The destruction of people’s houses and small businesses is indescribably tragic. We have nothing but complete sympathy for the innocent people who have been hurt, lost their homes or livelihoods and watched their loved ones be injured or most horrifically of all, killed. We have very little sympathy for those who would purposefully harm another person. Senseless, random acts of violence cannot be condoned, and we have no wish to in any way. This article is not to defend or support these actions, but to try and describe what we feel ultimately caused them to occur.
Let’s try a thought experiment: Imagine where you grew up. Think of the place that, for better or worse, had a major part in making you who you are. Think of where you first met your oldest friends, where you first got drunk, where you had your first kiss. Think of your neck of the woods, your community, your home.
Now imagine destroying it. Think about burning your elderly neighbour’s car, or looting the corner shop where you used to get lunch. Can you conceive how angry and frustrated and disconnected from society you would have to be for that to seem like a viable way to express yourself?
I can’t, and I don’t even particularly like my home town. I doubt many people, if any, reading this truly can. However, this is the state of mind hundreds, even thousands, of young people throughout the UK now posses.
No-one wakes up one day and suddenly thinks like this. Riots do not appear out of nowhere. It takes years of inequality and injustice to build the kind of fury we have seen on the streets this week. “Violent thugs” are not born or suddenly created, they are made over lifetimes of alienation.
I have been more than a little shocked and disappointed by the number of people who would describe themselves as “left of centre” not just ignoring, but actively dismissing the idea that these riots are due to social problems – an attitude I would quite honestly expect from a Daily Mail editorial. It is no coincidence that this is happening in some of the poorest, most neglected parts of the country. Those causing this violence are those who are mostly ignored by society, and despised and demonised by it otherwise – the poor and young who are told repeatedly by newspapers and policemen that they are less than nothing, that they are aggressive, that they are criminals in waiting. Is it any wonder that an atmosphere like this produces young, aggressive criminals?
Maybe some people can’t connect the society that has delivered them relative comfort with the open hatred of that society currently on display. Or they believe that they are innately better and more intelligent than the rioters. They might just secretly enjoy feeling superior to those hooded, feral creatures described in hushed, frightened tones as “poor people”. I don’t know exactly why these people wilfully discredit the notion that there are wider problems at the root of this. I’m not psychic (sadly).
But I am almost certain that many young people in this country have very recently felt tangible power for the first time in their short lives. And tragically, it is not the power to create, or make the world a better place; only the power to lash out, to destroy and to watch the world burn. I sincerely believe that most of these people are capable of far better than setting bins on fire, but worry I am in the minority. The abandonment of just one young person to alienation and hatred is an avoidable waste of humanity and potential, and should be a source of national shame and embarrassment. Instead, it is a source of snobbery and self-righteousness.
The solutions to the social inequalities that cause this violence are not ones that can be implemented overnight, and thus will likely be ignored by those in power. The riots have been caused by those who society has forgotten about, and so we must remind ourselves that desperation and poverty still exist in this country, however uncomfortable that makes us. Education and public investment, not water cannons and truncheons, are essential to eradicating the divide between the people like those rioting and the rest of society, but are currently being decimated by spending cuts. Refusal to acknowledge that these riots are not due to some troublesome kids beyond reform, but the product of our society is not only wrong but dangerous, dooming us to carry out the same mistakes with the next generation. Sadly, it looks very likely that in 20 years time or so, there will be a new set of angry, alienated and hated youth, and we’ll be watching this happen all over again.