9th August, 2011

My fears for the London riots

I have a blog, I’m concerned about young people and I feel mute.

I’m struggling to find the words to express how I feel and frankly I’m torn, so I wanted to share a few blogs and articles that say so eloquently what I cannot.

First I wanted to share a few of my fears.

I’m scared.  As a mother of a toddler living in South West London I’m scared.  My ‘leafy suburb’ doesn’t feel so safe anymore. I’m rushing to finish this post where I work, I’m going to go home as there are warnings of violence within my locality.

As someone who has more or less dedicated her adult life to helping and supporting young people I’m scared about what life is like for these rioters that makes them think that they can smash their way into a shop and steal everything in sight then set it ablaze, with no regard for who may be living nearby.  Before you condemn, stop and think ‘What must life be like for them?’

Child looters

I’m scared about the blood braying I’ve heard of in the last two days.  I fear vigilante groups of locals who are frustrated at the lack of police response.  There’s widespread calling for water cannons, the army and rubber bullets, even.  I’m probably about to open the floodgates of criticism here, but can we remember that among these looters are children?

Rob Dover reminds us about the frontal lobe under-development in children, in his blog, Kings of War.

“Enough of the bull-shit that children are free to be adults from the age of 12, they’re children … It’s abject bollocks to think that a 12 year old knows anywhere near enough about the world to be out making serious choices. Neurological research tells us that the part of the brain that processes risk is not fully formed until 19. Up to 19 that part of the brain functions to accept risk too readily.”

Rob questions the role of parents in these young looters’ lives and suggests the ‘big society’ may provide some short-term solutions to the violence.

Of course the rioters, even if they are children, must be held criminally responsible for their acts (appropriate to their age), but to suggest such extreme measures?  I’m scared about what this will lead to.

I’m also scared about the impact of these riots on young people in general.  Every time a commentator talks about these criminal acts being caused by ‘gangs of youths’ they inadvertently tarnish all young people with this brush.  Let us not forget that by far the vast majority of young people are sitting at home every night as scared as you and I.

Can we please refer to the people who commit these criminal acts as ‘rioters’ or ‘looters’, not as ‘youths’?  This is not a ‘lawless generation’.  Look at the young people out this morning clearing up the mess; they hate what is happening to their communities.

London, the most inequal city on earth?

LVSC in partnership with Trust brings together a collection of mini-essays that paint a picture of London as two cities in their report, Closing the Gap: inequality in London.  The report cites evidence from The Hills enquiry in January of 2010, which revealed that “even the worst-off of the richest 10% of people in London have wealth which is 273 times greater than that held by the best-off of the poorest 10% of Londoners”.

One has to remember that in communities in London the richest and the poorest live side-by-side.  Yet, they rarely mix.  London is a multi-cultural city but an extremely divided one.

Caring costs – but so do riots

Founder of Kids Company, Camila Batmanghelidjh, explains in The Independent that these rioters feel that they don’t belong to a community:

“The insidious flourishing of anti-establishment attitudes is paradoxically helped by the establishment. It grows when a child is dragged by their mother to social services screaming for help and security guards remove both; or in the shiny academies which, quietly, rid themselves of the most disturbed kids. Walk into the mental hospitals and there is nothing for the patients to do except peel the wallpaper. Go to the youth centre and you will find the staff have locked themselves up in the office because disturbed young men are dominating the space with their violent dogs. Walk on the estate stairwells with your baby in a buggy manoeuvring past the condoms, the needles, into the lift where the best outcome is that you will survive the urine stench and the worst is that you will be raped. The border police arrive at the neighbour’s door to grab an “over-stayer” and his kids are screaming. British children with no legal papers have mothers surviving through prostitution and still there’s not enough food on the table.”

Impact of the cuts on young people

Much has been said about what influence the cuts have had on young people living in these communities.  It is a complex series of problems that lead to the unprecedented situation facing our inner cities.

Terry Stokes of lasa highlights the lack of support for young people in the wake of youth club closures.  He cites a Guardian video from just a few weeks ago highlighting young people’s views of the recent closure of Harringey’s youth clubs (the local authority in which Tottenham is based), including a chilling prediction, “there will be riots”.

Terry continues to highlight the lack of support available to young people:

“Over the coming year, it is estimated that at least 45,000 young people will be left without support, despite facing acute recession-related problems, such as debt, mental ill health and homelessness. They will not have access to the specialist support they need to turn their lives around. Youth advice and counselling agencies currently help over a million young people a year, but 42% of agencies are at risk of closure, and 7% already certain to close as a result of funding cuts. A majority of the specialist youth services will be forced either to cease operating this year or to continue at a reduced level.”

The Huffington Post also provides a good overview of what’s happened in London over the past three nights, including some insightful quotes from rioters and the community, in case you need some context.

This post and the articles highlighted within it seek to explain why we are facing destruction on our streets again tonight.  I certainly do not mean to excuse this behaviour, simply to understand some of the reasons behind it.

Hoping for peace in our cities tonight and every night.  Stay safe.


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