Criminology is focused on the attempt to understand the meanings involved in social interaction. Theorists have tried to explain sociological behaviour by looking at the patterns created by individuals that commit crime. The August 2011 riots are pivotal in explaining criminological behaviour since official statistics show that 865 individuals were put in prison by the 9th September 2011 for offences related to the disorder between 6th and 9th August 2011.
This is not to say that others were not involved, but that they have simply not been identified to date and may never be identified, however the evidence we do have about the recent riots gives us plenty to talk about. This essay will provide a basis for causes of the 2011 riots by applying the ‘Labelling theory’ and the ‘Anomie theory’ to events that led to such behaviour.
Mark Duggan was shot by a police officer from the specialist firearms command team and as life-taking errors were made on behalf of the police force, such events that led up to the riots suggest that the police service could be to blame. It was on the 6th August that relatives sparked the riots by setting fire to police vehicles as they demanded information about Duggan’s death, however the British Prime Minister David Cameron rejected a causal relationship between the death of Mark Duggan and the subsequent looting. Some say labelling is not a ‘theory’ because it does not give an explanation of law, but questions why we have such rules.
For Labelling theorists there is no such thing as crime, as we create the laws and punishments by defining certain acts to be deviant. Deviant means to depart from usual or accepted standards. Leading theorist Kitsuse said “it is the responses of the conventional and conforming members of society which identify and interpret behaviour as deviant which sociology transforms persons into deviants”.
This means that it is not the actions themselves that are crimes but the social response to such actions that the majority of people deem to be unacceptable and so these actions have been made crimes. This is how we label individuals to be criminals as they do not conform to the behaviour of the ideal majority. This can be unfair to minority groups since they may not deem their actions to be criminal but do not have a choice, for example the introduction of the Criminal Justice Act which criminalised previously civil offences such as section 63 which gives police the powers to remove persons attending or preparing for a rave.
The aim of the act was to give greater penalties for anti-social behaviour; however such activities like raves may be anti-social in behaviour from some perspectives but is merely a form of entertainment to others and so this is discriminatory against ravers as their recreational activity has been barred. Commentators have seen the Act as a draconian piece of legislation which was explicitly aimed at suppressing the activities of certain strands of alternative culture. In response to this Bill, the band ‘Dreadzone’ released a single called ‘Fight the Power’ which links into the Anomie theory (see anomie below) as the band were taking action to rebel the change in the law by getting the message across through their music.
This also reflects Tannenbaum’s view of labelling; that the process of defining someone as a delinquent is due to conflict over particular activities, which results in tagging in which the person becomes the thing he is described as being and that the only way out is through a refusal to dramatize the evil. This can be applied to the recent riots the people involved were in conflict with the rest of society. Official statistics have shown that 73 per cent of those that appeared before the courts for the disorders involved in the riots had a previous caution or conviction and so this fits in with Tannenbaum’s debate that once a person is labelled to be ‘ bad’ they will continue in that manner.
However, this data is only reliable to a certain extent as we do not know what sort of convictions the rioters already had and so they have been labelled as criminals due to deviance. According to Becker deviance is ‘a consequence of the application by others of rules and sanctions to an offender’. Becker came to the conclusion that people are criminalised through the process of negotiation, known to be social constructionism for example the Crown Prosecution Service may drop the charge of murder to manslaughter if there is not enough evidence to convict for murder.
By doing this the defendant becomes labelled for the crime of manslaughter even though he may truly be guilty of murder. By introducing what could be regarded as ‘petty’ legislation more people will be labelled criminals, which in turn may lead the offender to act further on this basis. Lemert referred to this as secondary deviance as when a person is labelled criminal they change their view of themselves and this then becomes their ‘master status’. On the other hand primary deviance is when someone violates a social code, but does not get labelled.
Therefore a person is only labelled a criminal if he is caught and since ethnic minorities are subject to much more scrutiny than the white population this puts black people at an automatic disadvantage. Following the inquiry into the death of Stephen Lawrence it was uncovered that the police are institutionally racist. Institutional racism can be defined as ‘the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to the people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin’. This can be seen where police failed to identify the attack on Stephen Lawrence as being racially aggravated and presumed it was gang related.
This is due to the labels attached to black people that they are all associated with black on black gun crime. Official figures show that black people in England and Wales are six times more likely to be stopped and searched by police in comparison with their white counterparts. The power given to police to stop and search is found under the Criminal Justice Act and requires the police to anticipate violence. For the Mark Duggan case although the officer may have reasonably believed the suspect had a gun this was due to the label attached to him because of the colour of his skin and so such an assumption was not as a result of any proper intelligence.
