Getting over the shock of the riots that swept through London and other cities in England will take some time, and is perhaps made more acute just by looking at the diversity of the profiles of those arrested. 

Already, 1,400 people have been arrested, and Scotland Yard officials expect the total to reach 3,000. The youngest is an 11-year-old, arrested for stealing a bottle of wine and turned in by his mother.

A 22-year-old aspiring model was arrested with her sister, who allegedly stole 10 packs of chewing gum. Both were jailed for 6 months.

A star athlete, 18 years old, and a youth ambassador for the upcoming Olympics, was also turned in by her mother.

Then there is the 17-year-old ballerina who turned herself in after seeing herself on the news. And of course, a straight-A student at university, charged with stealing thousands of dollars of electronics goods. She was tagged and is on curfew. Her father is a millionaire businessman.

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How to explain these kinds of rioters?

One of Britain’s most respected historians, David Starkey, appeared Friday on the BBC television program Newsnight, and said he knew why. He’s especially known as an authority on the monarchy but nonetheless gave his verdict on the causes of the riots, striking a raw nerve among the panel and viewers.

He put the blame squarely on race, in a way that was twisted for many.

Starkey said the riots were so widespread because too many young white people had “become black.” He elaborated by saying, “a substantial section of the ‘chavs’ have become black. A particular sort of violent, destructive, nihilistic gangster culture has become the fashion.”

In Britain, the term “chavs” is a catch-all for nouveau-riche or those aspiring to be; with little education, and even less taste. Acquiring “perma-tans” to the point of turning orange is the norm for so-called “chavs,” except Starkey maintains they now also want to be black.

However twisted Starkey’s logic may be, unfortunately, race relations may be at the heart of what many are now calling a “broken” or “sick” British society, and it was a crisis that was made more acute by current economic difficulties.

The shooting death of a young black man, Mark Duggan, at the hands of the police was the trigger. He was reputed to be a local gang leader, and there are conflicting reports on whether he even had a gun when he was stopped in a mini-cab by police and shot. A peaceful vigil outside the police station to demand answers behind the shooting lasted 5 hours.

 “It’s a perfect storm that occurred,” says Simon Woolley, the director of Operation Black Vote. “It’s summer time, It is the school holidays, no colleges, no universities. There was a spark. It was a spark of black people fighting for justice. It was in an inner city area. It was a Saturday night. people gathered. All of a sudden, the crowd became overwhelming and thought, they cant contain us. Once other cities and areas saw that, they thought we could do likewise.”

The parliament member for that area, David Lammy, voiced outrage at the destruction in his community of Tottenham, pointing out that the rioters actually came from outside the neighborhood; but at the same time, he said the police also needed to provide answers to questions about the Duggan shooting.

His death is only the latest chapter of what social activists say is a legacy of deep distrust between the police and the black community in England.

Sharon Stewart, the chairwoman of the SACRYD, an umbrella organization of London community groups says “The main concerns are the-disproportionate numbers— of stop-and-search of Blacks compared to non-Blacks. 26 to 1, .-the number of suspicious deaths of Blacks in police custody.;and the disproportionate sentencing that’s handed down to Blacks. Look at the sentences they handed out for the riots.”

The sense of social injustice in predominantly black communities like Tottenham is compounded by harsh economic realities. Woolley says it was an angry underclass that erupted.

“The unemployment levels are going through the roof. Disproportionately higher for black people, 60-70%? youth unemployment for the Black classes. In comparison to 30-40% for the same age group.” Woolley rejects the outbreak of violence and the deaths caused by the riots, feels it was a tinderbox situation. “You have to understand that thousands of people didn’t wake up…”

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