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Lost generation behind riots in England

Police talk to youths Wednesday after a night of rioting in Manchester, England. Nearly 1,200 people have been arrested in all since the riots erupted Saturday, mostly poor youths from a broad section of Britain’s many races and ethnicities. Eighteen percent of people 16 to 24 are unemployed.

Associated Press

Police talk to youths Wednesday after a night of rioting in Manchester, England. Nearly 1,200 people have been arrested in all since the riots erupted Saturday, mostly poor youths from a broad section of Britain’s many races and ethnicities. Eighteen percent of people 16 to 24 are unemployed.

LONDON — Each of the young rioters who clogged Britain's courthouses painted 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 arrested for stealing a garbage can.

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Britain is bitterly divided on the reasons behind the riots. Some blame the unrest on opportunistic criminality, while 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 plausible answer, but a widespread sense of alienation emerges from their tales.

Britain has one of the highest violent crime rates in the EU. Roughly 18 percent of youths between 16 and 24 are jobless and nearly half of all 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 narrow-minded to believe the riots have only been a random outburst of violence unrelated to the current economic crisis.

"The argument that this doesn't have anything to do with expenditure cuts or economics doesn't stand up to the evidence. If that's true, then what we have here are hundreds of young, crazed kids simply acting irrationally. I don't think that's the case," said Matthew Goodwin, a politics professor at University of Nottingham.

Courts have been running nearly 24 hours a day to hear all the cases since the rioting began. Most cases are heard in a blink of an eye and only give a snapshot of some of the youngsters' lives. Many of the defendants haven't had a chance to talk at length with their attorneys, and most can't be named because they are minors.

An 11-year-old boy from Romford, Essex, was among one of the youngest to appear in court on Wednesday. The youngster spoke only to confirm his name, age and date of birth.

The boy pleaded guilty to burglary, after stealing a waste bin worth about $30. A charge of violent disorder was dropped.

Attorneys for some of the defendants said their clients were good kids who have caring families but got caught up in the violence.

It's uncertain what role racial tensions have played.

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.

But 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.

Other social problems afflict the places where rioting erupted: high teen pregnancy rates, gun crime and drug trafficking.

In 2008, there were more than 1 million reported cases of violent crimes in England and Wales alone. By comparison, there were 331,778 reported incidents in France and some 210,885 incidents in Germany.

"There's income inequality, extremely high levels of unemployment between 16 and 24-year-olds and huge parts of this population not in education or training," Goodwin said. "There's a general malaise amongst a particular generation."

Lost generation behind riots in England 08/10/11 [Last modified: Thursday, August 11, 2011 8:52am]
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