We've Got Hollywood Covered

Blame the Media for Feeding the Narcissistic Gang Mentality of the London Rioters

The media hasn’t learned that the need for public attention by gang members is constant. And, the more attention they get, the more they act out


It's deja vu” all over again, as Yogi Berra once said. 

Only it’s not baseball this time, but a deadly game manifested in the street riots of Great Britain.

I’ve seen it before, unfortunately. And I guess I’ll continue seeing it again, because, for some reason, people don’t want to — or simply can’t — learn the lessons of history, human nature and the ways of preventing or stopping the criminal acts that are going on in the streets of British cities.

In some respects, I blame the media for the intensity of the current riots going on in Great Britain.

They haven’t learned that the need for public attention by gang members is constant. 

And, the more attention they get, the more they act out. 

Examples: Throwing gang signs is a gang member’s MO. He wants to be identified. Advertising through graffiti is another example of gang PR at work. 

Who in law enforcement or in community affairs where gangs proliferate, hasn’t seen gang tattooing on a gang member? Shouting gang identification during a gang attack is a common occurrence. 

Rioters are a gang. And when the media plays into their hands by building up their presence, building up their potency and threat, giving them interviews and television coverage only increases the ego boost that they want from the world … and encourages more of the same activity.

We know that gang members support each other, just as families do. 

We know that gang members have poor social skills, and so do angry mobs. We know that gang members have a lack of emotional controls and their responses are violent; so do all “gangs” of people. I used to say that gang members are always waiting for a riot to happen, even if they have to create it. 

I was the head of the Hard Core Gang Division in the L.A. District Attorney’s office for years, and watched the drive-bys that went down on a daily basis. 

I’ve seen the media capitalize on the violence, often fanning the fires. 

In some perverted way the rioters are actors. 

And the acting out that we are seeing in such cosmopolitan cities such as London and Birmingham is, make no mistake about it, gang activity rising to the massive community riot level.

Look at it closely: They stem from the same causes; they all enlarge and create huge community problems for the same reasons.

Yes, we can blame poverty. Yes, we can blame lack of home attention and discipline. Yes, we can blame poor school methods and results. Yes, we can blame isolating anger and frustration. Yes, we can blame poor community relations and planning. And yes, we can blame law enforcement methods and lack of appropriate or proportionate responses. 

But, for me, I blame our failure in forgetting what we have learned over the course of time.

No, I’m not saying that we should ignore gang members … or rioters. What I’m saying is that we should focus on them in a different way other than through media exposure and as fodder for our entertainment. 

I recognize there's a need to sell papers and to get viewers. But there is a thing called public responsibility, and that applies to coverage by the media. They have to act responsibly, and I don’t think they have learned that lesson. They certainly haven’t in several TV “presentations” that I’ve seen.

I remember, while working for the D.A.'s office being interviewed by a Hollywood film writer who had been hired to profile the L.A. gang scene. I’m afraid, after a few minutes, the man got tired of my monosyllabic answers. I knew that the information I gave him was going to be transmuted into a fiction that would do more harm then good, so I was less than cooperative. 

The film was made, and I paid for a ticket to see it. As a piece of melodrama it wasn’t bad. As a statement that might discourage gang members, it was a stinker. And I thought, in many ways, it glorified them. It certainly did not stress personal responsibility on their part.

Again, unfortunately, many people who are not in gangs are also, for the same reasons, waiting for the same opportunities.  

Regrettably, that has happened in Britain over the last week. And no matter what the inspiration for hitting the street, no matter that they might not have been "officially" been made members of a singular gang, people who act as a gangs, and are caught up in the mob mentality, are gang members.

Again, I stress responsibility. David Cameron, the British Prime Minister condemned the young people running down the street taking property, looting, laughing as they went. He wants his people to act responsibly.  

I would urge the media to act responsibly, as well.  


Michael Genelin, as a former assistant Los Angeles County district attorney, headed the notorious Hardcore Gang Division, which saw the systematic dismemberment of the Golden Age of gang activity in Los Angeles. He was also chief prosecutor in the murder trial of actor Sal Mineo. Since those days, he has been involved around the world in penal code reform, anti-corruption reform, witness protection practices and other judicial reform consultation at the behest of foreign governments from Slovakia to Palestine. Genelin is an accomplished author and screenwriter. His latest book, "Requiem for a Gypsy," is published by Soho Press and available on Amazon and other book retailers.