Editorial do WSJ
Hooligans, not social grievances, are driving the British riots
Street violence swept across the United Kingdom for the third straight night Monday, with police expecting more as we went to press Tuesday. Whole neighborhoods of South London were warned by authorities to close up shop early as looters used cell phones and Blackberrys to pre-arrange their attacks.
At this point, even calling these nightly crime sprees riots seems a misnomer. A riot suggests a spontaneous outburst of violent rage, whether or not the underlying grievance is justified. What we have here may have started amid a protest against the police killing of a known criminal and gang member. It has since become something much more venal.
The police reaction to the initial looting and burning of the Tottenham High Road in North London resulted in more than 160 prompt arrests. But it also shattered the illusion that the police control the streets. In a few short days, a siege mentality has taken hold across large areas of London, one that the police are actively encouraging by exhorting the law-abiding to stay off the streets in targeted neighborhoods. The criminals behind the looting, arson and robbery know that this can't go on forever, and they've decided to maximize their opportunities while they last.
There is a notion that the criminality is the product of poverty or government spending cuts. That's false. The British government is spending as much as it ever has in history, and the poor in Britain have access to a social safety net that is remarkably generous by any standard. Then, too, the sort of people who torch cars and smash plate-glass windows to get at the jewelry and televisions inside are not, we suspect, highly correlated with those most put out by the reduced hours at the local library.
If there's a mystery here, it's that the recent violence is itself such an extraordinary happening. As writer and former prison doctor Theodore Dalrymple recently told this newspaper, "the question in Britain is not why there are so many burglars, but why there are so few." He explained that "only about one in 12 domestic burglaries is cleared up by the police," and that "of the burglars who are convicted, only about one in 12 or 13 is sent to prison."
In other words, a great deal of petty crime has come to be tolerated, excused, or seen as permissible or unavoidable in today's Britain. This attitude is only partly due to the difficulty of the police work involved. It also arises out of a sense of bad conscience—that people wouldn't do these things if they weren't driven to it by injustice or some other putative cause.
But these are not 18th-century sans-culottes, run out of bread. They aren't even Greek communists destroying property in order to demand the continuation of their welfare state. It is hooliganism pure and simple. If it serves as a wake up call, it should be to the fact that the veneer of civilization can be terrifyingly thin.