UK newspaper the Guardian has been carrying out a study into the cause of the London riots in collaboration with the London School of Economics. The results paint a picture of a city with stark racial divisions. By REBECCA DAVIS.
“Reading the Riots” is an important project because it is currently the only study of its kind that is based on interviews with the actual people who took part in the riots. It was inspired by a similar study which took place after the Detroit riots in 1967. Over the course of the last three months, researchers employed by the paper and the LSE have been carrying out intensive interviews with 270 people involved in the riots, who were identified largely through local contacts. All the interviewees were promised anonymity, and the Guardian reports that they were largely enthusiastic about participating because they wanted their side of the story to be told.
“Their side of the story” turns out to reflect a great deal of anger towards the police. The study thus far has revealed that one of the major factors which sparked the riots in August was antipathy towards the Metropolitan Police force. The majority black rioters were shown to be eight times more likely to be stopped and searched by police than other Londoners. The study arrived at this figure because official police figures say they carry out 8.7 stops per 100 people, whereas most interviewees said they had been stopped either once a month or twice a week. One man interviewed reported that he had been stopped “seven times in the last 72 hours”.
Their anger was not merely with the fact that they were stopped, but the manner in which they were treated by police once they were. Interviewees claimed they had been handled in a “humiliating and degrading” way, which sometimes included verbal insults and strip-searching. Many also claimed that they were stopped with no greater justification than the fact that they were wearing hoodies.
The response thus far from the police to the findings has been defensive, describing “stop and search” as “a highly effective and essential tactic to prevent people being hurt by knife crime”. Police did state, however, that they wanted to see the tactic “only used in an intelligent, professional, objective and courteous way”.
In response to the Guardian’s report, the government’s own panel examining the riots said although some of the paper’s findings mirrored their own, rioters’ motivations also included “the perception that they could loot without consequence”. Other causes they identified included “youth unemployment, the role of brands and consumerism, values and parenting”. Former top police official Brian Paddick was also insistent on the need to examine underlying causes, rather than merely focusing on anger with the police. He cited “inequality, poor housing and unemployment” as also contributing to the powder-keg of discontent which exploded into rioting.
The “Reading the Riots” findings thus far only represent the first phase of the paper’s research, however. The second phase, scheduled for completion early next year, takes in interviews with police, court officials and judges. It may be that a different picture emerges from this to counter these first findings. DM
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