International Business Times spoke with Dr. Victoria Honeyman, a lecturer in politics at the University of Leeds, about the riots sweeping across England.
IBTIMES: What factors are behind the British riots?
HONEYMAN: The riots in Britain have not been caused by any sort of political or racial tension. That may exist, but that is not at the heart of these riots. These riots are the result of lawless thugs who have seen an opportunity.
IBTIMES: How have the British police responded to this escalating disorder?
HONEYMAN: The Metropolitan Police Service in London seems to have been unwilling or unable to deal with the early violence, and this has allowed these individuals to feel that they can loot and cause damage without any fear of being captured or brought to justice. With an increasing police presence and the fast-tracking of many of these individuals through the court system, this is rapidly changing.
IBTIMES: Why do you think such rioting rarely ever occurs in the United States anymore?
HONEYMAN: The reasons why the USA suffers from fewer riots could be due to different police tactics or other nonpolitical factors.
While these factors have been going on in London, and a few other copycat instances in various UK cities, the majority of individuals across the country have witnessed no rioting, and overseas observers should not believe that these incidents are taking place everywhere.
IBTIMES: Are the Americans less prone to street-rioting because the U.S. has such a large and dominant middle class?
HONEYMAN: Class is a very difficult issue to define. Often, a person's class is defined by themselves or by superficial issues rather than being a true representation of their social position. People who define themselves as middle-class are by far the majority in Britain, reflecting changes within society and the decreasing of Britain's industrial base.
I don't believe that the US is more or less middle-class than Britain, nor is that factor important in explaining these riots. While some people in Britain (and the U.S.) live in poverty and cannot find work for themselves or their children, the welfare state in Britain ensures that extreme poverty is the exception rather than the rule, although it does exist. That is not an excuse for this kind of lawless behavior.
IBTIMES: British urban neighborhoods have long had gang culture. Surely that is contributing to this conflagration?
HONEYMAN: The increasing gang culture in Britain is now being identified as a contributory factor, but it also seems to be that there is a view being held amongst the rioters that they are entitled to whatever they want without having to work for it. They have seized on an opportunity to cause trouble, and done exactly that.