It has been an evil week in England. Across that country, there has been an outbreak of lawlessness that has overwhelmed police and firefighting forces and left law-abiding Britons frustrated and furious.
The problems began on Saturday, when what started as a peaceful protest of a police shooting in a London neighborhood suddenly turned violent. The violence quickly spread to other London neighborhoods, and for three nights England’s capital city was the scene of arson, vandalism, and rampant crime as gangs roamed the city, burning cars and storefronts, looting businesses, and terrorizing citizens. Police struggled to decide how much force to use to deal with the problem, while politicians at all levels were harshly criticized for failing to take action. Last night, there was a massive show of police force in London that quelled the violence in that city, but the rioting and disorder spread to other British cities and towns, where hundreds of arrests were made. (And don’t look now, but some American cities, like Philadelphia, are experiencing similar problems, on a much smaller scale, with teenager “flash mob” violence.)
Sociologists and criminologists will debate what has caused the rampages — is it boredom due to lack of jobs, or a reflection of general dissociation from mainstream society, or something so simple as a desire to get new athletic shoes and flat-screen TVs for free? — but the real tipping point would come if average citizens conclude that their government can’t protect them, their businesses, and their possessions, and therefore they need to protect themselves. If that happens, a short-term outbreak of lawlessness becomes a long-term societal change with profound, and entirely negative, economic and political implications.