Reaction Paper 3 More Breaking Down of Break Down

Breakdown theory through Chicago and Tottenham


On August 4th, 2011, the metropolitan police of Tottenham shot and killed a young man by the name of Mark Duggan. This one act by the police unleashed an outbreak of riots throughout the city and some say even led to the London riots of 2011. When we dive deeper into this incident, we can see that the shooting of Duggan played a minor role in the riots that ran rampant throughout Tottenham. The Tottenham riots give us a clearer picture of underlying grievances that can lead to incidents such as these. Understanding the pre-existing conditions and the responses is crucial in learning how to avoid riots like this one.

To get better understanding of how a lack of resources can lead to rioting we should look into other riots. One riot is the Chicago riots of 1968 that highlights breakdown theory as its most prevalent explanation. In 1968, Chicago had building tensions between the ghetto population and the displaced white population. As the ghetto population of Chicago rose, there was a flight of the white population from the inner city. The issue of open housing was becoming bigger and bigger because the black population could not be contained within the structures that were already there. This influx of the black population was due to the civil rights movements in the South. The main players in the housing were Martin Luther King and Mayor Daley. They were on opposite ends of the spectrum when it came to the issue of public housing. What’s interesting to note is that MLK, was the leader of these movements so Daley was stuck between a rock and a hard place when it came to dealing with public housing. With these tensions continuing to build, all that was left was a triggering event. Then came the assassination of MLK. Immediately following the shooting, you had highschool kids starting riots in the streets. This was a generation who believed they could change something because those were the ideas that were prevalent at the time. The older generations were used to being oppressed and discriminated against. The responses were immediate. You had the National Guard come in and calm the situation. They knew exactly who to focus on when it came to who the rioters were. After the riot had been taken care of, there was a creation of a buffer zone and some would say it improved riot control procedures. Looking at the 1992 riots, the improved riot control procedures did seem to help. Now with some background we can look at Tottenham and see how breakdown theory can be used as its explanation as well.

Using breakdown theory can help us determine causes and what we should actually be focusing on when it comes to avoiding riots. In Tottenham, there had been growing tensions between the police department and the community. In the video we watched, it didn’t seem as if the riots were due to a race issue but digging deeper, we find the fact that Duggan was an African American male plays a major role. There were also allegations made against Duggan by the police department such as Duggan being a drug dealer and Duggan being one of the head leaders of a major gang in Tottenham. The story goes that Duggan was in a taxi and had jumped out as a police vehicle pulled up and they exchanged some fire and was eventually arrested. The interesting part of this story is that, apparently he had been shot after he was already pinned by the cops and, to the community that was the evidence that needed an answer. Once the court decided not to not convict the policemen due to the fact it was a “lawful killing”, the riots broke out. Throughout the riot, many police officers thought their lives were at risk because they were major players in the incident. Police officers that had nothing to do with the shooting were getting bricks and bottles being thrown at them. Inexperienced officers were out on the streets trying to quell the situation to no effect. The biggest revelation was that this department did not have adequate resources to handle a situation like this. Instead of focusing on the racial and class segregation, the hatred was directed towards the police. It wasn’t shooting or the trial as much as the media would portray it to be but the grievances between the community and the police department over years of confrontations. If Tottenham could take a page out of Chicago’s playbook, they would take their riot procedures. It does raise the question, what is more important? The practices they are being taught or how they execute riot procedures?

In conclusion, Tottenham and Chicago both show us a clear example of breakdown theory and how riots can and should be portrayed. The underlying grievances are the most important factors when considering what causes a riot and understanding that they are different from triggering events. Chicago and Tottenham show us race and class are very prevalent issues not just in the United States but in other countries as well. What is important to note is the handling of both. In one hand we have Chicago and its deployment of the national guard and on the other hand we have Tottenham where they deployed unexperienced policemen to calm the riot. Riot procedures in both countries are significantly different. We get to see how a riot should be handled and how a riot should not be handled. If we focus more on the underlying issues than maybe, just maybe, we can avoid riots.

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