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Report: Hatred of police behind UK riots

Ming Yeung / Getty Images, file

Police patrol the streets on Aug. 8 in London, England.

Hatred of the police has been identified as a major reason behind the widespread outbreak of rioting in the U.K. in August.

The Guardian newspaper, in association with the London School of Economics, carried out a major investigation into why disorder broke out on such a wide scale.

They spoke to 270 people who rioted in the cities of London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Nottingham, Manchester and Salford, gathering more than 1.3 million words of first-person accounts.

In Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron blamed the riots and looting on what he called a "slow-motion moral collapse." NBC's Brian Williams reports.

"Rioters identified a range of political grievances, but at the heart of their complaints was a pervasive sense of injustice," the newspaper said. "For some this was economic: the lack of money, jobs or opportunity. For others it was more broadly social: how they felt they were treated compared with others. Many mentioned the increase in student tuition fees and the scrapping of the education maintenance allowance.

"Although rioters expressed a mix of opinions about the disorder, many of those involved said they felt like they were participating in explicitly anti-police riots. They cited 'policing' as the most significant cause of the riots," it added.

The Guardian published a timeline of interviews with those involved, showing how the rioting spread from a protest about the fatal shooting of a man, Mark Duggan, by police in Tottenham, north London, to a nationwide problem.

He's become the emblem of the riots. Twenty-year-old Malaysian accounting student Asyraf Haziq was assaulted then mugged by passers-by as he lay collapsed and bleeding on an east London street.

One rioter, involved in the Tottenham riot on Aug. 6, told how he decided to join in when he saw a police car being burned.

"It was the police car – I know what they stand for," he told The Guardian. "For the record: yeah, I do hate the f****** police ... I was caught up in the situation. And it was like: let's cause f****** chaos – let's cause a riot."

'We're bigger than the police'
Others then went to see what was happening and got caught up in the general feeling that the police were unable to stop the rioters.

Social media and the mob mentality can be a dangerous combination, as shown by the London riots, which were fed by texts and instant messages. NBC's Mara Schiavocampo reports.

"I think the looting came about because it was linked to police," another rioter, a 19-year-old student, told the paper. "We're showing them that, yeah, we're bigger than the police, we are actually bigger than the police. Fair enough, we are breaking the law and everything, but there's more of us than there are of you. So if we want to do this, we can do this. And you won't do anything to stop us."

Messages circulated on Blackberry phones in particular, saying where the next riots would be.

Gangs put aside rivalries to allow the rioting and looting to take place, some told The Guardian.

By Aug. 8, the rioting had spread outside London with the worst trouble happening in Birmingham.

"Firstly, it was just running into shops, pulling clothes off the hangers and running out again," a 16-year-old told The Guardian. "We seen some windows being smashed in. We just thought, everyone else is doing it. It just seemed like a good idea really."

He complained that the police "call us little s**** and little b******* and everything," he said. "They're not what you see on the TV and that – acting all good and that."

The teenager said he had stolen Nike track pants so he could feel like "people with money, good families." He said they looked down on him.

"I hate feeling like people are judging me," he told The Guardian. "They don't know about me and then they just look at you and I hate it, I absolutely hate it."

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