How best to some up the August riots? Frightening. Shocking. Terrible. Shameful. Embarrassing. Heartbreaking. Desperate. This month’s riots were all of that and then some.
Be in no doubt that these events reverberated around the world portraying England in a vile and truly disturbing way.
I was actually away from London for most of the riots, having left London on 8th August to enjoy a week of entertainment at the Edinburgh Fringe. Ironically, despite being hundreds of miles away, there was no chance of really getting away from the events of the week, especially as the first show I saw was ‘Mystery and Murder on the Menu at the Scottish Cafe’, a show billed as a mixture of “Carry on film meets Poirot with a meal included”. The meal was sublime, but alas the show was dire and during intervals in the action thoughts and discussion on my table turned to events in London with texts, twitter and face book feeding our appetite to know what was going on in our city. Not only were we trying to figure out a fictitious “whodunit and why?” we were consumed with trying to figure out the real why’s and wherefore’s that caused this eruption of violence all over London and some of our biggest cities on 8th August.
I guessed right about the whodunit, but as for reasons why, now that was a different matter. Ditto the riots.
As has been fairly well documented, it is quite clear that there are a multitude of reasons underpinning the gripping drama we witnessed over the past week. Before I outline some of those, I must say that, in my opinion, I believe this can only be truly seen as pure speculation (and the same applies to most other commentators), for the true answers lie with the rioters. In the main their voices have not been heard. If and when we do, we can then better understand the underlying issues and motivations and with that knowledge look to resolve them to prevent a re-occurrence of these terrible events.
In this regard, it would be most helpful therefore if the media obtained more interviews with the culprits, just as Sky News, for instance did on Friday 12th August, with their interviews with four track suited, hooded youths. Or failing that speak to their friends, associates and others closely in tune with their likely thinking and motivations.
First and foremost there is no condoning or excusing the criminal actions of those torching shops, police cars, private cars and private homes. No excuse for burglary, looting and robberies. No condoning violent attacks, rampaging, pillaging and burning of our major cities – Birmingham, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Nottingham and Salford.
I intend for this article to do more than just set out causes and apportion blame, ground that has been already amply covered in recent weeks. On the contrary it will be solutions focussed, outlining a set of actions with a strategy that if implemented could and should go some way to preventing a reoccurrence.
Amongst many things, what was so self-evident was the alarming absence of respect from the guilty for businesses, property, themselves, their parents, their community; a complete and utter failure to know or act as if they know the difference between right and wrong. I don’t doubt there was a sense of mob mentality in which people stupidly and randomly joined in, resulting in an extraordinary amount of copy cat behaviour across our capital and beyond.
Where does this stem from? Most young people of the peer group involved know better than to get involved in such acts of serious criminality. Some people say its poverty, but are they seriously implying that there is not poverty in Scotland, Wales and N Ireland, which didn’t suffer riots during that period?
Various fundamental underlying issues need seriously looking at from the:
- Poor education school children are receiving (or not as the case appears to be);
- High unemployment and the out of control benefit system which has created generation of non-working households;
- Poor parenting and lack of parental support for those in need of it; absent fathers;
- Single mother’s struggling to be both Mother and Father to their children;
- The impact of the recession;
- Cut backs;
- Fewer employment opportunities;
- The poverty of ambition and values of decency and respect within young people;
- The police service, including deaths in police custody [over 450 in 30 years and yet not one Police officer convicted and jailed]
- Mark Duggan being shot dead on 4th August 2011. If unlawful then an Officer(s) should be facing a murder trial (though this is not clear-cut as it’s been confirmed that Mark had a gun on him. That in itself is illegal and put him at what turned out to be fatal risk);
- Cuts in youth centres and children’s Sure Start centres.
- Add to this the extraordinary high level of teenage pregnancies in this country – the highest in Europe and you have the cycle continuing with children having children, ill-equipped to raise children themselves and all that will entail over the course of their child’s development.
Where do we go from here to try to turn this horrendous nightmare around?
What is required is a mix of immediate action to prevent further re-occurrences this August – the Notting Hill carnival could prove to be the next major trigger point; medium term actions for the next 1-12 months and longer term I see us needing a kind of radical 5 – 10 year ‘Marshall Plan’ to address the ills in society brought into stark and shocking focus by the riots.
1. Firmer but fair policing and stronger sentencing
For the Police to catch as many of the 3,000 plus rioters, looters and burglars and bring them to justice and for Judges to not only pass appropriate, severe and deterrent based sentences, but to use the opportunity they have to seriously question those in the dock about the reasons for their actions. Only by so doing can we begin to build up an accurate picture of why the riots happened and the backgrounds of those committing crimes. Judges should ask if there’s anything that could have been done, if anything was missing in their lives, that would have stopped them committing the crimes they did. Gathering such information needn’t take an inordinate amount of time and serves two vital purposes – firstly, aiding our understanding in order for society and Government, Central and Local, to provide tailored and appropriate long-term solutions.
