Lakers Win! Time to Riot? – The Lakers are up, Kobe Bryant has the ball and the last seconds count down until finally the buzzer buzzes, and yes, YES! the Lakers win back-to-back NBA titles! At that moment, the entire city of Los Angeles erupted in a cacophonous sound that would make the ancient Roman gladiators cower in fear. Where I was watching the game, far from downtown L.A., someone in the room jokingly said, “Let the riots begin.”
Sure enough, after only a few minutes, the television screen began to flicker images of the carnage that was downtown Los Angeles last night and early morning. Was the joker in the room a prophet? Of course not. Everyone expected that a few hundred people would participate in some nihilistic anarchy. It’s just what happens, I guess. We are, after all, merely primates.
Someone once described to me the “personality” of the three major metropolises in California. San Francisco is far left, radical, but with a sort of hippy calm. San Diego is far right and conservative, and calm in a smug kind of way. But Los Angeles? Los Angeles is just pissed off.
But Laker Riots are not unique in any way. After all, there are soccer riots in London, Berlin, Rio de Janeiro, Calcutta, and anywhere there’s a large group of drunk males relative to the police presence necessary to stop them, coupled with the good news that their team won.
The psychology of a “riot” is an interesting one, because ironically most riots, like European soccer riots, happen with the announcement of good news. Rioters aren’t really angry while they’re rioting, either. The joyous look on these primates’ faces as they loot, burn, and destroy tells the observer that this isn’t merely an angry protest against social conditions.
What starts a riot?
Before a riot starts, a large amount of people have to be present and under the influence of alcohol. From there, it takes only one person to do something – break a window, for example.
Most people at the scene of a riot are already expecting the riot to happen. They just think someone else will start it. So, the better question is “Who starts a riot?” David D. Haddock and Daniel D. Polsby, in their article Understanding Riots, call this person the ‘entrepreneur’. The risk-taker.
If this person is able to do something without any retaliation from police – it’s monkey see, monkey do from there. We are primates, after all, and this biological trait of following the leader comes from our ancient simian ancestors. All humans are susceptible to it, too – but especially young males. It’s not like riots are specifically a black or Mexican phenomenon, as many often accuse. It’s a class issue and it’s a testosterone issue, and what it seems to be based on is the reputation of the male.
Most middle-class folks act in a socially benign way – that’s a prerequisite to move up the social ladder in our society. In essence, ‘respectability’ is important to them. It’s so important, in fact, that these types demand much better odds in their favor before acting like a nihilistic maniac. But some people – mostly aggressive young males – don’t care about respectability, or rather – respectability works in the opposite direction. This is especially in the case of gangs, where aggression in males warrants respects. While social disposition and race relations does factor into the equation, basically any male before the age of 30 who is single and unemployed are potential rioters, especially if they are members of a gang or any subculture that rewards aggressive behavior.
And that’s basically who starts a riot – a young male who doesn’t care about society’s version of ‘respectability’ who is willing to take the first shot, and risk being arrested. He is the catalyst. Everyone else is just a young, aggressive male. Sure, there’s a few women in there, but I’m talking generally. Seriously. Try to find a riot where the majority of looters are women, children, or the elderly.