It has been a bad week in the United States in a bad year marked by remarkable international turmoil. The recession and high unemployment persist at a time when the powerless seemed poised to fight back, creating a recipe for insurrection—as happened first in the Middle East and now in Great Britain. According to Wednesday’s (August 9) Washington Post editorial, “the common factors [sparking the riots] include high unemployment, resentment toward a prosperous and seemingly impenetrable upper class and hatred of the police.”
All that sounds only too familiar, so should the United States expect riots here next? Are recent instances of mob violence in Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Montgomery County Md., leading edges of a wave of violence here? I think the answer is probably not, at least not on the scale of what has happened in London.
British papers are full of news stories and commentary about the role social media has played in the riots that rocked London and other major cities. Prime Minister David Cameron’s calls to shut down some sites have been met with a barrage of criticism, such as this op-ed in the Guardian. Others have attacked the government’s overall response, including its attack on social media outlets and the deployment of water cannons comparing the aggressive behavior to the Mubarak regime’s initial response to the Egyptian uprising. The Telegraph has a stream of comments on its web site, some from former police officers, critical of the police for not being aggressive enough, including their hesitation in shutting down the Blackberry and other cellular networks. The Blackberry network was reportedly instrumental in maintaining anonymity for many protestors and organizing riots.