LONDON — Young rioters clogged Britain’s courthouses Wednesday, each one painting a bleak picture of a lost generation: a 15-year-old Ukrainian whose mother died, a 17-year-old who followed his cousin into the mayhem, an 11-year-old gangster arrested for stealing a garbage can.
Britain is bitterly divided on the reasons behind the riots — some blame the unrest on opportunistic criminality, others say conflicting economic policies and punishing government spending cuts have deepened inequalities in the country’s most deprived areas.
Many of the youths themselves struggle to find any one plausible answer, but a widespread sense of alienation emerges from their tales.
“Nobody is doing nothing for us — not the politicians, not the cops, no one,” said a 19-year-old who lives near Tottenham, the London neighborhood where the riots started.
Britain also has one of the highest violent crime rates in the EU and alarmingly high youth unemployment — roughly 18 percent of youths between 16 and 24 are jobless and nearly half of all young black youths are out of work.
As the government battles colossal government debt with harsh welfare cuts that promise to make the futures of these youths even bleaker, some experts say it’s blinkered to believe the riots have only been a random outburst of violence unrelated to the current economic crisis.
Nearly 1,200 people have been arrested since the riots erupted Saturday, mostly poor youths from a broad section of Britain’s many races and ethnicities.
In Tottenham, most residents are white but blacks from Africa or the Caribbean account for around a quarter of the ethnic mix. It’s also home to Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Asian immigrants. The rage has appeared to cut across ethnic lines, with poverty as the main common denominator.
There’s a history of racial tension in many of these neighborhoods, and the riots themselves were triggered by the fatal police shooting of a black man in Tottenham.
Economists at the Centre for Economic Policy Research say such cuts promise more unrest.
“There’s usually something that sparks these things off,” said Hans-Joachim Voth, a research fellow at the center. “The question is why is it that in 90 percent of these cases that nothing happens? Why is it that some places just end up like a tinder box?”