Strain Theory To The Toxteth Riots essay example

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~ INTRODUCTION AND FOCUS OF RESEARCH ~ Names once only known to the Cavern Pub in Liverpool, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones rose to the level of household names since their beginnings in England. Their music opened the doors to an era of youthful expression. Despite Liverpool's isolation, music brought the city into mainstream pop culture. Although beneficial in some regards, music was also seen in a negative light; thought to promote violence.

Crime rates during this period were at an all time high (Bootle Group, 2001). The violence in pubs became so common that the disturbances no longer affected band performances (Woolton Group, 2001). Music may have been a reflection of the times, but those who attributed the prominence of crime only to music were neglecting the environment around them. This report will focus on the underlying issues concerning the Toxteth riots, such as crime, police, government, living conditions, gangs, racial issues and immigration. It will also examine the theoretical aspects of the event in question, using such theories as strain and frustration-aggression theory. It is our hope that this research will have provided a better understanding of the various aspects and theories concerning the riots.

~ LIVERPOOL'S HISTORY AND CRIME RATES IN 1960 ~ From police brutality to poverty and unemployment, the tensions in Liverpool were compiling at a rapid speed and preparing to explode. This outbreak of social mayhem emanating from these circumstances may be known today as the "Toxteth Riots". On July 3, 1981, the chaos commenced. The initial upheaval lasted for nine days and spread throughout the city by means of neighboring youths joining the battle.

Hundreds of black and white youths were among the rebellious, attacking police, looting shops, and setting vehicles aflame (BBC News. Monday, May 28, 2001). By the end of the uproar, an estimated 200 police officers were injured, 200 people were arrested, and at least 70 buildings destroyed (BBC News. Wednesday, July 4, 2001).

The factors leading up to this event may be traced back to their most substantial period, during the 60's. As part of the "Great Empire", the City of Liverpool became one of the world's most important port cities. Known as the "Port of a Thousand Ships" (Mersin ct, 1999 as cited by Woolton Group, 2001), the economic state of the city saw a dramatic increase. However, falling ship industries during the 20th century brought about economic strain (Bootle Group, 2001).

Poverty seized Liverpool with the western side of Scotland Road abundant with some of the poorest individuals. Incredible numbers of people were living in the poorest of conditions. A growing number of children who reached an adequate age were taught to steal. These children became organized enough to set up markets in empty warehouses, selling the goods to shop keepers (Brack, 2001 as cited by Bootle Group, 2001). Crime rates in the sixties in Liverpool became "a threat to society which cannot be ignored", as noted by Manchester's chief constable (Bootle Group, 2001).

When crime rates reached a startling rate in 1954, authorities were astonished to see these levels substantially increase by 1961. By this time, Liverpool's population had decreased from 856,000 in 1931 to 747,000. Yet, despite the decrease in population, crime was inexplicably on the rise. The Metropolitan Police commissioner noted 1964 as the "worst year of the century for crime" (Bootle Group, 2001).

The violence was not only visible in the streets, but it was also a huge problem during football games and became known as "football hooliganism" (Bootle II Group, 2002). Efforts by police to prevent the overwhelming incidence of crime proved ineffective. CRIME There were many factors which contributed to the creation of the Toxteth riots, one of which was the amount of crime that was occurring before, and up to when the riots broke out. To curb the amount of crime taking place it was decided that more police should join the fight against crime.

Most importantly, the Penal Code was revised and made the punishments for crimes, even nonviolent ones, brutal and harsh. That being done, people started to think that. ".. since the punishment was the same regardless of the crime committed; there was no real incentive to avoid particularly violent offences" (Bootle Group, 2001). Still, the increased law enforcement and the new brutal Penal Code seemed not to have a grip on the rising crime rate, which reached the highest of the 20th century in 1964. For many people, their economic situation meant that for them jail was a better place than home, if they even had a home, which caused many to re-offend and the rate of crime to go up even more. It was the high recidivism and crime rates, and the perceived diminishing consequences for the crimes they committed that set the stage for the Toxteth riots.

POLICE Out of all the sparks that ignited the Toxteth riots, the one most talked about is the law enforcement practices. Prior to the riots, "there were a lot of incidents of harassment, drug planting, people being criminalized for trivial reasons, [and] heavy-handed policing... ". (BBC News. Perpetually, young men of different races and black citizens were complaining about how the authorities were treating them. Detective Chief Inspector, Alan Cooper admits, "we were not as skilled then as we are now in working with the community, listening to them and being one with them, as opposed to imposing our views upon them" (Thomas, M. ).

The authorities were regarded as role models for the British youth, but instead they were not. The authorities were in fact one of the main instigators of the Toxteth riots, with their own racist attitudes and negative ways of policing. GANGS From the 1960's to the early 1980's when the Toxteth riots erupted, there were several organized groups of young people, the most influential being the Mods and the Skinheads. The early 1960's gave birth to the Modernists, or Mods, as everyone knew them. The Mods were teenagers who had money to burn, which they gladly did, "using their income to look better, act smarter... and make it known that they were a force to be reckoned with" (Herbert, D. 1999).

