General Question

The_Idler's avatar

What were the implications of the LA'92 riots, for the black community's struggle against police prejudice in the USA, and what does that mean for London today?

Asked by The_Idler (9613points) August 8th, 2011

Al Jazeera – In Pictures: London’s Burning

BBC News – Various articles and reports to be read

It is currently unclear whether the officer injured in the fatal shooting of Mark Duggan was shot with the gun in that man’s possession, or a police firearm, but peaceful protests about the shooting, and the slow response from the Met releasing information about it, quickly turned into an excuse for gangs of youths to loot and burn countless shops and vehicles across the city over the previous two nights, and it seems to already be starting again tonight.

The worst part of this is that all discussions of the violence continually return to the issue of the legitimate grievances the black community has against the police. Now, it’s nothing like as bad as the States, but profiling does occur and there is a great feeling of disenfranchisement amongst the working-class youth, especially minorities in London. Now, it’s easier to understand and accept the US pop (hip-hop) culture associations of rioting & looting with the need to address discriminatory police practice, firstly because the Rodney King incident was far more unjustifiable, secondly because it was representative of general and common practice, and thirdly because the associations came out of the mouths of rappers.

The problem here is that I’ve heard some self-proclaimed spokesperson for the Black community go onto Radio 4 (which is all about serious political discussion) and start going on about how marginalised the Black youth feel, and how there is a great pent up frustration with the police. Now the interviewer was doing his best to separate the two issues, and stop her from shooting herself in the foot, but she persisted in relating the violence to ‘legitimate’ grievances.

Now, I’m no spokesperson for the Black community of London, but I feel very strongly that, if I were struggling against police prejudice, the VERY LAST THING IN THE WORLD I would want anyone to do, is to go onto the most serious radio show in the country, and start telling everyone that these thugs are mindlessly destroying their own communities, because of their ‘support’ of my cause, and I’m almost certain if you ask the vast majority of the Black community, they will agree that, whatever they have against the police, burning down all the local shops and setting fire to buses serves no purpose in addressing these issues, because it is simply opportunistic thieves and thugs, and I’m sure they’d want to distance themselves as much as possible from those people.

This violence has been caused by abysmal education and lack of opportunities for all young, poor people, not because of police prejudice. I suggest that it is absolutely crucial, if we want to realistically address both of these issues, that we keep them clearly distinct.


How do the Brits feel about this?

How does anyone else feel about this?

How do the Americans feel about this, compared to LA ‘92?

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27 Answers

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

US here. It’s really too soon to compare the cause of the London riot to the Los Angles one. In England, where most guns are outlawed and only carried by a specialized team of law enforcement, the situation has to be especially bad for them to get involved. England does not take shootings lightly, be it by a citizen or their IPCC.

I am unwilling to jump to any conclusion that this is race-related just because the victim is black. I’d feel the same way if the races were reversed.

In both instances, I see/saw no need for rioting. Causing damage to others’ personal property does not bring about justice. It creates fear, ill-will, and a lot of expense to innocent people.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

These kinds of rebellions/outbursts aren’t all similar and their consequences are interpretive. I do think many of urban cities are due for people to destroy them a little bit but these things are so cyclical that not much will change unless more people destroy more stuff.

The_Idler's avatar

How well were the legitimate grievances of the minorities in the US separated from the opportunistic looters, and to what extent did the association with rioting and looting aid/harm the cause of addressing police malpractice?

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@The_Idler It is always harmful, I believe, when incoherence rules rebellion..that is, when groups with various goals step on each other’s toes and a collective future…but that’s common, you can’t expect people with peaceful ideologies to prevent others with destructive idelogies from doing what they will do given any change.

The_Idler's avatar

But it’s about what the spokespeople for the legitimate causes say afterwards that is important.

What I feel the self-proclaimed spokesperson for the Black community should have done, in the interests of addressing police prejudice, and most probably in accordance with the sentiments of the Black community itself, is to have absolutely condemned the looters, and remove them as far as possible from the legitimate grievances of the normal people in the community.

The looters do not claim to be acting in the interests of anybody but themselves. Somehow though, the black community is getting their problems tacked onto this violence, which is now doing them ideological harm by association, as well as the psychological, physical and economic harm that inevitably results from such happenings…

mazingerz88's avatar

@The_Idler You are absolutely correct. Words are very important at this point. It should clarify not muddle. Sadly, human beings are more irrational than sane during extremely emotional events. People with calm demeanor saying carefully chosen words of pacification and understanding must step forward.

That Rodney King beating deserved condemnation but the destructive reaction resulting to the destruction of businesses in that area also deserved condemnation and much worse and stupid compared to the beating done.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@The_Idler Perhaps they do not see themselves as ‘normal’ and those other people as ‘abnormal’. I generally participate in peaceful protests but I support the kind of destuction brought on by looting and burning.

The_Idler's avatar

Clarify, you support?

The_Idler's avatar

Maybe if it were the banks or even police targets, I could understand.
But its people’s small shops and homes and cars and buses.

It is now apparent that the people involved (the violence is right now spreading and intensifying across several locations) are of various ethnicities and I can only hope that this absolutely divorces the events from the issues of minority rights.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@The_Idler I support destruction of corporate property and other property in rebellion of certain western notions, capitalism, etc, as long as there is no physical harm brought to humans or animals. It really depends on the time, the place, the people, the context. There is purposeful destruction and there is purposeless destruction, we can only infer what those people do it for but if it’s just to get more stuff for themselves for free, they’re clearly part of the problem.

The_Idler's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir That is absolutely the case and I agree completely.

They are looting mobile phone shops and burning houses in some of the most deprived areas, not smashing up banks in the City, which I would whole-heartedly support.

wundayatta's avatar

If I recall, the riot in LA over the beating of Rodney King was much bigger than what happened in London. A number of things happened after the riot, including a lot of reinvestment in the neighborhood, and efforts to reform the police force.

It is difficult for me to judge the fever of the folks in that neighborhood. Also, there probably isn’t a video of the shooting. So things are less clear. The motivation of the rioters and the difference between those who burned down buildings and those who protested peacefully is not clear.

What happens really will depend on the skills and the strategies of the folks in the neighborhood. I suspect that British racism is a lot more virulent than people are allowing. “We’re not so bad. The US is far worse.” I’ll bet that’s bullshit.

Perhaps this riot will start shedding some light on a problem you Brits have been ignoring. Racism can be subtle and pervasive. When you have segregated neighborhoods, it’s a sign of us and the other. If the riots are spreading, then I think the problem has been festering much deeper and more powerfully that people have been aware of.

The people feel this is a chance to draw attention to what is probably a national problem. The blood lust gets up, and there is looting and burning and the young men get out of control. Ironic that they destroy their own neighborhoods, but many of them may be very unfamiliar with other neighborhoods and their anger is here and now.

There will be investigations and commissions. I don’t know where that will end up. Hopefully the nation will learn from this and do a little bit to change the impact of racism. But it’ll be a hard row to how. And you don’t have the experience the US has dealing with it.

The_Idler's avatar

We don’t have segregated communities @wundayatta, the most ‘colourful’ neighbourhoods are about 30% white, 30% black, 30% south asian. But all these people are living in the same conditions.

The riot in LA was much bigger than what has happened in London, but it is still developing, the night is young…

It is now clear that the vast majority of those involved today are not concerned with the original incident, and are simply opportunists (of all ethnicities). I think it’s more seriously a class issue than a race issue now, which I sympathise with to some degree. Unfortunately a lot of the people are too uneducated enough to understand what to target, and others are clearly out simply to make money and destroy things for kicks.

I dont know how badly the LA riots were influenced by opportunist looters, but listening to the live reports now, it is evident that this is the driving force behind the unrest in London.

This is the result of continuous decline in the living standards, wages and employment rights of the working-classes, specifically the unskilled sections, and the lack of investment and management of education in deprived areas. I have been imagining this for years now, but I didn’t expect it to be sparked by a racially-charged police incident. It’s definitely beyond that now though…

The_Idler's avatar

Here is a message I have found going round social media and phones:

If you’re down for making money, we’re about to go hard in east london tonight, yes tonight!! I don’t care what ends you’re from, we’re personally inviting you to come and get it in. Police have taken the piss for too long and to be honest I don’t know why its taken so long for us make this happen. We need a minimum of 200 hungry people. We’re not broke, but who says no to free stuff. Doesn’t matter if the police arrive cos we’ll just chase dem out because as you’ve seen on the news, they are NOT ON DIS TING. Finders keepers and we all look after each other so if you see someone getting grab by feds then make sure we help stamp out that fuking PIG. M.O.B money over bobbies =D broadcast this to everyone you know and let’s get paid!! RE SEND. LONDON MESSAGE

As we can see this seems to be about a general discontent and resentment towards the Establishment and their agents (which runs DEEP in the working-class youth today, including myself), combined with a simple desire to steal and be violent.

This group of people has been growing in numbers and intensity for years, along with the associated social problems. Now it’s going pop pretty badly.
I just wish I was there to steer them toward those glittering palaces of inequality in the City, and away from the livelihoods of honest, hard-working men and women…

MilkyWay's avatar

UK here.
I’m quite shocked and a bit worried because of the recent happenings in London. I’m currently in Pakistan, but me and my family were watching Sky news earlier on and think that it’s horrible.
What started as a peaceful protest ended up in extreme violence and riots like I’ve never seen in England before. The situation has escalated to the point where riots have even started in neighbouring cities, most notably Birmingham. What I’d like to point out there though, is that it’s not only balck youths or people from the black community who have been protesting and rioting.
South London is pretty much a council state and has a large number of white families living there also. The problem isn’t between the black youth and the police. It’s between the frustrated and neglected youth of South East London, which includes Asian people and white people as well as black. Of course, the main thing that started all this off was the shooting of Mark Duggan, and it is undeniably an event which brings about the question in many people’s hearts, was this because of racial injustice? Or social injustice?

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@MilkyWay Is there any possibility at this point that the shooting has nothing to do with either racial or social injustice? Could Mr. Duggan have been out of control? Possibly wielding a fire arm or other weapon?

MilkyWay's avatar

@Pied_Pfeffer Of course there’s a possibility. It’s still not clear why the police shot him though, instead of arresting him even if he did possess a weapon.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@MilkyWay Thank you for the clarification. Situations like this require investigation, and this takes time. Unfortunately, people tend to jump to conclusions and become vocal about injustices that do not exist. Even if it becomes a case where one IPCC official shot Mr. Duggan when he/she shouldn’t have, should it be a reflection on the whole force? Is it an excuse for the rioting to take place?

wundayatta's avatar

@The_Idler By your ratios it makes it 60% non-white, which is pretty significant. Racism does not distinguish between blacks and south asians.

You say you think it is class, and that may be true, but I think, just based on knowledge of people, that racism plays a bigger role than you think. We’ll see.

The_Idler's avatar

@wundayatta “Racism does not distinguish between blacks and south asians.”

errrrm yes it really, really does. it’s not about ‘non-white’ vs white people anyway…. I don’t know where you’re getting these ideas. There is a general discontent and resentment amongst all the working class youth, with unemployment realistically around 40–50%, towards the Eastablishment and its agents. This is the tension which has reached breaking point, and which was broken by the spark of a possible incidence of police malpractice.

trust me, this is the result of a deprived, under-educated, disenfranchised youth, as is evident from the ethnic diversity of the people involved, which is representative of that demographic. There are plenty of white people involved, and plenty of any people involved who dont give a shit about improving the relations between the police and the black community. This is very important to realise. That’s what I think, just based on knowledge of people who are actually there right now….

Watch those videos and listen to the phone-in reports and you can’t tell me the majority of this violence is motivated by dissatisfaction with police treatment of black people. It’s a pent up frustration, with the general systematically exploitative structure of society, which has no outward direction to vent due to lack of education/class-consciousness, and so inflicts damage internally

Besides, I’ve seen the BBMs and spoken to the people there right now. The only attitude is “Fuck everyone except us. We’re sick of this society forcing us to conform. Tonight, we’re in charge.”

atlantis's avatar

I dunno about race relations in London, but from the damages (Reeves Furniture House?), I augur an insurance bust. And from that we may foresee a bailout boom, more taxes on the general population. I’m assuming middle class will bear the brunt again.

Ultimately the masses will suffer in the long term. This anarchic euphoria may have an eerily symbolic significance, if any. However, it can exacerbate the very things which caused it in the first place.

atlantis's avatar

Here is a very good explanation for why people riot.


wundayatta's avatar

@The_Idler We’ll see. I am operating from a theoretical construct based on the way things are in America. Obviously I’m not in Britain, and I haven’t been there for almost 40 years. But since I have lived there, I have a tiny sense of how it works. When I was there, there was a lot of labor unrest and Monty Python was on TV for the first time. Not great credentials, I know.

