Reading the Riots: Report Highlights Issues That Led to Britain’s Unrest

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Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images

A hooded youth walks past a burning vehicle in Hackney on August 8, 2011 in London, England.

For nearly a week last summer, some of the poorest neighborhoods of London were ablaze – both literally and figuratively – with riots and chaos, as hordes of the city’s youth destroyed and looted property. What began as a protest against the shooting death of a 29-year-old man by police in the northern area of Tottenham, quickly spread throughout the country with thousands being drawn into the disorder.

Though social unrest can be triggered by one instigating event, the motivations behind such disorder can rarely be pinned to a singular ill. In this light, it’s understandable, and comforting even, that a report released Wednesday from the Riots Communities and Victims Panel, ordered to examine the roots of last August’s riots in London, outlined a number factors behind the unrest that was triggered by the shooting of Mark Duggan by police officers. The range of issues that led to more than $436 million in damages and more than 4,000 arrests include, but aren’t limited to: social media, materialism, poor parenting, poor schooling, unemployment, lack of opportunity, the 24-hour news cycle, mistrust of police and insufficient support for those leaving prison.

(PHOTOS: On the frontlines of the 2011 London riots.)

While it’s encouraging that the panel has seemingly taken a thorough look when examining the motives of the mostly-young rioters, the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink list of contributing issues can be problematic. After all, if nearly everything is to blame – and certainly almost everything in the day-to-day lives of some of London’s most disadvantaged teens appears in the report – it’s not likely that a clear course of action can be taken. Especially when compounded with the initial dismissive reaction of those in power. (Prime Minister David Cameron, shortly after the riots, chalked up the destruction to “criminality, pure and simple.”)

However, the 146-page report has attempted to address the complexity of both the situation and the possible solution, by outlining an extensive set of recommendations. The report authors have also urged the leaders of Britain’s three political parties to commit to following up on the recommendations and tackle real systemic problems in the British state.

From connecting those exiting prison with mentors to fining schools for failing to teach children to read and write to increasing transparency in London’s police force and their stop and search tactics, the recommendations suggest the panel really dug deep into the problems facing the U.K. Not every suggestion is feasible, such as the recommendation that an independent body coordinate between highly coveted brands and the government to prevent overly marketing certain products to youths. This flies in the face of the concept of marketing itself and it’s not realistic to expect companies to curb their marketing effectiveness without rigid mandates being issued. Yet others suggestions, such as having businesses reach out to their local schools to encourage youth employment and connection to the community, are believably workable – if they’re pursued.

“We must give everyone a stake in society,” Darra Singh, the chairman of the panel, said in a statement. “When people don’t feel they have a reason to stay out of trouble, the consequences for communities can be devastating – as we saw last August.”

MORE: London’s riots — a blast from the past or a glimpse of the future?

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