Apart from a Twitter conversation, I haven’t commented on the recent riots, so here is a brief summary of my thoughts in these difficult times.
First, there is no doubt that relations between the police and some communities, including the black community in Tottenham (but also in other parts of London, and in other cities), are still not good. So, when the shooting took place last week, and when the PR surrounding this was handled badly (as it appears to have been done), it brought the already simmering resentment in the local community to the boil, and it finally boiled over on Saturday night when a peaceful demonstration outside a police station in Tottenham got out of hand. We still don’t know what really happened in the shooting (it’s being investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission), but there is no doubt that it was the catalyst for all the trouble that followed.
But in trying to explain the riots that have occurred since Saturday night, and all the damage that has been caused, and the looting that has happened, we have to move away from the events in Tottenham. I think there are two factors involved here:
(i) The disenfranchisement/disengagement from politics that seems to be affecting many young (and some not so young) people, which leads them to feel that they can do nothing to change their lives.
(ii) Widespread unemployment, leading to economic and social deprivation.
A few commentators have mentioned a third factor, which is a lack of respect for authority, but I am not able to comment on this with any authority.
Put together, these form an explosive mix, and means that we are ‘growing’ a section of society who feel economically and socially deprived, and who don’t believe there is anything they can do to improve their lot. It doesn’t take much to make them take action in the only way they believe can have an affect, which is what we have seen happen in the past few days.
Having said this, I can’t condone the looting that has taken place. No amount of economic and social deprivation can provide an excuse for this. It is quite simply law breaking, and must be handled as such.
But I do fear for the future, unless we can do something to address points (i) and (ii) above. Otherwise this will continue to be a ticking timb bomb, which might explode again anytime in the future. But how we do something about this is a challenge for everyone who believes that engagement in politics and communities can and will change peoples’ lives.