This reflects institutional racism as it is hard to believe that a white person would have been treated in the same way. Despite many black deaths in police custody there has been no conviction of a police officer. This is because of assumptions made that the victim must have been at fault because of the stigma that is attached to black people. This suggests an element of class because the lower class would most likely be punished when caught, whereas many officials manage to escape minor crimes and so the rich and powerful are protected.
The Brixton and Toxteth riots were also in response to such discrimination as at this time the police thought they were ‘the law’ and so used brute force against many individuals for mere suspicion when in matter of fact they had done nothing wrong. Goffman referred to stigma as ‘spoiled identities’ which he defined as ‘an attribute that is deeply discrediting within a particular social interaction’. Referring back to the riots this means that certain people, in particular black people cannot rid themselves of such ‘spoiled identities’ and as a result are much more likely to be subject to assumptions that they are deviant. It was Schur that outlined that a person employs deviant behaviour as a means of defence.
This is relevant to the recent riots since one man declared that he only joined in after being stopped and searched several times while trying to make his way home from the disturbances in the city centre. This suggests that the riot was escalated by anger towards the police as they inherit discrimination in carrying out their duties. Although racism is rooted in widely shared attitudes, values and beliefs, discrimination can occur irrespective of the intent of the individuals who carry out the activities of the institution.
This means that the police may not even be aware that they are being racist, but the labels they attach to certain individuals are present regardless of whether it is intentional. This could be because of the small number of ethnic minority police officers and so the force is not representative, which in turn reflects the ignorance to the modern, multi-cultural society that we live in. So is it fair to say that the police are to blame for the break out of the riots or that they did not carry out their duties efficiently enough to prevent them? The telegraph has cited that Mark Duggan was well known to the police.
They had assumed that Duggan had a gun and further misleading information leaked to the public that the victim had actually fired bullets at the police first. Both assumptions made by the police turned out to be false and so this created an outburst of anger since it appeared that such assumptions were based on the fact that Duggan was black. Labelling is a problem that cannot be reversed easily and was acknowledged by Sir Paul Condon where he stated “I acknowledge the danger of institutionalisation of racism. However, labels can cause more problems than they solve.” Deviancy Amplication, as Leslie Wilkins pointed out is the process where the reaction by agents or agencies of social control may lead to an escalation, rather than a diminution of deviancy.
The riots reflect this as the deviant behaviour spirals out of control as more acts are defined as crimes which leads to more restraints against deviants which in turn leaves them feeling as outsiders and so pushes them into the surroundings of other criminals which again leads to more deviant acts.
The 1981 Brixton riots produced the Scarman report which emphasised the duty of police to apply the law firmly and sensitively without differing standards and although many measures were introduced to improve trust and understanding between the police and ethnic minority communities, the Macpherson inquiry in 2000 said the Metropolitan police still suffered from institutional racism. Although it is evident that labelling causes many problems that cannot be reverted, it would not have been diplomatic to keep the truth behind the institutional racism a secret from the public and so on its emergence it is fair to say that this caused the beginning of the riots.
As a result of this the police have now too been labelled and therefore much trust has been lost in the eyes of the public. The Anomie theory was established in the aftermath of the industrial revolution where society had been subject to a social transformation, which saw a drop in the ability to maintain order.
Durkheim said crime is normal in any society and is functional in two ways. The first being an adaptive function that ensures change in society by introducing new ideas and practices and the second type is the boundary maintenance function that reinforces social values and norms through collective action against deviance. He then progressed by outlining two typical social formations; organic solidarity and mechanical solidarity. Organic solidarity is organised around difference, whereas mechanical solidarity displays identical and shared values and so sanctioning is served here to identify and exclude offenders. The two latter formations were used to understand the rates of suicide.
Durkheim said that the suicide rates are down to social solidarity; that is the integration into social groups and the regulation of social norms. His findings showed that anomic suicide occurred where the degree of regulation was insufficient because individuals feel a sense of ‘normlessness’. This can be shown through the amount of suicides within prisons, namely Kilmarnock’s private prison, where six suicides have occurred since the prison opened in 1999 until 2005. In the BBC Panorama programme investigating Kilmarnock Prison a riot within the prison was described, where officers recall witnessing inmates setting fires, flooding and smashing televisions.
This can be compared to the riots outside the prisons as the time at which they occur is when individuals are subject to economic and social change. In times of rapid social change, such as that from mechanical to organic solidarity systems of regulations may be insufficient to effectively limit individual desires and so what emerges is a state of anomie. This theory is therefore applicable as the Toxteth outburst, that followed the Brixton riot reflects a civil protest against the social change because during this time Toxteth had one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.
The citizens of Toxteth felt let down by the Government as the city hit a decline and they were given little help to be able to survive and so could not fit in with society. This is also the same for the more recent London riots as society struggles through the recession where high unemployment and high crime is also present. Durkheim also related organic solidarity to the sexual difference between men and women. He outlined that men are much more likely to commit crime due to the higher impact social change has upon males.
