Sunday, August 14, 2011
Just a matter of time
An easy prediction following urban riots: authorities will blame anarchists and ne'er-do-wells for criminal behavior. Normal citizens, so goes the myth, would never do such a thing. (Sometimes they may be right. The Battle of Seattle in 2000 comes to mind.)
In truth, riots emerge from many causes, like middle-class blowouts following sporting championships. Vancouver's recent hockey riot comes to mind. One Vancouverite deludes herself, "this isn't the real Vancouver!"
Of course it is! Two championship losses, two Vancouver riots! Says one normal person caught rioting in Vancouver, "the riot would continue happening with or without me, so I might as well get my adrenaline fix." That's no criminal or anarchist talking.
In criminology I was once told it is too simple to blame poverty as a cause of crime because the eradication of poverty would eradicate crime. I have since learned ignoring poverty and deprivation is misguided for both crime and riots. Recent riots didn't break out in Beverly Hills, Greenwich, or Hampstead. They broke out in the poorest, most deprived, neighborhoods with the highest crime: Tottenham (UK), Villiers-le-Bel (France), Cairo, and Tripoli.
True, some criminals may seize on urban mayhem to loot and pillage. We must not let their opportunism distract us. Also, some short-term tactics might work, like tampering with rioters cell-phone planning. We must not let tactics for secondary factors distract us.
Neighborhood capacity-building in communities must be the goal of economic policy. Political power that concentrates at the top and ignores local capacity-building cannot last. That is one message of recent riots.
Here's another: Festering poverty and neighborhood deprivation dries up community branches of goodwill, what Hobbes and Rousseau called the social contract. Silencing people through unfair economic conditions or political repression splays those branches into a tinderbox. A recent NY Times article describes that tinderbox - people in "an uprising fighting for an accessible future."
Igniting that tinderbox is not a matter of youth acting like a jackass on speed. It is not a matter of crime. It is a matter of time. We should not be surprised.