Posts Tagged ‘Birmingham riots’

Profile of an England Rioter: Young, Male, Unemployed (in other news: Bears in wood: What do they do there?)

August 20, 2011 1 comment

Some interesting material has started to emerge in the fallout of the England riots. We’ve had David Starkey’s mad rant, incredible sentences for incitement to riot, and general gnashing of teetch and hair-brained ideas as to why the riots happened. But one story which struck me was this one, especially since it goes against the Governmental rhetoric that the riots weren’t about poverty but were rather about criminality, violence and anti-social behaviour.

Now, I can’t say that the report that the individuals involved in the riots were male, young and unemployed (I even said this last week) was especially surprising, and a map posted on Wednesday 10th August shows quite clearly just how far the riots were happening in areas of of deprivation. But with the research carried out by the Guardian, we now have some empirical data which gives us a better view of exactly who was involved in the events of last week.

So, the first thing is age. The largest percentage of those accused of involvement were in the 18 – 24 age bracket.

Next up, gender, and males are overwhelmingly represented here.

The Guardian hadn’t (at time of writing) provided the analysis of (un)employment figures, so perhaps the article is slightly misleading by suggesting that the accused were unemployed, but I’m sure that this data will be forthcoming in the near future.

There is a caveat here, that since these figures are only based on a sample of 400 people, it’s hard to know how far the analysis is representative of all defendants who end up in court, and this picture will only emerge once all those arrested have gone through the system. Nonetheless, in its current guise, we surely have definitive evidence that these riots, while perhaps not motivated by poverty, still have poverty at the centre.

More worryingly (and something the Government is less likely to be able to affect any significant social change) is that the rioters are young and male. Poverty can be ‘solved’ by capital investment and so on, but it’s more difficult to change the culture of ‘tough’ masculinity towards which young urban males seem to be orientated. This requires positive role models (and those role models don’t necessarily need to be male), a strong sense of community and involvement in that community, and particularly moving towards an alternative value system which doesn’t put ‘street respect’ at its core. My own feeling is that ‘respect’ on the streets is something which is won through intimidation, physical strength and a clear demonstration of “don’t fuck with me”, but when faced with those not familiar with this ‘code of the streets’, young urban males have little in the way of recourse to alternative value systems by which other parts of society abide, and that’s one of the reasons young urban males are so marginalised. They don’t generally follow the same norms of interaction that other parts of urban society do.

Now, that’s not to say that it’s only young urban males who need to change. Those who might not fit this categorisation, like middle-aged, middle-class and white, also need to change (and I think many people are uncomfortable admitting this). There needs to be a stop to this culture of demonisation of the urban poor which pervades middle-class culture, and you only have to read some the comments on the Daily Mail blogs to see that some people believe that the best way of dealing with rioters is to lock ’em up and throw away the key. As I said last week, that is only a short-term and simplistic ‘solution’ to a complex and long-term issue, so we have to tackle this issue as an entire society rather than thinking it’s “them” who have to change (who “they” are depends on your perspective). The rioters, as condemnable as their actions are, have families, hopes, dreams, wants, and fears. They are people, and like everyone else, they have their flaws. These flaws might be massively at odds with what we expect as a ‘civilised’ society, but I think it’s short-sighted to believe that their actions are the result of some sort of chemical imbalance, or inherent criminality, or mindless thuggery. These are symptoms of deeper issues and we need an honest look not only why the event of last week happened, but also how we might be able to prevent it in the future. And taking away benefits, housing, and putting those involved in riots even further to the sidelines is not it.

– The Social Linguist

Birmingham Riots

August 9, 2011 4 comments

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem worthwhile talking about anything else when British society seems to be crumbling at the foundations. The riots in London and Birmingham (and latterly in Bristol, Nottingham, and Liverpool) have gripped public consciousness in a way that makes discussing sociolinguistics a rather unimportant endeavour. And since I live in Birmingham, recent events have hit quite close to home which has made me question the direction in which we as a society seem to be going.

The first thing to say is that the riots in Birmingham do not, to me at least, appear to be motivated in the same way as the Tottenham riots. In Tottenham, the shooting of Mark Duggan (it’s unclear at the moment how far he appeared to have posed a direct threat to the safety of the police) and the subsequent police reaction to family enquiries as to the circumstances under which he shot, appear to have generated a critical mass of public discontent.

In Birmingham, by contrast, there was no clear catalyst as to why the violence erupted in the way it did. Instead, this seems to be a ‘copy-cat’ case of violence, looting and theft on a scale unseen since the mid-80s. Much of the commentary has focused on the fact that it is young men who have been at the centre of the riots and that their motivations are purely selfish and mindless, but I would say that this focuses only on the symptoms of a deeper issue within British society.

It’s no coincidence that the riots are being led primarily by young black males (in Birmingham at least), many of whom will likely be unemployed, or if they are working, on minimal wage. With the divide between the rich and the poor getting wider and wider, with cuts attacking some of the only services which aim to help and support young people, and with Governmental policy seemingly ignoring the plight of the urban poor, it’s little wonder that the riots haven’t happened earlier. If we reject out of hand that these riots are motivated by anything else other than ‘mindless thuggery’, we ignore the fact that there are deeper reasons as to why we find ourselves where we do. Disaffected, disconnected from society, marginalised and stigmatised due to their age, sex and ethnicity, young black men find themselves in an untenable position. If they keep quiet about their place in society, nothing changes. If they speak up, no-one listens. If they riot, it’s ‘mindless thuggery’. While it’s likely that those involved in the riots are not politically motivated to do so, that does not mean their involvement is not a political statement.

If more time, money and effort was invested in the livelihoods of youths in the UK today, then maybe young men who could potentially be involved in the riots would stand back and question whether it was worthwhile. It’s schemes like Arrival Education and the Prince’s Trust which show an alternative path for young men to walk on, it’s schemes like this which need to be protected and secured for current and future generations, and it’s schemes like this that the Government is cutting under the guise of ‘cost saving’ (unsurprisingly, the events which are unfolding were predicted by the head of the National Children’s Bureau as far back as October).

This isn’t to legitimate what has transpired over the last 24 hours in Birmingham, since destruction of property, theft and assault should in no way be condoned, whatever the circumstances, but we cannot bury our heads in the sand and put these riots down to some criminal youth element that doesn’t need explaining. Instead, we should be looking towards solutions which go beyond the criminal justice system, water cannons and rubber bullets. Such ‘strategies’ might quell the disorder in the short-term, but it’s an ineffective way of dealing with public disorder in the long-term. Giving young men a reason to be part of a community, part of society and feel like a useful and wanted member of the public can only be for the good of our cities and our future. Ignoring this is not only dangerous, but foolhardy in the extreme.


Went into town today to pick a few things up and survey the damage. Clean up teams did a great job dealing with the majority of the damage, but here are some pics of a few shops which got hit. Also just want to note this guy who managed to put a more-or-less live blog together about the riots, covering both last night and tonight. As much as social media is apparently facilitating the movement of the rioters, it’s good to see it being put to more productive uses as well.

The Social Linguist