Why were so many black people involved in the England rioting?
August 18, 2011 1:29 PM   Subscribe

Awkward Filter: Why were the recent UK riots/looting seemingly dominated by black people?

I was watching Crimewatch this evening where they went through the CCTV footage of protest ringleaders etc, highlighting faces from the footage so the public could phone in and identify anyone they recognised. One thing that struck me (especially as I was with a black friend) was that the rioters were almost 95% black. The only time there were white looters was when it went to Salford and Manchester.

I understand that a lot of the riots in London at least took place in majority black neighbourhoods, but it just seems like I'm missing something here.
posted by dougrayrankin to Law & Government (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: This recent post / thread on the blue might be of interest: Why David Starkey is a racist
posted by Perplexity at 1:31 PM on August 18, 2011

I would say the factor you're missing is possibly that black people (or at least those of Afro-Caribbean descent) are more likely to be from the lower socio-economic class which constituted the majority of the looters.
posted by Jehan at 1:35 PM on August 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

Crimewatch chooses which footage is shown. You have no idea of what they have and what they haven't shown.
posted by elle.jeezy at 1:39 PM on August 18, 2011 [10 favorites]

Jehan- Britain has a long, distinguished tradition of thuggery and hooliganism that crosses racial barriers. I don't think it's as simple as demographics.

I also don't think this is the answer, but I certainly think it's a factor- Mark Duggan was black.
posted by mkultra at 1:40 PM on August 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

The riots were initially sparked by the shooting of a black man, police targeting black communities with types of enforcement that are less commonly applied in majority white communities (ie armed police takedowns of offenders in black neighbourhoods), and the failure of police to respond in a timely fashion to a peaceful protest by friends, relatives (and fellow community members) of the man who had been shot.

Which is not to justify what it all escalated into, but just to say that the initial spark was a grievance within black communities.
posted by Ahab at 1:41 PM on August 18, 2011

Response by poster:
Crimewatch chooses which footage is shown. You have no idea of what they have and what they haven't shown.
That did factor in my thinking - hence the "Surely they aren't all black?!" aspect.
posted by dougrayrankin at 1:42 PM on August 18, 2011

Understand that you are not watching footage but a product made of footage, and that product has to fit into an existing narrative. Like Ahab stated above, this riot centered around a series of events in the black community. Now, when they're going to start showing riot footage, they would have to draw a line from point A to point B as to why all sorts of people are rioting about this, which is neither easy nor quick nor makes for easily-digestable television. So, instead, they gather up all the CCTV footage they can where the majority of the riot participants are black, cobble it together, and there you go, fits right into the narrative, no explanation necessary.
posted by griphus at 1:48 PM on August 18, 2011

I'm not sure, but I'd guess it's a combination of the neighborhoods being predominately black and media selectivity. I certainly remember seeing images of white and Asian looters in London during live coverage.

The Guardian has started what looks to be a promising series called Reading the Riots that you may be interested in, too.
posted by bibliophibianj at 1:53 PM on August 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

Britain has a long, distinguished tradition of thuggery and hooliganism that crosses racial barriers. I don't think it's as simple as demographics.

I think that socio-economic class can explain the ethnic background of the rioters when combined with specific geographic areas. I suppose if we could get statistics for the places rioting took place showing a breakdown of economic class and race, that could by revealing. Maybe it doesn't explain everything though, and that social ties between initial protesters and subsequent rioters might be important.
posted by Jehan at 1:56 PM on August 18, 2011

While Crimewatch is edited with CCTV footage, I doubt that the BBC edit teams have the time to sit, watch and log only black people--there's too much material to go through and they have to work too fast. They're more likely using the footage from only certain areas of the city, picking out the shots that have images of people who could be identified by viewers. I'm willing to charge the BBC with plenty of bias, but not in this case.

FWIW, The Telegraph has reported that the Manchester riots may have been orchestrated by Dominic Noonan. Manchester's Flickr group.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:57 PM on August 18, 2011

Best answer: See here:

Tottenham contains one of the largest and most significant populations of African-Caribbean people.... According to David Lammy MP, Tottenham has the highest unemployment rate in London and the 8th highest in the United Kingdom, and it has some of the highest poverty rates within the country.[13] There have also been major tensions between the African-Caribbean community and the police since (and before) the 1985 Broadwater Farm riot.

Less of a perfect storm, more of a brewing one.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:01 PM on August 18, 2011

Best answer: This essay provided some useful context for me, too.
posted by argonauta at 3:05 PM on August 18, 2011

Best answer: I didn't follow images of the riots closely (radio, newsprint), but for what it's worth almost all the faces I've seen associated with them--people who've been through the courts in the last few days, for example--were white.

As to the Crimewatch footage, that won't have been edited together from random CCTV tapes by a BBC edit team. If that were the case then yes, it would be unlikely that they'd have had the time to put in place some sort of 'blacks only' policy. But the footage has been filtered twice: a selection from CCTV cameras will have been passed to Crimewatch by the police, and that in turn will have been combed for images that are both clear enough to be used for identification (to meet the programme's supposed 'crimefighting' remit) and dramatic enough to make good TV (to boost its ratings).

With two degrees of selection, so to speak, even if there's only subconscious bias at work (those black kids in Tottenham 'look' more like rioters than the white gang smashing windows in wherever) it wouldn't be at all surprising if the rioters suddenly looked a lot blacker on TV than they did in real life.
posted by lapsangsouchong at 3:09 PM on August 18, 2011

I haven't seen Crimewatch's reports on the riots, but I was on the ground in the middle of some of the riots in London's East End, and saw a fairly mixed collection of all races, all focused on stealing on whatever the hell they could get their hands on.

Oh yeh, they terrorised folks when the mood struck them as well.

So, not 95% black, not 95% white, but 100% depraved and indifferent low lived individuals. At least that's how it looked on the ground. I'd suggest telly has a way a changing things.
posted by Mutant at 3:24 PM on August 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

FWIW, here in Manchester, the "looting and rioting" demographic was overwhelmingly white.
posted by idiomatika at 4:52 PM on August 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

Today's Guardian has a big feature analysing data from magistrate court convictions. It's online as part of their Reading the Riots series.

Not only are poor people more likely to be from an minority ethnic group, young people are too. In 2001 (the last census), 8% of the UK population was from a minority ethnic group but 15% of under 18s were. There are more recent figures which put the percentage at anything from 20 - 25%. The results of this year's census are going to interesting....
posted by Helga-woo at 2:23 AM on August 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

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