Four Reasons There Aren’t Riots In The US Like Those In The UK

By , August 11, 2011 7:33 pm

This is a guest post by Kameko Jones.

Sitting by the computer after making the perfect cup of English tea, I am still amazed (for lack of a better word) at the breakout of riots across the UK. Over the past few days I have been scratching my head as looters took advantage of London neighborhoods like Brixton, Hackney, and Lewisham, and other British cities like Birmingham, Liverpool, and Leeds. I sit back in disgust and outrage as an American viewing from overseas, but also as a person who has lived and traveled throughout the UK.

The shooting of Mark Duggan, a 29-year-old father of four, is what sparked the initially peaceful protest in Tottenham, London. People in the neighborhood were protesting unlawful and aggressive acts by police.  (It is now known that Duggan did not fire a shot at police.) Somehow, on Saturday, August 6, the protest turned violent and the people protesting started to assault police on the scene. The protest went from throwing sticks and bottles to lighting vehicles on fire and smashing the windows of shops.  I do not condone violence but there was definitely tension in the neighborhood between police and residents. The police did not take the right steps to calm the crowd.

Some chatter on Twitter by bloggers, journalists, and others has said that riots could start in the United States over the current situation plaguing our country. We have gun violence in schools, millions not covered by health care, rising unemployment, and a government caught up in its own nauseating partisanship fight. The victims in all of these are the working and middle class. So, why haven’t there been riots across the United States like those over in the United Kingdom? There are several reasons.

1. The United States has a history of civil rights and social movements.
There are still problems in this country, yes, but we have gone through the civil rights movement, gay rights, workers rights, rights for those who are disabled and disadvantaged, and all (for the most part) have been peaceful movements. We are constantly having dialogues in this country between the haves and those who don’t have. There are many outlets to voice your opinion in the US and if there is no outlet for your voice you can gain supporters and create one. Dialogues about race, immigration, youth, and poverty have not happened at all levels of society in the UK.

I remember living in London and bringing up a certain race struggle going on in the US and every one of the people in my presence ignored the conversation or said, “I am not going to get involved in that.” London has a culture of “let’s just get on with it” without getting at the root of the problem. I get the feeling that there is a sense in the UK that if you address a problem or controversial issue you can offend someone or be considered rude. So the conversation does not happen. Full Stop.

2. The police and authorities missed the ball.
It seems at this stage that authorities had no idea that these indiscriminate riots were being planned. I do give credit to the police in London for monitoring potential terrorists activities, and their extensive CCTV system (which no doubt will come in very handy to help identify looters and those who committed arson). But perhaps the Metropolitan Police Department is so caught up in catching terrorists that they have dropped the ball on domestic crimes and plots. The police did not have a full grasp of the situation and the Prime Minister and Home minister had to be called back from holiday to take control of the situation.

The United States has forces (local and federal) monitoring web traffic for terrorists, and domestic crimes. The authorities in the US are monitoring and taking down plots to disturb or disrupt, and they work together to make sure these crimes are not brought to fruition. The police did not have an understanding of the media used to spread information. Twitter, Facebook, and Blackberry Messenger were the top three ways the youth in the UK riots communicated which places there were no police presence. It took the London police three days to bring their force from 6000 to 16,000.

3. US police carry guns.
I really didn’t want to write this point, but I think it significantly contributes to why the UK riots won’t happen in the US.  Majority of UK police do not carry guns. Only under special circumstances or police in specially trained units carry guns. Youth are less likely to run amuck, looting, and setting fire to other people’s property when a person is running behind you with a gun. In the United Sates police have guns, shop owners have guns, and ordinary people on the street have guns. If people started to randomly attack stores because they could, there would be mini blood baths in the streets.

4. Lack of respect: Because they could.
There are pockets of youth all around the world who are rowdy, act up, and start trouble. But what happened across the UK is different. These youth, teenagers, and young adults didn’t attack police departments, government buildings, or symbols of oppression in society. They attacked local neighborhoods and shops. They attacked stores owned by their parents’ friends, owned by immigrants, minorities, and people just trying to make a living just like they are. A friend of mine who is a blogger in London went down to one of the areas while looting was going on and spoke with some people on the ground. Some people were saying they were attacking anything because the “cops taking the piss,” (because there was opportunity). Others said they did it because it was fun and they were trying to get ‘new clothes and kit’ for themselves, others said they were out there because their friend messaged them and said no police were there. Sounds like a mental breakdown in society, especially a society hosting the world for the 2012 Olympics next year.

