But the unrest also has a commercial side -- the rioters used social media techniques previously used by marketers for ad campaigns to organize their insurrection. And once the mobs have gained control of a street, many of them have gone "shopping" -- looting stores for cash and merchandise.
The "untraceable" Blackberry messages rioters have been sending out to incite their comrades have been as much about shopping and "free stuff" as they have been about poverty or injustice at the hands of the police.
The rioters' choice of targets was interesting: There appeared to be no common thread to the stores they chose to loot. Some were obvious brand conscious choices: clothing stores that cater to young people such as Top Shop and JD Sports. Electronics stores seemed obvious targets -- the merchandise is valuable, easily sold and portable -- but why trash women's clothing store Miss Selfridge or Domino's Pizza?
Next: Begin gallery, "Shopping or Looting? 10Brands Targeted by Rioters in England"Â»
1. The Money Shop
The Money Shop was, perhaps, an inevitable target: It's a national chain of pawnbrokers, check-cashing facilities and payday loans. The windows of this store in Manchester were broken in. It is not clear if the rioters actually got any money from the site. Speedy Cash in Walworth, another loan store, was also smashed.
Mobile phones have all the attributes rioters love: They are expensive, easily taken and easily sold.
Next: JD SportsÂ»
3. JD Sports
Like Top Shop, another target, sportswear retailer JD Sports is very much a youth brand. Here's an image of the Camden store the next day, with its windows gone and a police guard standing by.
4. Miss Selfridge
Miss Selfridge was targeted in Manchester even though the vast majority of the rioters were male. By the next day, the store was completely burned out:
5. Party Superstore
The rioting was characterized as much by rank opportunism as it was by a desire for justice or new clothes. Can anyone really have felt oppressed by Party Superstore, a national chain of social entertainment suppliers? And yet it was completely torched:
6. Tottenham Hotspur F.C.
Football clubs tend to have rock-solid working class credentials and often bend over backwards to retain the loyalty of their followers. The riots started in Tottenham, Spurs' heartland. And yet the club's ticket office was not spared. It must have been Arsenal fans.
7. Carpet Right
Another baffling choice for arson -- did local floor covering store Carpet Right really have its jackboot on the neck of the proletariat? These before-and-after photos show how a lovely old building has been needlessly trashed, probably beyond restoration.
Another apparel brand: Note how the rioters are lining up to get inside for new sneakers, as if it were a normal Saturday afternoon. One of them appears to be carrying a shopping bag from Boots, the main street pharmacy.
The looting went on for several days. Following nights of smashed windows, even retailers whose goods cannot possibly have been of interest to the rioters -- such as Mothercare -- began boarding up their storefronts.
You don't have to be Karl Marx to interpret what is going on in this image.
Image by Stuart Bannocks, CC