This can be reflected through the 2011 riots as statistics show that out of all offenders brought before the courts10% were female and 90% were male. Whereas Durkheim’s work related crime to insufficient normative regulation, Merton’s Anomie theory was a result of the absence of alignment between socially-desired aspirations, such as wealth, and the means available to people to achieve such objectives. According to Merton every society has cultural goals in which to strive for throughout one’s lifetime and it was the ‘American Dream’ that this theory derived from. Although Martin Luther King, Jr. strived for racial equality, few will deny that American’s are focused on the ‘almighty dollar’.
It was the idea that prosperity and success were available to all those that worked hard, however Merton argued that the cultural demands on persons to achieve wealth brought about the use of illegitimate means, where they are denied effective opportunities to do so institutionally. Although this is based on American culture it can be applied to the UK as our society today aims for material success. This is reflected throughout the looting that transpired out of the 2011 riots as much of the disorder was in aid of stealing goods and electrical products.
The BBC referred to this in headlines as ‘greed and criminality’, however others argue that the subsequent looting was due to the lack of help from the Government, which has left many people in a state of desperation. Merton recognised that the majority of society will conform even though they suffer the strain of anomie, however those that do not conform can be categorised into four types of deviants. These four human adaptions are known as the Innovator, the Ritualist, the Retreatist and the Rebellion. In the UK the typical ‘drug dealer’ would be an innovator as they accept the cultural goals, but do not use the standard institutionalised means.
This could be for reasons such as previous convictions preventing them from achieving a respected job and therefore other means are used in order to reach the desired material success. Ritualism in contrast refers to those that still have the attachment to the institutional means, however the cultural goals have been lost. Here could fall the single parent working hard at all costs and not actually achieving the goal. Retreatism is where both the objectives and means have been rejected. Merton says that Retreatism concerns people who ‘are in society but not of it’, for example a typical British tramp. The Rebellion refers to the behaviour of many young individuals in Britain as they replace the cultural goals and the institutional means with their own rules to cope with anomic strain.
The recession is a prime example of an economic break down in Britain, which would result in some members of society turning to illegitimate means in order to achieve goals where society has made the end goal much harder to achieve. So, for the offenders involved there is a display of Innovation as they have the goals but not the means to achieve them and so have jumped on the opportunity of crisis in order to gain material success. Merton went on to argue that non-conformity resulted from differential access to opportunities, such as education and employment. From this there is a clear link to labelling as it is societies label that holds back the individual and prevents them from being able to achieve the end goals legitimately.
This refers to the majority of the rioters since 73% of the offenders involved had previous convictions, and so although the desired goals are still prominent the label restricts the opportunity of getting a decent job which in turn stops them achieving this ideology of material success. Even without a criminal conviction ethnic minority groups struggle to get the same opportunities in terms of employment.
Looking at the UK as a whole, ethnic minorities make up about 7% of the population, yet in police forces across England and Wales, just 2% of their officers are non-white. It is also much harder for a police officer from an ethnic minority background to reach the rank of superintendent and so after much rejection they eventually ‘give up’. Following the Brixton riots the Scarman report recommended efforts to recruit more ethnic minorities into the police force, and changes in training and law enforcement. The Macpherson report somewhat 17 years later showed that nothing has changed.
The main problem with this theory is that it looks to assess financial crimes and ignores mindless crimes such as vandalism. However, as the riots are mainly concerned with burglary and theft (statistics show 13% of disorder was due to theft and 44% was assigned to burglary) this theory is applicable.
Looking at the overall causes of the riots it is fair to say that the police have discriminated on the way a person looks and although this may have provoked further crime as deviancy amplication suggests, it is the Anomie theory that best explains the reasoning behind the riots. In order to prevent such mass atrocities occurring again, discrimination in any form must be eliminated from the Criminal Justice System. It was George Orwell that explained how society will become a ‘police state’ and although surveillance programmes and more police powers have been enforced to give greater security to citizens much freedom is subsequently lost. Technology has been put in place in order to secure convictions, however in order for this to work the police must also be subject to the same kind of control.
This would prevent discrimination on their part and also regain the public’s trust in the police. The lack of opportunity from the Government has led to a proportion of society to ignore the law, which in turn creates disturbance between the law enforcers i.e. the police and the public. As the recent 2011 riots saw a more ‘stand back’ approach by the police, they argued that they did not have the proper resources to respond due to ‘cut backs’ from the Government, however much of the police fund is spent on the wrong resources and so this must also be addressed for society to be controlled effectively.
After the Brixton and Toxteth riots the British public managed to regain police trust, however since the UK returned to an economic state like of that time it was evident that some form of protest would also reoccur. As this has happened, equal opportunities must be available to give everybody in society a chance to succeed, which in turn would lose the resentment that is held towards the Government and police.
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