As a result there is no more trust between a shop owner and his neighbor, police and pedestrian. The working class neighbors these kids came from are now worse off then they were before the riots. Absolutely nothing was accomplished. There were no rules, no set agenda, and no rallying voice. Just teens with nothing to do, and the opportunity to waste.

I don’t think the last point is specific to British youth. Or maybe it is. I’ve heard some “experts” describe what happened as a “new expression of anger.” Perhaps these youth are so angry that the only things they can lash out at are their own communities. Unfortunately three days into the riots and three men were killed in Birmingham in a hit-and-run while they were trying to protect their property. As of this writing 820 people have been arrested and NOTHING HAS BEEN ACCOMPLISHED.

Furthermore, I didn’t hear the name of Mark Duggan mentioned the news today. I had to dig deep into the papers to find an article on him. Day four and the original spark has been forgotten.

Kameko Jones is completing her MS in Global Affairs with a focus on transnational security. You can follow Kameko on her blog and on Twitter.

6 Responses to “Four Reasons There Aren’t Riots In The US Like Those In The UK”

  1. Rashid H. says:

    Completely true. The riots accomplished ZILCH and the original message was lost. He riots hurt the very people the looters thought they were fighting for. Anti establishment is to be focused on the state, not the people who walk hand in hand with you. Great article.

  2. Aleeka Kay Edwards says:

    The original spark has been forgotten….but the fire still radiates. Good write up Kameko. Well done.

  3. vitra says:


    I think this piece is extremely insightful–it’s easy to turn on the news and just say “ugh another uprising in another country”, but you break it down very clearly proposing specific reasons why the U.S. is different.
    You’re someone who’s lived and worked in the UK, studied global affairs, and work in news, so I definitely value your analysis!

  4. Alan R. Takeall says:

    What about the LA riots in the aftermath of the Rodney King acquittals? (That was post civil rights and the LAPD definitely had guns…) LA officials took a similar “law and order” stance toward those rioters as David Cameron did yesterday. And of course, they also attacked and looted businesses in their own community…
    An important thing to understand, I believe, is that the official accounts of most urban riots have always cast the rioters as “hooligans”, “troublemakers”, and “anarchists.” It’s only in retrospect that the 1960s riots are viewed as purposeful- even by many blacks. Just because the rioters organized themselves via Twitter doesn’t mean they were being “planned.” Of course, many officials blamed the 1960s riots on “communists”- suggesting that they had been premeditated and instigated by outside forces…
    That’s why the Kerner Commission report on the 1960s urban riots was largely ignored by officials– although the study was commissioned by the federal government, it concluded that the riots were caused by racism, poverty, and social alienation. Such an honest indictment of US social and economic policy proved too much for a nation that, by 1967, had supposedly solved its race problem with the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Today, the US is still operating under that same frame- that its problems are being caused by outsiders: “terrorists”, “China”, immigrants and Negroes. Our continued unwillingness to soberly confront our problems is the major reason why similar riots in the US are imminent.
    “Riots are the voices of the unheard.” ~Martin Luther King Jr.

  5. Horace Gascott says:


    I learned a lot from your well written article. The destructive riots in Nottinghill many decades ago should have taught the Brits that critical issues cannot be ignored. But whatever their impact in Britain, civil rights and other social movements here in the U.S. have indeed sharpened our focus in working toward a better society. Although there is still work to be done, who could argue that we are making solid strides? Britain can take a page out of our book.

    On the other hand, I feel that thugs who use the umbrella of injustice to loot and pillage should mete the swift hand of the law. A few reasons that come to mind are: Seniors and neighbors of modest means will be forced to travel farther to shop for essential services; stores that reopen will no doubt raise the price of merchandise so as to recoup some losses; owners especially those who live the same neighborhood may not be sympathetic to the cause. A bombed out neighborhood is not a pretty sight.

    An unsettling fact and catalyst in the British incident, however, has become far too common globally. It is this: some police officers overreact in interaction with the Mark Duggan’s of the world. Although poor training is the most commonly stated factor, it is not the most compelling because not all officers overreact. One solution that worked well in NY and espoused by ex NY Police Commissioner William Bratton was neighborhood policing – walking the beat. Solving the problem of overreaction is urgent to the long-term success of law enforcement in Britain, the U.S. and elsewhere. Reasonable people will agree that police work is extremely challenging and dealing with “bad” guys every day can easily jade an individual. Nevertheless, a professional force garners respect and fosters cooperation when citizens are in sync with its methodology.

  6. Naz says:


    Can you become an anchorwoman already? I could build a station around you and leave the BBC and Al-Jazeera in the dust! In all seriousness, your commentary provided truth and common sense in spades. Great job.

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