Mark Duggan died in an act of senseless police violence. When two British police officers shot and killed the defenseless 29-year-old working class father of four, he became a figurehead, a cause that legions of repressed and frustrated 20-somethings in London could rally behind. The whirlwind of violence that this single terrible act inspired has spread across the UK as people across the globe tune in to CNN and MSNBC, watching in horror as Great Britain goes up in flames.
As the riots seem to calm a bit and we all start reflecting on what we’ve witnessed, one question springs to mind: How long until we see this in the U.S.? British and American culture share a lot in common; the mentality that cultivated the riots exists in abundance in every major American city.
First and foremost, Duggan was black. His death occurred in the midst of a racially tense British climate, one where little trust exists between police officers and minority citizens. A BBC story captures the reality perfectly: “The police never talk to us, they ignore us, they don’t think we’re human in this area,” a Black British college student said. “We get pulled over all the time like criminals. If you’re wearing a black hood, you’re a black man, they pull you over for no reason.”
Needless to say, this tension exists across America, from L.A. to New York City to Mississippi. We’ve seen Oscar Grant get killed and Rodney King get beaten within an inch of his life by police, the later proving inspiration for the ’92 L.A. Riots. Hell, David D. recently wrote about a particularly disgusting hate crime that, while not police-related, highlights that racism is still very much embedded in American culture.
Add to that racial tension an economic climate that features a British record one million unemployed 16-25 year olds and a government that is trying to cut back on public welfare and you begin to understand the fragmentation between citizen and state. The Guardian refers to this group of citizens as the “lost generation.”
Not much needs to be said about the U.S.’s economic climate. That same feeling of helplessness that exists in the U.K. is very familiar stateside, punctuated by constant reminders of the U.S.’s crappy credit score and budget deficits.
It takes a lot for a normal person to throw his or her hands up and say “to hell with it all.” The ingredients needed for the U.K. to burn had been in place for years, factors that are very much present in American culture. It’s hard to predict when, where or how a major U.S. city could get engulfed in such an affair, but when you break down the causes of London’s riots, the parallels paint a picture that’s hard to ignore.