Crime: An Eye On Crime
Grab Some Sneakers ... Or Try To Change Wall Street?

November 2011

When people reach a certain age, they have a tendency to reminisce about the good old days. I must admit to nostalgic feelings about the country in which I grew up as I watched the Royal wedding in April. The British do seem to organize such events rather well and, despite the recent history of marital scandals and the outrageous hats worn by the young princesses, I found myself admiring the ability of the British royal family to appear to remain relevant in the 21st century. They seem to offer the British people a nonpolitical focus for patriotism – as well as generating lots of tourist money.

Another object of respect in my youth was the Metropolitan Police. Founded in 1829, they had a reputation for honesty and competence. So imagine my surprise when the head of London’s police force and the deputy head in charge of counterterrorism both resigned in July. They were both caught up in the phone-hacking scandal involving Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World. They were accused of links with senior News International figures, of failing to pursue the investigation of phone hacking when it surfaced two years ago, and of giving a P.R. contract to a former News of the World executive. Unfortunately, that same executive was arrested in the July phone-hacking case by, yes, Metropolitan’s own detectives from Scotland Yard.

Londoners were just coping with this news when riots broke out in August. The troubles started after the police shot a black man in north London, but unlike the Brixton riots of 1981, these were not racial. The rioters did not hurl stones at police stations, government buildings, banks, or the offices of major corporations. They concentrated on stores selling flat-screen televisions, cell phones and sneakers. One looter was seen trying on different pairs of sneakers to make sure she stole the right size. (After all, it would have been difficult to return them.)

These have been called “shopping riots.” Although the sociologists are working hard to explain them, the rioters do not fit a neat profile. They include university students, army recruits, and even a ballet dancer. One person accused of stealing has a father who is a wealthy executive in a large company. A major change was the use of technology by the rioters. Instant messaging enabled what appeared to be a random mob to assemble quickly and create diversions to avoid direct confrontations with the police.

It is tempting to compare the London shopping riots with the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations taking place throughout the United States The “99 percent” demonstrations are aimed at businesses perceived by the demonstrators to contribute to what they see as inequities in the U.S. financial system. Whatever their ultimate goal, it does not appear to be the acquisition of a flat-screen television or a pair of sneakers without paying. The U.S. demonstrations have been mostly peaceful, and the few people arrested for trespassing in San Francisco seem to have been dealt with in a civilized manner. It appears that we will have to wait for the sociologists to explain the reasons for the differences between the London riots and the U.S. demonstrations.

Alan Silverman is a Marina resident. E-mail: