With Britain feeling the Olympic wind under her wings, there is currently little appetite to remember the darker sides of last years. One of the low points of public life has been the riots in London and other British cities in 2011. The BBC has now released a documentary on the riots which presents the view of those who took part. The words are spoken by actors but the content originates in interviews that were conducted as part of research commissioned by The Guardian and the LSE.
The documentary is revealing, if only in its conclusion that there was indeed no single cause why the riots happened. This corroborates social research which points to some evidence that collective action is rarely driven by singular motifs that apply to all participants. In fact, just as with so many other social action, individuals bring their own reasons and motivations to the event.
There is however a clear reason why the riots spread the way they did. After a demonstration and an initial wave of battles with the police in Tottenham, the riots then spread and lasted full four days and nights. This was unprecedented and the documentary throws some light on why they lasted so long. Law enforcement was mainly absent and the police were standing back rather than confidently tackling the widespread violence. We will have to wait for the next episode of the BBC documentary to hear the police side of the story, but one thing appears to be clear already: as one of the young people said, most rioters looted 'because they can'.
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