Youth Equally Disaffected In The U.S., So Could U.K. Riots Happen Stateside?
Americans have watched in astonishment, along with the rest of the world, at the violence that’s erupted in England as young, disaffected Britons take to the streets to vent their rage.
But could it happen in the United States as it grapples with a 25 per cent youth unemployment rate and a double-dip recession potentially in the offing?
The current bleak landscape in the United States is littered with all the same disturbing elements at play in the U.K. _ racial tensions, high unemployment, a growing income gap between rich and poor, a gloomy economic outlook and a feeling of hopelessness among youth.
Recent statistics reveal that 39.2 per cent of black teens and 36.2 per cent of Hispanic youth are jobless. In New York City, black and Hispanic youths are twice as likely to drop out of school as their peers, have a poverty rate that is 50 per cent higher than other ethnicities, experience an unemployment rate that is 60 per cent higher, and make up more than 90 per cent of young murder victims and perpetrators.
Although the biggest riots in the United States have involved race and civil rights, some observers think throwing a Great Depression-esque economic situation into the mix could spur America‘s youth to rise up too.
“There is a direct correlation between the violence here in Chicago, which is off the charts right now, and the lack of investment in inner cities and inner-city youth,” Phillip Jackson, founder of the Million Father March, said in an interview on Wednesday.
“In Chicago and other major American cities, the violent acts are singular and random. The violence in London has become collective and focused, but the underlying causes are precisely the same, and as soon as American kids figure that out, we’re in trouble.”
But others point out that America has evolved in a far different direction than the country it broke away from in the 18th century. Class divisions are not as pronounced as they are in the U.K., they point out, and America‘s lower classes generally don’t regard the upper classes with the seething contempt that their British counterparts do.
“In the U.S., if you’re born into a lower socioeconomic class, there is still the perceived possibility of transcending that, of achieving wealth,” said Sean Snaith, the director of the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Economic Competitiveness.
“The upper classes, the celebrity class, the wealthy _ to the average American, they’re what royalty is to the British. Americans consider that something to be admired and held in esteem and awe. So that’s a pretty good anesthesia in a lot of ways.”
Youth might also be nervous taking to the streets given the tendency of American law enforcement agencies to respond to force with even greater force.
“Our police are much more willing to use brutal force,” said Snaith. “There is no bobby mentality here; American police officers carry guns. If there’s violence going down, they’re going to respond with violence.”
And there’s another factor that may cause youths to think twice before taking to the streets: U.S. President Barack Obama.
“Younger people tend to be more Democratic than Republicans, and they may not be happy with their president but they also don’t view the current economic situation as being his fault,” he said. “So perhaps they’re less likely to riot over what’s going on _ he’s still their guy, and that may quell some of the anger.”
But Sean Varano, a criminal justice expert at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island, says American youth could very well rise up in the months to come, particularly in the wake of the massive spending cuts that will result from a recent debt ceiling deal struck on Capitol Hill.
|Picture provided by The Black Star Project.|
“Austerity measures haven’t been taken here yet, but if we start to see dramatic cuts in social welfare, I believe we could look to the U.K. and to Europe as a sign of what may come here,” he said.
“These types of urban riots are possible anywhere if the right circumstances are there. In different cultures, there are different sparks.”
American kids are plugged in, he added, with many of them possessing mobile phones and on Facebook and Twitter, so social media could engage them in the same way it has youth around the world, Varano adds.
He points to the recent spate of so-called flash robs in cities across the United States. Young criminals are using Twitter to organize large-scale robberies, proof that American kids are certainly capable of electronically mobilizing.
“There’s no real evidence yet of an undercurrent of youth violence that is becoming well-organized in the United States,” Varano said. “But if you look at flash robs, you are seeing that the urban underclass might be able to mobilize using social media, meaning the chances of future unrest might be a lot more real than we’re aware of right now.”
The answer, says Jackson, is for governments of all levels to start investing in youth and inner-city communities, and to ensure kids stay in school and are given a helping hand when needed.
Sadly, he adds, that’s not likely to happen in these tough economic times _ exactly when such measures are needed most.
“No one, no level of government, is addressing any of these problems. The few existing social programs that we have are being cut off,” he said.
“So I can absolutely see the same thing happening here that’s happening in London. But if you want to prevent it from happening, if you want to make America great, you invest in our youth. You don’t bomb Libya.”
Content Provided By Canadian Press.