In the mid 1960's, the "tougher" Mod youth started to have short, cropped hair. "These working class kids adopted the name 'Skinheads' to separate themselves from the more dainty and less violent Mods" (Herbert, D. 1999). For the most part the Skins were not racist. However, when more immigrants arrived from Pakistan, many felt their jobs were threatened and became prejudiced toward the Pakistan Community. The late 1970's caused the National Front, Britain's National Socialist party, to recruit Skins as street soldiers. It was then. ".. that racism permeated the Skinhead cult without the consent of its members" (Herbert, D. 1999).

RACIAL ISSUES / IMMIGRATION Relations between Black and White populations in England have been strained for more than five centuries. It is said that Queen Elizabeth I demonstrated the first instance of "British institutionalized racism towards its Black population" when she vocalized her disapproval for their presence in England in 1596 (Christian, 1998). This racist disposition was also shared by many citizens within the "White British society" (Christian, 1998). Despite the fact their presence was not welcome in Britain, the Black population continued to increase in the 17th and 18th centuries as a result of Britain's active participation in slave trading. As noted by Christian (1998), "Black citizens were transported as enslaved property to sea ports throughout Britain, some of which included London, Bristol, and Liverpool".

They were, more often than not, relocated against their will to be traded as slaves and to become domestic servants to the wealthy (Christian, 1998). Liverpool partook in the majority of the slave trade and, as a result, experienced a drastic increase in population from a mere 5,000 in 1700 to 78,000 in 1801 (Christian, 1998). Not only did Liverpool's Black population experience the inhumane practices of slave labor, but they were also subjected to horrific racial sentiments held by many of the community's White citizens. While the trading of slaves was abolished in Britain in 1807, Black citizens were still used as cheap labor by many ship and seaport industries. These changes, however did not and presumably could never eradicate their struggles for dignity, self-respect and self-fulfilling labor, as opposed to slave labor. Many believe that the racial conflicts that had scarred the community of Toxteth and Liverpool were the primary pre-disposing factor to the riots that took place.

~ Precipitating Factors ~ GOVERNMENT Another contributing factor lies within the political attempts to "place a bandai d" over the issues. A local Labour Activist, Margaret Simey, states that before the riots. ".. Liverpool lacked leadership... there was no communal pride... ". (Baxter, L. ), which added to the already present and escalating tensions.

Besides attributing partial blame for the eruption of the riots to the Margaret Thatcher government, the citizens of Liverpool were more enraged with their actions after the riots. Instead of contributing money to the restoration of the area, the government spent 30 million pounds on creating a garden festival of flowers in the city (Tafari, L., 1989). By doing this, the government relayed the message to citizens that they were simply covering up the problems, such as racial tensions, rather than dealing with them. Through ignoring the real and underlying issues that were present in Liverpool, it lead to the tensions growing to such an extent that the riots may have provided the only clear-cut solution. LIVING CONDITIONS Another causal factor associated with the Toxteth riots is that of the enormously high rates of unemployment and appalling levels of poverty. During the 1980's, the United Kingdom was experiencing an economic crisis.

Many industries were either "dying out", faced with fierce competition from overseas companies, or relocating from "inner city plants to more easily accessible green field sites" (Smith, G., 2000). This period of economic reformation had its most detrimental effects on those living in the inner city projects. The official unemployment rate in the summer months of 1981 reached what was believed to be an underestimated figure of three million, with young, black men being among the hardest hit (Oven den, K., 2001). In fact, Liverpool's black population was concentrated in the area of Toxteth, where its inhabitants experienced some of the worst living conditions.

In terms of housing, Toxteth possessed some of the most dilapidated and impoverished living conditions in the country. Conditions became so bad that, "in terms of housing, employment, and education, there was an acceptance that you were going to get a low standard of service or no service whatsoever" (Thomas, M. ). Poet, Levi Tafari, described the conditions of economic despondency in the following: "Some work from nine to five to stay alive, and still them find it hard to survive" (Tafari, L., 1989). COMMON THREADS BETWEEN RIOTS Nothing can be clearer than the fact that all of the riots that were breaking out around the time of the Toxteth riots started from several of the same reasons: frustration from chronic unemployment, racism, bad housing, poor education, and most of all frustration because of the way in which they were all treated by the authorities. It may be presumed, therefore, that the outbreak of riots in surrounding areas, due to similar factors, may have been a clear indicator in foreseeing the Toxteth riots. Tafari, wrote about the upheaval of different elements that were contributors of the Toxteth riots in 1981.

