Devastated, disgusted and frustrated. This is my initial reaction to the senseless, barbaric looting and rioting unfolding on my London doorstep and quickly spreading across England like wildfire. It’s horrific to see vibrant city streets crumbling and burning at the hands of, largely, young people without discernable conscience or respect for social order. How else can we explain those willing to crush the homes and livelihood of the innocent by throwing petrol bombs or breaking shop windows with the same ease they’d use to switch off a light? How did things come to this? Were they never taught about values and consequences at home?
The fatal shooting of Mark Duggan in Tottenham by police, still under investigation, proved the catalyst for this mayhem. Yet the root cause of the riots of the last three days runs far deeper than this incident in my opinion. Mark’s peaceful protest gone wrong appears a worrying testament to the latent tensions brewing across the country, poisoning our society and fundamentally blurring the line between right and wrong.
Fortunately the closest I’ve ever come to anti-social youth was riding the train home from work one evening. I was in my early 20s, and with Chris. Two young boys, probably in their early teens, were smoking on the train. It wasn’t the height of rush hour so the train wasn’t packed. A number of us asked the kids to put out their cigarettes. They scoffed. Then they snubbed them out on the train seat, only to light up again. This pattern continued our entire train ride home. Perhaps naively, I was shocked how these boys just did not care. They had no respect for Authority, and that they weren’t supposed to be smoking on the train. They had no respect for fellow passengers. They acted as if they were untouchable, and how dare we even attempt to mess with that.
This memory always stays with me. It reinforced my knowledge that I have to keep my wits about me living in a city; it also worried me and discourages me from attempting to reason with wanton youth, for fear of a worse result than pure scoffing and a face full of cigarette smoke. I don’t believe people in the street should sanction anti-social behaviour by teens and children, but simultaneously stories of people being stabbed for asking youth to stop messing around prove a pretty big deterrent.
So what to do now, now that an unfortunate incident has been blown out of proportion and become an excuse for seemingly bored, angry, frustrated young people to run feral and destroy society in their wake? Undoubtedly the police are working hard at quelling this challenging situation, yet so far they appear a limited disincentive to rioters and that is worrying. Should they be using limited force or tear gas or rubber bullets? Or would this just lead to a portrait of them assaulting human rights? Should the army be called in, as many were suggesting on news boards and in social media?
And what to do with the perpetrators as they gradually are identified and charged? How can we genuinely get through to the “untouchable” to show that their behaviour hurts the innocent and is unacceptable? Some are calling for a re-introduction of a National Service-like programme. Most importantly, how to we rehabilitate more than condemn? What do you think?
Yes, burning London and England-wide cities are a wake- up call about the ripple effects of poverty, lack of education, gang warfare and survival of the fittest mentalities that run deep in England for which there are no easy solution. But when we strip that all away, and ask how these kids came to be involved in such rioting, I can’t help wondering where their parents are? I know I can’t tar them all with the same brush and that often bad eggs/influences in society may cloud positive family influences but I can’t help feeling shame for these rioting children, and shame for the parents that don’t know where their children are or who won’t chastise their children’s behaviour as anti-social, cruel and wrong. I'm not talking about dumping their child with social services either - I'm talking about taking some personal responsibility and being involved in a positive way.
I may be speaking out of turn, but how did we reach a point where young people are running rampant destroying English cities? I’m not saying that there aren’t very real challenges in our society that need addressing or that these children and young adults shouldn’t be held directly accountable for their actions. I just wonder why they never learned that for every bit of good they put back into the world they are one step closer to tackling inequity. And that anti-social behavior or rioting or cruelty will only cause hurt, condemnation and more struggles.
These are messages we should all be sharing with our children in hopes that gradually we will collectively generate goodwill, that as part of the bigger picture, will help shift the balance away from the madness of late.
*For a take on why rioters feel like they don't belong to "the community", read Camila Batmanghelidjh
She makes a compelling case for more proactive approaches to social inclusion with fair insights into the anti-society where rioters may be coming from. I don't feel, however, that this negates personal and in some cases parental accountability for the goings on of late. Rehabilitation of this mindset is key, just not cheap or easy.