Secondly, it would avoid a need for a public inquiry into these events. That to me would be pointless, expensive, drawn out and not provide any information that isn’t already out there (in terms of understanding causes or riots, underlying causes of crime and anti-social behaviour and criminality)– if we assume the variety of potential causes are in fact the actual issues that need addressing. For example, one just needs to look at the excellent report from Iain Duncan Smith MP into ‘broken Britain’ to see that considerable work has gone into this area already.
2. Local authorities and Central Government tackling the real issues
Local authorities and Central Government need to seriously look at the deeper underlying issues, the root cause of the disaffection that, in part, explained the mindless acts of destruction and theft witnessed. Then put in place or activate existing strategies and action plans to resolve the problems. For instance they can make far wider use of multi-agency approaches as used by some local authorities for instance to improve outcomes for families caught in a spiral of issues such as low achievement.
3. Individual and collective responsibility – We’re all in this together
“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
Individuals and communities need to take personal responsibility and ask tough questions of themselves as to whether they may have contributed to this in any way, even if only by their inaction and passivity with regard to what it going on in the society in which we live. I include teenagers, school children, in this category. They need to ask tough questions of themselves such as, “What have I done to help disaffected young people, my classmates and friends?” “Have I volunteered to help out, to mentor?”
The old African saying, “It takes a village to raise a child” is as relevant today as it has always been. There are plenty of mentoring organisations out there crying out for volunteers to mentor children and mentor young offenders in prison.
Some may label this ‘Big Society’ but volunteering has been around for far longer and essentially is the principle behind the Big Society concept. Time and money may well be an issue of course for people. It would be ideal to be paid for volunteering efforts, but if the money simply isn’t there, it isn’t there so surely that doesn’t mean people should just ignore the need for volunteers. If each gives a little of their free time, the more that those individuals in need, those without the natural moral compass that most of us take for granted, can be helped, to their and society’s longer term benefit. 1
Therefore there is a responsibility on all of us able to do more.
I don’t see this is an issue to just leave to someone else, be they individual or groups of citizens or the state. As the Prime Minister David Cameron famously said, “We’re all in this together.”
Youth and prisoner mentoring
Re-offending rates for ex-offenders nationally are around 49%. This is clear evidence that prison, of itself, for almost half of prisoners simply is not working as a preventative measure. One has to assume based on such figures that prison does not necessarily hold the same fear as regular, law-abiding citizens would presume and therefore many prisoners upon release are not automatically likely to lead a life which will avoid the likelihood of a return visit.
Whilst locked up, a prisoner’s time needs to be used far more productively and rehabilitatively via the provision of education, including for those unable to, reading classes (50% can’t read or have a reading age of an 11 year old). Without the ability to read and thereby earn an honest living, what chance a return visit and the offending cycle just continuing? We need to break this negative cycle.
Furthermore, prisoners need visitors to go in and support them, mentor them – both whilst they are locked up and following release. Society shouldn’t ignore them, but positively support and encourage them to a point where they are in a position to gain the basic needs of employment and housing and therefore feel they have a stake in society and a future that can be honestly lived. Prevention is better than cure and society needs to wake up to that and invest time and money in rehabilitation to help stamp out re-offending.
National Military Service
With jobs scarce to occupy the young, offenders, the Government should consider the re-introduction of mandatory military service for those not working. Job Centres should insist on companies taking on ex-offenders where feasible, not to mention insisting that unemployed people apply for and accept available jobs that they are skilled to take on. Failure to do so without good reason should result in forfeit of unemployment benefit. Job Centres should not have an abundance of vacancies, however low skilled they may be in the middle of a recession. It’s the role of Job Centre Service and Government to tackle this head on.
5. A community response
The African- Caribbean community needs to grab hold of this situation and call their own emergency COBRA style cabinet meeting to come up with practical solutions to the issues. Black Men in the Community held its first conference on 18th June 2011 and has its second in Derby on 1st October.
Operation Hope and Recovery, organised by Black Men in the Community and Operation Black Vote was launched with a rally at Friend’s House on 19th August 2011 which was a good step in this direction.
Such initiatives provide a great opportunity to discuss and develop solutions. The community needs to share working solutions not just in London or the Midlands but nationwide. We need to learn from other countries that have faced down such issues successfully and listen and learn from the men and women at the vanguard of leading our communities, as well as the academics that have a deep understanding of the underlying causes and solutions.
6. Young people
They hold some of the solutions. This is about them. I hold them accountable too. The “good ones” in particular. I believe they have a useful peer mentoring/modelling role to play. It is one thing the elders showing the way forward, but studies have shown that it is even more impactful if the positive support, role modelling and mentoring comes from one’s own peers.
