“I wanted to see us do this to the fucking Feds for years.”

As we sit here in Dalston at 23:30, the sirens fading, the scene directly outside appears to be calming down. Maybe it is because of the gangs of vigilante Turkish men who have appeared on Kingsland Road, armed with sticks and bars, becoming the unforeseen Twitter heroes of the night; maybe it’s because the kids knew they would be told off by their collective mums and had to go to bed; maybe it’s because some of them already have been told off by this awesome woman. Whatever the reasons, the hours of violence in Hackney appear to be ending, although hoodies are still clustered around the Pembury estate and rioting continues elsewhere.

So, who were these rioters and looters, and what exactly did they want? Theories abound, some pushed by ideologues or bigots, most presented by anonymous online voices with little information and only speculation. We fit into at least one of those categories, so why should we be left out?

The Ladbrokes on Mare Street takes a beating. The guy probably put down a bum bet on the 15:45 from Newmarket. Probably.

First, let us distinguish between three types of activity: rioting, random acts of violence and looting. The first includes attacks on police, criminal damage of property with no financial motive and any other act aimed to undermine the authorities, state or economic system. Rioting is no fun; it’s hard work, takes a lot of running around and has little immediate profit. It’s also extremely risky. Of all the activities undertaken in the last two days, rioting is the most likely to get you arrested as you’re normally doing it right in front of the police, perhaps even involving the police as a target. For these reasons, determined rioting is usually undertaken for political reasons, however vague.

But in a situation such as tonight it’s also possible that the general lack of law and order makes rioting a fun and largely risk-free enterprise for people with few coherent political motives. That’s when it no longer classifies as rioting, but merely as random acts of violence. The two are often difficult to disentangle: were people being dragged out of their cars near the Pembury estate because they wanted to set the cars up as roadblocks and hinder police activity, or just because the cars were in the wrong place at the wrong time?

Looting, on the other hand, is purely profit-driven. Much of it has been optimistic over the past two nights — people who happened to be near the JD Sports when its windows were smashed and thought ‘free pair of shoes’. But some appear to have been organised, as this testimony from Peckham suggests. Rumours of people dragging cyclists off their bikes in London Fields is essentially a form of looting.

Rioter, looter or prick? Sometimes, it's tough to call.

The question that’s being asked on Twitter, Facebook and among friends tonight is: are these people rioters or looters? That is, are their grievances genuine (and is their behaviour a genuine expression of their grievances?), or are they just opportunistic, turning against their own communities, making life harder for those who are already struggling? Though those involved in the violence enjoyed some sympathy among communities in the beginning, it has quickly turned sour — now the Turkish vigilantes hold the public thrall.

There is either bleakness or reason in many of the quotes given by the rioters tonight, and perhaps the night’s events, still unfolding, will determine how to read them. One rioter, speaking of the Pembury estate events and a battle with the police, gave the quote that supplies this story’s title (never mind that the UK does not have feds). Another, just 14 years old, made it clear to The Guardian‘s deputy editor Kath Vine why they had stolen and stashed alcohol: “Recession. We’ve no money and nothing to do.”

The shooting of Mark Duggan may not have direct relevance to the community in Hackney, let alone Lewisham, Croydon and certainly Birmingham. But it was a spark, and it found a dry and plentiful supply of tinder among disaffected and bored youth — who have turned against their own communities to feed it. Whatever the motivation, there is little that can justify the actions that have spread fear among citizens of Hackney and destroyed livelihoods for innocent bystanders. But knowing the problem helps in finding the solution.

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