As the rioting
subsides, for the moment anyway, the analysis of society gathers pace with a debate of largely polarised viewpoints. The leading question seems to be what has happened to the children, when did they become so lawless, how did they get to this terrible state where they smash, steal, destroy and injure without a care about authority, police, parents, or their own futures. Good question; but surely horses and stable doors ! Such concern is admirable but so late in coming. This isn’t a Summer of 2011 problem; it’s been around and growing for years.
Anyway not all the rioters, looters, arsonists, robbers, burglars and fighters that we have seen on tv over the last week are children, or youths (to give them their correct legal label), in fact the majority are not. Nevertheless there was participation of a large number of very young people and their involvement cannot always be traced to any one simplistic cause; it is more complex and the root causes of what has so unsurprisingly happened this week could be numerous and often deep seated, at least for some of them. In most cases there is no cause other than a joy of recklessness, the gain of power (however briefly), the mentality of ‘I do because I can’ and the absence of any fear of being caught, arrested, convicted, punished or even told off by a disinterested parent. If the future holds nothing to look forward to then why bother to look at all.
In a blog that is subtitled where we go wrong, there is so much material in these riots that there is a danger of overload; it is harder to write about anything we have done right. So shall we just blame everybody and everything we can think of. Let’s blame government, politicians, police, parents, schools, courts, immigration, alcohol, drugs, banks, the welfare society, human rights, cuts in public spending, the worship of celebrity, the huge gap between rich and poor, consumerism, flms and tv programmes that glamourise crime and violence, the focus on olympic games rather than on our own citizens, gang culture, racism, lack of role models, lack of discipline at home and school, liberalism, community leaders (whatever that means), mismanagement in the criminal justice system, political interference in the judiciary, the breakdown of respect for others, and (last but in no way least) selfishness and greed in their most gross and dangerous forms.
So pick a cause, any cause. Talk about it, write about it, shout about it, join an e-petition about it. You may well be right and the cause you pick is almost certainly a contributory factor, but that is the easy part; the hard part is tackling any cause and changing a society that has gone badly wrong. We cannot go back in time; what has become established behaviour, whether acceptable or not to the more traditional, has changed and the new world is an immensely challenging one and, in some ways, a very scary one. The criminality we now witness, particularly amongst youths, is here to stay unless there are changes in our society so major that it is almost impossible to imagine them happening. It is more likely we will have to adapt to a more dangerous, selfish and violent world and learn how to live with it.
We waste so much time deciding which politicians we elect, only to find there is not much difference between them. Rhetoric is their specialist subject and they can be very good at it. We have a PM who tells us that punishments for disorder will be more severe, in contradiction of the changes in sentencing that his government is now enacting. He knows that punishments for youths, under current legislation, cannot be more severe (except possibly for the current batch being processed in the light of exceptional publicity), and they probably won’t be in the future, but it is a good vote catcher. We have a Home Secretary who promised us that cuts in the police budget would never lead to violent unrest
. Nice one. We have a leader of the opposition who takes every opportunity to be bland, boring and banal. They don’t know the solutions; they are so detached in their multi-millionaire world that they don’t even know the problems to solve until they are manifested explosively on the streets, and even then they don’t really know. They don’t see the reality because they are not part of it. They don’t even see the irony of stiffer sentences for looters being demanded by MPs who did not hesitate to loot from taxpayers by way of false expenses claims
. As for bankers getting huge bonuses for losing the country’s money, well that would be worth a street protest in itself, peaceful of course.
In the aftermath, our political leaders are generally dismissing any link between sociological problems in our society and the riots, describing the offences committed as arising purely from criminality, which is certainly innate in our very aggressive nation and increasingly apparent amongst the young. So the argument goes that there must be severe punishment and deterrent rather than a search for, and a resolution of, other causes. It is an attractive argument because of its simplicity, not to mention the relinquishing of any blame on its advocates, but I am not entirely convinced; I think the search for other factors is worthwhile even if it ends by disproving them.
But if they are right then why didn’t they put the appropriate deterrents and resources in place. They must have known, as many did, that the inherent criminality was there, unless they admit they are out of touch. In fact they have done the opposite. We have police who give cautions for serious crimes, providing no deterrent at all, but the paperwork is a lot easier than with a court appearance.
The sight of police standing in a line and watching very serious crimes take place, with no intervention, was alarming and unbelievable and must be the wrong tactic, if tactical it was. Fire officers refusing to go to a burning building because they did not feel they were adequately protected by police was no more palatable or credible. We need a greater, not smaller, police resource and better operational leadership. We need all offenders, apart from the most minor, taken to court and dealt with under proper judicial sentencing rules, not given a ticking off by a police officer they don’t respect. The criminal justice system is not just a government department that should cut costs like any other; it is a prerequisite to be able to live in a civilised way and must be given a very high priority. Otherwise the riots will be back, sometime and somewhere, again and again. The public should be properly protected and this time that just didn’t happen.