Mob Violence: Psychological Myths, Facts, Solutions

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Poverty is likewise not the cause of looting. Poverty is widespread in China and Russia. Mob violence and looting are nowhere to be found. Poverty is widespread in Africa and Asia, but mob violence and looting correlate only with gangs who amass arms and have the resources to rob those poorer than those gangs. Poverty did not cause anarchy during Hurricane Katrina, a natural disaster overwhelming a city's resources did, along with criminal elements taking advantage of such disaster-inspired chaos.

Likewise, it is a myth that hopelessness instigates mob violence. Hopelessness engenders passivity, the opposite of violence.

When looting and mob violence events are reported as "people vs. government," such a message only feeds a public sense of identification with looters and their own willingness to participate. At the same time, this message engenders insecurity and a sense that government is losing control among the law abiding and further traumatizes a community.

Are you suggesting that mob violence and looting can be prevented?

Absolutely. It is instructive to see that mob violence does not occur everywhere, even in societies that have access to weapons and in which mass demonstration is permitted. Mass assembly is not the problem.

Fundamental to eliminating mob violence is to first identify it as criminality, rather than a social phenomenon. That responsibility rests upon elected leaders, community leaders, teachers, parents, mass media and police.

A brutal police force is not the solution. Nor is mere arrest. For perpetrators recognize that legal consequences of looting and destruction of property are limited, especially amid chaos. But there are other societal tools available to eliminate this behavior.

The media should emphasize the vulnerability and pathos of those victimized by random mob violence and looting. From the 89-year-old shopowner whose premises are destroyed to the friendly bystander who is pummeled into a fractured skull and irreversible brain damage, vivid examples of the senseless byproducts of mob violence and looting nurture a community's resolve to prevent them. The mass media can be particularly effective in massing empathy for these unfortunate victims of circumstance and in mobilizing public outrage toward those who unravel the fabric of daily order.

Amid this focus from the mass media, local communities have to reject looting as a shame to the community and repulsive behavior that embarrasses them. If this rejection occurs loudly in houses of worship, in schools, and among neighbors, then police and public officials can leverage such societal morals by exposing looters upon arrest and shaming them before their neighbors.

Yes, name names; of looters, their parents, their communities, name even the gang to which they might belong.

Perpetrator walks and publicizing the identities of looters amid a community rejection of looting humiliates the perpetrator. It creates a powerful disincentive where courts and justice cannot. And it punctures the anonymity of group violence in a way that gives prospective looters pause for that risk. Such a police policy is especially easy to achieve in England, given the proliferation of high-grade security cameras all across London and other cities.

Because many looters are young people, identifying the communities from which they originate is psychologically sound. To do so does not cause prejudice; the general public knows what is going on and is not fooled by political correctness.

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