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An August of Angst

A week of rioting earlier this month across much of England is just the latest event in what has been a very rough year for Great Britain and its first peacetime coalition government. While the primary cause of the tumult there centers on a single incident, its development has doubtlessly been influenced by other factors. Thus far, the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition now ruling at Westminster has weathered its latest storm in a rather challenging year. London has been at the epicenter of the recent riots. This makes sense given that the incident sparking these incidents happened there.

Anyone who remembers or has read about the 1992 Los Angeles riots will see clear similarities between those, and the recent trouble this month in several English cities; indeed, both resulted from alleged police misconduct. For this reason, it’s all the more fitting that the Cameron government has brought in former Los Angeles Chief of Police William J. Bratton as a consultant. Like the August riots, those in Los Angeles in 1992 affected many local businesses and caused a crime wave which grew out of what started as mere protests.

In both instances, the businesses affected were often small and largely owned by members of immigrant communities. Similarly, both the Los Angeles riots and those which occurred earlier this month across the pond involve police handling of a suspect of minority background by a largely white police establishment.

However, the commonalities largely end there; The Los Angeles riots resulted from the acquittal of the officers accused of brutalizing a suspect following a high speed pursuit whereas the incidents largely in London stem from the shooting of a suspect alleged to have gang connections who may or may not have been armed. On August fourth, an officer of the London Metropolitan Police shot Mark Duggan, their suspect, having sought his arrest on suspicion of planned violence. While the specifics are disputed, Duggan was alleged to have been in possession of an illegal firearm, and such a weapon was found at the scene.

Initial claims were made alleging that Duggan had shot first; subsequent review of the relevant evidence suggests that this was not the case. During a demonstration by relatives of Mark Duggan and area locals, two police cars were set ablaze, sparking four or five days of protests and crime sprees in London as well as other cities. Police officials were quick to point out that the vandals of August sixth were probably not connected to the vigil, but the disorder which resulted has been credited as having caused the several days’ worth of disturbances.

One reason given for the longevity of these riots has been the recent shake-up in the leadership of the London Metropolitan Police. Officials implicated in the News International wiretapping scandal resigned not weeks earlier as a result of that ongoing controversy. Making matters worse, both the mayor of London and the British Prime Minister were on holiday when the disturbances began. Furthermore, there have been persistent demonstrations of varying size throughout the year against some of the austerity measures introduced by the Cameron government.

In recent days, a renewed calm has taken hold in London as the damage is assessed. Several deaths were reported in connection to the riots, and more than one hundred people have been left homeless. There have been many arrests and property losses have been estimated to be in excess of £200 million. The recent difficulties are a testament to the remarkable stability of the present British government despite the many challenges it has faced since being formed just over one year ago.