An adult’s role may be in helping construct structures to facilitate youth peer mentoring. It is important adults engage with and listen to young people and not assume they have all the answers as children hold some of the answers to the problems we see. We ignore them at our peril as we saw between 6-10th August 2011.
7. Education reform
In many classrooms up and down the land, teachers do not have control. There is in indiscipline, total lack of respect, physical and verbal attacks on teachers daily around the country. It’s utterly unacceptable and has resulted in huge numbers of children leaving school under-educated and un-qualified for anything but crime, laziness and sponging of the state.
The classroom and exam system has become too feminised. We need to see more men going into teaching as a profession. Far too many boys see no positive male influence in their life’s, neither in the home, nor in the classroom. More needs to be done to encourage men into teaching, into mentoring at schools, delivering assembly and classroom talks.
Too much emphasis is put on formal education and exam taking too soon. There are even plans afoot to introduce formal education from age 3 now!! That’s ridiculous. At that age and right up to age seven, children learn best through creative play. That is what they do in Sweden and it seems to work well for them. We should study and learn from the Swedish education system and others that are successful around the world.
8. Family responsibility
A far greater number of Mothers and Fathers need to take their parental responsibilities more seriously than at present and be held account for any failure to do so. If that manifests itself in, for instance, losing their council homes due to the crimes of their offspring (which breach their council tenancy agreement) so be it. If that means they get fined or imprisoned for failing to ensure their children regularly attend school, so be it.
If support is required, parents need to get this, be it from council’s and other statutory and voluntary bodies adopting a multi-agency approach to improve outcomes for families caught in difficulties which could spiral as a consequence of issues such as low achievement.
Reduce teenage pregnancies
Far too many children are having children themselves as mere teenagers. That’s ridiculous and unaffordable. Why is the state subsidising teenage hormonal foolishness? The Government should leave them, their own parents and friends to pay for their housing, clothing and food if they can’t afford to do it themselves. Maybe that will make girls and boys think twice before dropping their knickers so easily in future. The nanny state has gone too far producing a generation of teenage mums, workshy men, women and children, who get provided for by the state.
We need to invest in our children. Other people’s children. They are our future. They need inspiring and supporting – morally, emotionally and financially. Yes times are hard, jobs are few, but the way around that is to use your creativity, develop an entrepreneurial mindset that looks to self-generate legitimate employment solutions rather than only looking for what may be non-existent jobs.
10. London 2012 Olympic Legacy
The community needs to remember and not let the Mayor of London, London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (LOCOG) and the Government forget that London 2012 was won on the back of legacy commitments. These include commitments to improved employment and housing prospects for local people. All London councils bought into this and I recommend that approaches outlined here be put to local councils and that they be held to account as well. That legacy commitment should embrace the deep, underlying issues discussed in this article and those three organisations should be held to account over the next 12 months to deliver on their promises.
You may have other ideas to those outlined. I certainly don’t proclaim to have all the answers or suggest that the above recommendations cover everything. However I do firmly believe that all of the above needs pro-actively addressing in a timely, measured and monitored way.
Reader’s comments, actions and practical suggestions to move this forward are actively encouraged. I believe we are all in this together and all have a stake in and vital part to play in rebuilding our broken society.
If you feel there would be benefit in a public debate about the issues raised here, please let me know here via the blog or via email@example.com and Tiemo Talk of The Town will consider the feasibility of organising and hosting a public debate.
Your comments on this article would be welcome. Please go to tags at the end of this article and click on the link at the end of that section where it says ‘leave a comment’.
© Tiemo Talk of the Town, 24th August 2011
1. The 100 Black Men of London charity run community mentoring programmes in North and South London for children aged 10-18. They also run a Parents in Partnership programme to support parents. www.100bmol.org.uk
If you are interested in mentoring or being mentored contact firstname.lastname@example.org
2. Prisoner rehabilitation
Michael Peters, 7th June 2011
3. Katherine Birbalsingh on the riots and lack of respect towards teachers, Daily Telegraph, 9th August 2011
4. Katherine Birbalsingh on the riots and lack of respect towards The Police,
Daily Telegraph, 10th August 2011
5. Camila Batmanghelidjh: Caring costs – but so do riots
These rioters feel they don’t actually belong to the community. For years, they’ve felt cut adrift from society. The Independent, 9th August 2011
6. Rioters and arsonists have worsened the country’s unemployment levels, 7th August 2011
Tiemo Talk of the Town is a Member of 100 Black Men of London and LOCOG’s Black Leadership and Enterprise Network.
Your comments on this article would be welcome. Please go to TAGS at the very end of this article and click on the link at the end of that section where it says ‘comment / leave a comment’.