One of his poems links several factors together as the underlying reasons for the occurrence of the riots: "Living inna Liverpool is living in hell look pon the places where we have fe dwell them have we under a political spell bad housing unemployment and the depression as well" (Tafari, L., 1989). All of the above factors have been used as explanations foreshadowing the riots. These riots were the result of the many years of the negative, combined impacts on the different groups of people in Liverpool. Due to the dismissive attitude towards these factors, the result was violent, destructive riots that could have been avoided. Although Liverpool has not completely abolished all of these problems, they have worked to improve the conditions. Citizens say that they have learned to deal with the issues that arise instead of ignoring them and that it is a continual process (Thomas, M. ).

Part 3: Theoretical Perspectives ~ Strain Theory ~ First proposed by Robert K. Merton, the strain theory states that all humans are fundamentally conforming beings and are influenced heavily by the values and attitudes of the society in which they inhabit (Barton, 2002). When people are unable to conform to the "norms" of their society because of certain factors this causes them to feel stressed and experience feelings of helplessness. If this stress is not quelled, it may be expected to erupt as criminal behavior. The first factor that must be taken into consideration when applying the strain theory to the Toxteth Riots is the process of selection and retention of strained individuals (Agnew, 1999). For example, a majority of the black population that resided in Liverpool were unemployed and lived in poverty. Therefore, they felt financially strained because they could not afford to move into better housing and living conditions.

Hence, the longer they resided in deprived communities, the more strain and unrest they would have been expected to experience. Another factor is the failure to achieve positively valued goals (Agnew, 1999). The three goals that are most commonly valued in all societies today are wealth, status, and respect. As previously stated, the black community of Liverpool suffered from high unemployment, which would make them unable to reach the goals of wealth and status. The racism and discrimination that they experienced from the white residents of the community would make them unable to achieve the goal of attaining respect. Their failure to reach these goals because of conditions imposed on them by society would leave them with a feeling of helplessness.

Since nothing was done to try and improve these conditions this feeling of helplessness escalated into social upheaval in the form of rioting. Thirdly, we see the loss of positive stimuli (Agnew, 1999). The black community of Liverpool suffered from an overwhelming feeling of helplessness coupled with the indifference of the police and government. In their eyes, there was no sign of any plan by the government to implement positive change and therefore, they felt that it was up to them to gain the government's attention. Lastly, one needs to consider the aggregate level of negative affect (Agnew, 1999).

Not only did the black community have to deal with high unemployment and discrimination from the white residents of Liverpool, but they also had to contend with oppressive policing. The mistrust and resentment felt towards the local authorities caused high levels of tension between them. It was this tension with the police that grew into anger and frustration and sparked the riots. The frustration-aggression theory was first proposed by Dollars, Door, Miller, Mower and Sears in 1939. This theory states that with every instance of frustration with behavior directed towards a goal, which in turn created some tendency to react with aggression and that every instance of aggression was preceded by frustration (Alcock, Carmen t & Sada va, 2001).

This theory is easily applicable to the Toxteth riots of 1981. Liverpool's black community had to deal with high unemployment, sub-standard living conditions, an indifferent government, and an abusive police force. These factors caused them to feel extremely frustrated, and it was only a matter of time before their frustration erupted into aggression. The Toxteth riots were a result of this explosion of frustration.

There were many social tensions surrounding the era of the Toxteth Riots and several have been identified in the research that led to this article. Crime rates were high, and offenders were not concerned with the consequences of their actions. The policing of these crimes did not provide the solution. Racial issues emerging from police brutality only invoked further tensions. Above all else, these issues were centered within the most dilapidated and impoverished living conditions in the country.

Given the outbreaks of riots in surrounding areas with parallel issues, the Toxteth Riots may have been foreseen during the 1960's. Unfortunately, rather than addressing the real and underlying issues that existed, governmental practices only attempted to cover up the problems. Authorities have more recently made efforts in the implementation of youth programs (Morris, 1996). It would even appear as though crime has decreased according to an audit of crime conducted by a Community Safety Partnership called City safe (Liverpool Crime & Disorder Audit, 2001 as cited by Bootle Group, 2001). However, violent crime has increased and only half of these victims report the assault to police (Bootle Group, 2001). As well, police targets on young men appear to remain present.

A British crime survey conducted in 1998 reports that 32% of men aged sixteen to twenty-nine were stopped by police compared to only fourteen percent of older men (Yeo & Budd, 2000 as cited by Bootle Group, 2001). Twenty years after the riots, many of the social problems prevalent then, still exist today (BBC News. Thursday, July 5, 2001). Lady Margaret Simey, chair of the police authority during the riots feels race is still at the root of the area's woes, .".. It's that if you happen also to have a black face, there is no escape from the poverty" (BBC News.

Thursday, July 5, 2001). The roots of the problems need attention in the Toxteth area. According to the applied theories, as long as these tensions endure, the likelihood exists that history may repeat itself.