
To start with, the tension has been building in North London, where police and the black community have been at odds for decades. The police have been trying to crack down on gun crime, but the trouble goes back as far as the ‘80s, when the Broadwater Farm riots broke out in response to a death in the black community stemming from a police incident.
Three days of rioting is astonishing, especially when the chaos has roots in a peaceful protest. But not all the rioters are expressing indignation. With the widespread looting of businesses a considerable distance from the epicenter of the initial uprising, you know there are opportunists at work. These are people with no connection to or concern about what happened when police shot and killed Mark Duggan; they’re simply hoods looking to cause trouble for fun and maybe steal some shoes while they’re at it.
The latest reports also say that the rioters have been organizing via Twitter and by using their Blackberry devices. These social technologies seem to be the latest way to help stir up trouble, and unfortunately, the kids using this tech seem to have a better grasp of how it works than the adults that are supposed to be policing them. However, social media has also proven to be an effective way to track down rioters and bring them to justice, as seen following this year's hockey riots in Vancouver.
As for the riots themselves, there may be a point to be made about the actions of the police, but when violence like this erupts, the dialogue gets strained. The best-case scenario is that the government puts time and energy into fixing the situation and the relationship between police and the black community in Tottenham and around London, but you can’t help wishing there was a more positive process to that goal.
As for the shooting of Mark Duggan, there’s still a lot of information left to surface. For now, it seems as if the man was carrying an illegal firearm, but didn’t discharge it. In other words, the police were probably wrong to use lethal force, even though they had targeted a dangerous person.
Facebook, Twitter and other social media have inspired protests in Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Iran, Algeria, Morocco, Yemen, Jordan and even faraway China.
Social media is unleashing movements for peace, democracy and freedom in a region of the world that essentially seemed like it was content to live without them.
Social media is changing the Middle East – perhaps it will have a similar positive effect on politics in the West – promoting a more vibrant democracy that includes participation of a younger generation – one that does not currently vote enough to sustain a true democracy.
In the end, violence and death are regrettable; we all hope for peace and justice. Whatever the final outcome of the 2011 riots in London, moments like these leave everyone frustrated and saddened. Here’s to a swift restoration of peace on the streets of London.