If you read @atlantis first link, you’ll see the commentator, who lives in one of the riot areas, also mentions race as a key issue.

Personally, I don’t think the government gets it. But that’s what I would expect from a conservative government. They think of every rioter as a hoodlum. That kind of attitude is not going to help the people, but it will help in reelection, if they can get the public to buy that point of view.

Race is such a complicated issue and it pervades our lives without us even being aware of it. I trust you that whites are involved, but I remain skeptical that this is not about race. It is certainly about poverty. But perhaps the blacks are poorer than the poor whites. That’s the case in the US.

wundayatta's avatar

Social justice.

The_Idler's avatar


Yeah I saw that already. That woman was an unbelievable bitch.
I’ve heard of the man before, too, he seems pretty reasonable, although he was very (justifiably) angry in that interview.
To be fair to the BBC though, their interviewers are generally not so idiotic and offensive as that, and the interview with the very well respected Professor Gus John gave air to some excellent social commentary. It’s indicative, the BBC’s welcoming of a respected Black academic, and its hostility towards a respected Black man-in-the-street, of an intense intellectual elitism, based on how we speak and dress, rather than the colours of our skin.

I agree that race is an important issue, but I think it’s also very important to realise that, unlike the 80s riots (in the UK), these are not, for the majority of the rioters and looters, motivated for reasons of race-relations with the police, government and in their local communities. Many of the issues still exist as an every-day struggle for minorities, to some degree, but this time round it isn’t the African-Caribbean minority alone, which is being marginalised, devalued, ridiculed, demonized and disenfranchised, it is the entire ‘lost generation’ of poorly-educated working-class youth, and the ethnic mix of the people involved in the general violence and destruction is representative of this.

The socio-economic inequality was once very precisely correlated with race, mainly due to the relative recency of most of the minorities’ arrivals, and also due to institutionalised racism in business and overtly racist policing methods. This is much less of a problem now for the Black population as a whole, because it has become almost the ultimate crime for organisations. The problem remains, however, for poor, uneducated Black people, because the ‘unofficial’ racist actions of individuals (i.e. the policeman or the HR man) go ignored. Not because the victim is Black, but because he is poor and uneducated. And, although young, poor, uneducated whites are not generally the victims of racism, they are the victims of many other forms of prejudice and discrimination, all of which are ignored for exactly the same reasons some incidences of racism are ignored.

So, we can see that the extant problem of prejudice against these Black communities is a symptom of the very same structural aberrations in society, which are creating this violent and angry mentality across all sections of the lower-class youth.

Ensuring that all the working-class youth are treated with the same degree of ‘respect’ as the white working-class youth would solve the problem of ‘racial inequality’, but it wouldn’t solve the problems, which are making young people of all ethnicities experience the feelings of marginalization and abandonment that have given rise to a reciprocal disregard for the rest of humanity.

I think it’s very, very important to use this opportunity to reassess how all poor people are treated, because I mean… it’d be better, in principle, if the Establishment started treating all the ‘Black Scum’ in the same way as ‘White Scum’, but it would be much more of an achievement for us, if we could stop the Establishment from treating poor people like scum in the first place, not least because that would naturally entail addressing all forms prejudice and discrimination fairly.

It might seem odd to the Americans to reduce racial prejudice to a secondary issue, with regards to social inequality, but that’s because it never was a secondary issue in the USA. There is a general solidarity and fairly good integration amongst the poor communities, across all ethnicities. The condition of all the lower-classes has been steadily eroding, while, within communities, race relations are at an all-time best. Most of the whites hate the Establishment for getting away with racism, as much as anyone else does. But that’s just one of a long, long list of grievances, and importantly a symptom, more than a cause, of the deep inequalities that plague our society.

The_Idler's avatar

One thing that can be said about our consumer-capitalist serving ‘education system’ (and that includes Television and other pop media), is that it has certainly succeeded in teaching many people to be extremely greedy and selfish, if not much else.

And there we can see the deepest problem with high unemployment in a materialistic society.

To the Establishment’s agents that are telling us the disturbances were motivated by greed, rather than anger:
the extent to which your assertion is valid remains debatable, but there is no excuse in your suggestion, as we need to think about why people are so greedy, just as much as why people are so angry…

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