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'Boredom And Alienation' May Factor Into UK Riots

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'Boredom And Alienation' May Factor Into UK Riots

Youths steal electrical goods from a store in Birmingham, central England, on August 9. While the riots started after a man was shot to death by police in north London, their actual cause continues to be debated.

It’s been more than a week since the fatal shooting of a man by police in London. Riots that erupted after the killing of Mark Duggan have shaken England since. Many people are divided over the real reasons behind the riots, questioning how much is due to the current recession or alienation or boredom among young people. Some have suggested poor parenting is to blame.

Cultural critic and novelist Diran Adebayo grew up in north London, in a neighborhood next door to Tottenham, where the riots first broke out.

“I think [the riots] are political in the sense that they’ve grown out of certain social conditions that are going on,” he tells Weekend Edition guest host Jacki Lyden.

However, Adebayo says these protests are very different from the U.K. riots in the early ‘80s.

“Those riots often sparked out of overzealous policing and discriminatory policing in black communities, and there was a very clear kind of anti-racist politics involved in those times,” he says.

During the current riots, Adebayo says, “there’s been a politics around consumerism and a kind of slightly juvenile, slightly ill-thought-through, I think, politics among the youth.”

He says after the riots began, young people questioned about their motives named government cuts and the recession.

”... They tend to mouth things that are in the social media ether quite quickly,” Adebayo says. “I really think these riots, they’re not really linked to, for example, current government cuts for youth workers and other sort of public service and youth-oriented organizations.”

The U.K. is facing “long-term structural problems,” Adebayo says, about getting people to invest in “normative societal values” as the standard of living has increased.

“Some of these problems have arisen just over things like, when I was young, there were less cars on the road, so it was easier for young people ... to play on the street and to find ways to entertain themselves. These days it’s harder for them to do certain kinds of social activities,” he says. “There is ... a level of boredom and alienation and just not a commitment to the values that have kept society to some degree cohesive for many years.”

There has been talk about more policing. Former New York Police Commissioner William Bratton, who was also police chief in Los Angeles and Boston, has agreed to act as an unpaid advisor to the British government. He’ll share his experience tackling gang violence.

Adebayo suggests that for society to work well, people have to be respected for things other than material values.

“It’s very important that leaders and people of influence start giving messages that we value you as a person for reasons other than what you own...” he says. “We have to give people a sense of these other values so that their esteem doesn’t just lie in what they own, and I think that’s the only long-term solution to these problems.”

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit


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