Over the past few days, American and European friends alike have been asking me: what on earth has been going on in London?
I really have no sensible answer to give them, other than "Your guess is as good as mine,". Because I really don't have an explanation for the riots of earlier this week - what was it that caused so many people to go crazy, feral and lawless in the spate of a few hours?
You can blame poverty, bad parenting, or a lack of police presence. All of those may well have contributed (although, as one commentator pointed out, if all these kids were communicating by Blackberry, we're talking about a different kind of 'poverty' here). But it's not the only explanation. I can only think that it was a sort of near-hysterical copycat phenomenon, where people heard what was going on and got sucked into it. I'm sure there was some hardcore gang culture at the heart of it, but not everyone rioting came from that kind of background, or so I've read in UK newspaper articles like this.
For once everyone in America seems to know about it. When we had our UK election last year, nobody asked me about it, and when Europe was paralysed bhe the whole volcano/ashcloud saga, hardly anyone I know was even aware of it all. My 'mom' friends were interested in the Royal Wedding, yes, but the recent Norway shootings went unmentioned by most people. But these riots are on everyone's lips. And the unspoken question is: could it happen here?
America has, of course, had its fair share of rioting in the past (the 1992 LA riots are an example). And there was looting on a grand scale after Hurricane Katrina. But would we ever see gangs rioting in the middle of Manhattan, rampaging down Fifth Avenue? There have been some violent mobs in Philadelphia recently, but they've introduced a curfew to sort it out. American police are always armed, and look quite hardcore (except around here, where they mostly hang out in the ice cream shop and supermarket carparks, occasionally putting on a blue light to catch someone speeding). Not that I'm advocating armed police on the streets of the UK - and I'm certainly not an admirer of America's gun culture.
Anyway, I'm rambling. My personal opinion is that yes, it could probably happen in America - people are people, and when lawlessness takes hold, people can act like animals. But would it be stamped out more quickly? I'm sure most Americans would think "yes". But then, up until last week, we British would probably have thought "it couldn't happen here". And on that note, I'll leave you with this Pet Shop Boys classic.