The Riots – What we need to learn from them
Before I begin, I want to make it clear that I do not pretend to be a political commentator of any sort. I usually write about (among other things) skateboarding, music and the media.
However, the events over the past few days and the amount of debate they have sparked among the people of Britain have left me interested and I feel compelled to contribute my two cents. I am neither particularly left or right of the political spectrum. In fact, I class myself as fairly apathetic and this piece is not an attempt to further a political agenda in any way whatsoever. All I’m doing is trying to understand a situation and offer my understanding to those that care to listen.
The perpetrators aren’t wholly to blame
First off, people who are happy to shrug off the youths taking part in these riots as thugs, lowlifes and scumbags are more a part of the problem than they may realise. The focus should not be on the actions of the individuals, but on what has made them believe that carrying out these actions are OK in the first place.
I do not in any way condone the violence and seeing family businesses go up in smoke and innocent people terrified on their own streets upsets me as much as it does the next man. I am a firm believer in peaceful and intelligent protest and a riot should always be a last resort. The problem is, the youths taking to the streets just don’t care. The majority of them will see violence and crime on a daily basis in their own communities and they will see a lot of these instances go without consequences. They are desensitized on such a huge scale that it was only a matter of time before something like this happened. I seriously doubt whether the majority of rioters are out there consciously fighting against poverty and inequality, but what they are doing (whether they realise it or not) is highlighting that there are some serious problems within our country and the way it is run that need to be addressed.
The fact that these kids think it’s acceptable or just a bit of fun to cause widespread destruction like this is one of them. There is a disconnect there between themselves and wider society that cannot be ignored. The level of social exclusion that these people are subject to is not their own doing, which is a problem that the state have failed to recognise or attempt to remedy (successfully, at least) over the years leading up to this.
Having said that, I also believe that you do not need to be educated or have money in order to have morals. The tricky bit is that without positive reinforcement from their families, their communities and the people in charge of their local areas, these people will have a much harder time defining what is right and wrong. It really is such a massive and obvious issue that at first glance it’s all too easy to write these youths off as yobs and thugs. The question has to be: “Where has the state gone wrong and what can be done to fix it?”
This isn’t a race war, it’s a class war
This may be fairly controversial, but I reject claims that this is about race. There are black and white people living in these communities. I can say with a lot of confidence that if you were to stick a black and a white kid in these environments, they will grow up with a similar view of the world and similar morals. You may well see more black faces on the news than you do white, but that’s simply because there are, for the most part, more black people living in these impoverished areas than there are white. I believe this logic applies to the stop and search controversy too. Perhaps I am being naive, but I believe the police would be just as likely to stop and search a white kid dressed in a hooded tracksuit, late night in a rough part of town as they would a black kid. There are more instances of police stopping black youths because there are simply more black youths in the area than there are white.
Again, I am not trying to be an expert or claiming I have all the answers, this is just what I am deducing from the most basic levels of observation. I have not been to these areas on late nights and seen this happen for myself, this is just what I think is the case, looking from the outside in.
What infuriates me is seeing people from the far right seeing this as an opportunity to blame these events on the black community. The colour of the rioters skin has absolutely nothing to do with this situation, the areas and lives they come from (impoverished inner-city estates, largely) does. Please be clear that I am not denying the existence of racial inequality within these areas, I am simply saying that it is not strictly a black vs white issue.
To begin with, most of the media reaction was fairly unbiased. Over the last 48 hours or so, some clear lines have been drawn by particular outlets. One that comes to mind is the BBC’s interview with Darcus Howe, a West-Indian writer and broadcaster. During his interview, Mr Howe made some intelligent and perfectly valid points about the conditions the youth involved in the riots are subject to and he tried to explain that while he didn’t condone the violence, he was not surprised by it and offered reasons as to why it had happened.
As the debate began to get more heated, the BBC presenter, who obviously didn’t agree with Mr Howe’s views, deliberately tried to attack his character by suggesting that he himself had instigated or been involved with riots during his lifetime. Mr Howe, noticeably frustrated by the presenter kindly informed her that he had never been involved in any riots and that she should have some respect.
Most other areas of the media simply seem to be regurgitating the comments from politicians that this “thuggery and violence will not go without consequences”, or words to that effect. Few, except the Guardian, seem to be having a look at the other side of the story as I am trying to do here.
There are far too many issues to cover in this one post. The police’s response, the handling of Mark Duggan’s death, the role of popular culture, the social networks, the budget cuts, the politicians’ distinct lack of urgency – these are all subjects that have their own headings and sub-headings for debate. What needs to be done now is for the violence to be stopped as quickly and efficiently as possible (ensuring the utmost regard for human life) and for the government to take a long, hard look at themselves and figure out what they can do to put this situation right. If nothing is done to try and remedy the disaffected youth, they are just going to keep coming back for more. It’s happened before, it’s happening now and it will happen again.
I strongly encourage you to comment if you agree or disagree with anything in this post.