For four days, the United Kingdom has endured riots that began in London but quickly exploded beyond the city. The streets are full of crowds engaging in violent acts, including setting fire to buildings and looting stores. More than 800 people have been arrested in London alone, and hundreds have been charged with crimes.
The riots can be traced back to last Thursday, when police officers reportedly killed Mark Duggan, a 29-year-old man, while arresting him as a suspected gang member. A crowd convened on Saturday for a peaceful protest to speak out against police violence in the city, but the scene devolved into a violent confrontation between the crowd and police officers.
The mainstream media is representing the riots as crazy, random, unprovoked violence, but British analysts and other media players are looking at the roots of the riots. Mother Jones reports:
Media reports and opinionators point to three main causes: racial tensions, high youth unemployment rates, and a desire to loot and profit in the midst of chaos. Al Jazeera columnist Dan Hind's op-ed points out that these causes are pretty intertwined:
So there is no single meaning in what is happening in London and elsewhere. But there are connections that we can make, and that we should make. We have a major problem with youth unemployment. There have already been cuts in services for young people. State education in poor areas is sometimes shockingly bad. Young people cannot afford adequate private housing and there is a shortage of council-built stock. Economic inequality has reached quite startling levels. All this is the consequence of decisions made by governments and there is little hope of rapid improvement.
Most of the mainstream media is ignoring the valid, legitimate claims that the protesters are raising against their governments and the power structures in their countries. Just as the media did in Egypt and Tunisia, the uprising is being painted as a group of crazy, violent people hellbent on rioting for no reason at all.
Take, for example, this video from BBC News, which made the rounds yesterday and was denounced as a deceptive, misleading interview by an anchor who implicated her subject as a rioter and ignored his legitimate arguments against real structural issues facing the United Kingdom:
At one point the interviewee, Darcus Howe, a West Indian writer, said:
What I was certain about, listening to my grandson and my son, is that something very, very serious was going to take place in this country. Our political leaders had no idea. The police had no idea. But if you looked at young blacks and young whites with a discerning eye and a careful hearing, they have been telling us - and we would not listen - that what is happening in this country to them ....
And then, of course, the interviewer, Fiona Armstrong, cut off his insightful, important statement with an idiotic question asking if he condoned the violence.
The BBC has since apologized for the conduct of Armstrong. But her behavior is an exaggerated representation of the way that the media can hijack a story and shape it to fit their narrative - that these riots are meaningless, misdirected violence and nothing more.
Where the LGBT Voice Fits In
As an LGBT community, why should we specifically care? Because the people who are rioting and protesting in the United Kingdom about their dire financial situations, racial tensions, and the militaristic police state of the country are also representing the interests of many LGBT people. Homeless LGBT youth and anti-LGBT violence while police officers look away are not issues that are unique to the United States. The United Kingdom endures similar problems, and if the young rioters can convey their message that they can no longer stand for such unstable economic situations and a corrupt police force, the LGBT people - especially LGBT people of color - who are disproportionately struggling against those same issues will benefit.
The U.S. Situation
Could a similar uprising in the United States happen? We're facing many of the same issues - our financial instability, our power-hungry representatives, and our system that rewards wealth instead of representing the interests of the American people. After last month's debt ceiling disaster, where huge amounts of time were spent on silly, gridlocked debate only to end up with a horrible plan that will hurt the poor while continuing to reward the rich, some of those enormous structural flaws in our system were put on an immensely visible platform. But the poor continue to be ignored.
They're certainly not helped along any by our media, which hardly ever discusses the problems facing people in poverty or pressures the government to do something about it. Even when those issues do get airtime, they're flattened by overpaid television anchors who repeat the "lazy homeless" rhetoric as fact. Watch this infuriating CNN interview where Carol Costello attempted to push the issue of U.S. poverty to the bottom of the priority ladder while hearing from Tavis Smiley and Cornel West about their "Poverty Tour."
In addition to citing a study by the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation, Costello contributed to the "right-washing" of her news network. The interview is full of dangerous statements that trivialize poor people, but the worst may be this: "The president represents everybody in America. [He]'s dealing with a lot of stuff right now. So why concentrate on one segment of the population?"
These are the problems that need to be talked about and need to be discussed. President Obama, who was elected partly thanks to the support of poor people who finally saw hope, has all but ignored the poverty population in the country. This needs to change.
In the past year, we have seen the power of popular revolution. In Egypt and Tunisia, the masses joined together to protest their dictatorial rule, and they succeeded. There is little that is focused about the rioting in the United Kingdom, and yes, it's dramatically different from the revolution in Egypt, where a single rallying cry - Mubarak must step down - easily echoed throughout the world. But misrepresenting the uprising as a random, violent outburst of little real significance is irresponsible. And ignoring the potential for the same outrage to catch fire in the United States - after seeing it happen in the United Kingdom - is perhaps even more irresponsible.