Tuesday, August 9, 2011

London Riots: A Generation Lost

If I hear once again the politicians call the events of the past few days 'mindless criminality' I will scream!

Who are the rioters? The rioters on the street are school going kids or drop outs taking to hooliganism because the government has destroyed discipline in the school through various silly policies, raised tuition fees making it almost impossible for kids to go to college and has shut down youth centres where they could learn a skill or two.  Inflation is on a rise and there are no jobs. It’s not a justification but the blame needs to be shared by those who are just pointing fingers! The country whose youth instead of aspiring to be progressive citizens have turned to hooliganism should bow its head in shame.

The youth in this country don’t trust the police for a number of reasons. Since my work involves interaction with the youth in Tottenham, Edmonton and Enfield, I have heard several stories of police mistrust.

A Turkish man living in Tottenham, lost his brother when a police car ran over him walking on the pavement at the Phillip Lane junction in Tottenham where the riots broke out on Saturday evening. He took the case to court; his lawyer ran some investigations and found that the police driver was involved in a similar accident previously but somehow survived as he was on ‘duty’ that day. 

It seemed the police were rushing to mediate a fight between an angry couple- hardly an emergency for which his brother, a young father of two, lost his life- I was told by the man who was investing a great deal of time, effort, money and emotions in trying to get justice, but in vain. He called the police expletives that I cannot write here but reflects the hatred he felt for the men in uniform.

Another young man of twenty three from Edmonton told me of the number of times he was stopped and searched. He said he never saw his ‘white friends being subjected to the same humiliation’. He strongly believed the police are racists. ‘Why aren’t there any black police officers on the streets?’ he asked.

I have often seen young boys ask the police ‘why me?’ when they are stopped and asked questions about their whereabouts. There is an undercurrent in the minority community in London especially among the black youth that they are targeted, they are victimized and they will always be looked upon with suspicion.

But it’s not just a Black community issue. There is definitely an undercurrent of hostility towards the police and denying it is living in fool’s paradise. Look at the profile of rioters - they are in all colours and come from everywhere. 

Decades of building police-community relations have been a success, claim politicians, although the recent riots bear witness that they have terribly failed. But I think these riots are more than just a showcase of the hatred towards the police or a reaction to Mark Duggan’s killing although it was a definite trigger point.

They have evolved from decades of degradation of family values and a deteriorating education system. A majority of these rioters are from dysfunctional homes with little education and/or no expectations. Are parents so blind they don’t know where they kids are? What do parents do when the child comes home with a 40 inch LED TV, Gucci sunglasses or a funky pair of trainers? Do they learn at home that looting is ok because the parents who have lost jobs or never worked are encouraging them to get the stuff they can otherwise not. If parents can’t get their children to see reason, know what right and wrong; then the society has terribly failed.

The dismal education system is another reason. Schools treat students like kings and the teacher is almost powerless to punish their indiscipline as every punishment- big or small require layers of red tapism and in the end favours the student. Most of these kids don’t go to study; they just ‘hang out’ at school. Most of them will never go to college (the increase in tuition fees has made it beyond their reach now); most of them will not get jobs – unemployment is high and with degree holders battling for jobs alongside, the drop outs stand a slim chance.

The benefit system that their parents saw as a safety net is now filled with holes through which they can easily slip. Cuts, cuts everywhere especially in poorer boroughs have massive implications. There is growing uncertainty and increasing frustration among the youth and its erupting. But who will rein them in- their parents; the school; the politicians, the police or the army?

An idle mind makes these young boys and girls join gangs where at least they feel they are doing something - where there are rules and objectives. Here a blackberry is the uniform and sticking together the anthem. There are almost two hundred such youth gangs in London. They were perhaps easier to monitor and curtail as long as they fight against each other. But when they all come together and stand strong against one common enemy, this is what happens – the police, the government, almost everyone seems powerless against them. It’s a frightening situation.

Contrast this to the kids sitting at home. These are the youth who have strong values and principles, who give importance to family and education, who are studying/working hard to build a better future. Chances are some of them can afford it, others are encouraged enough to want it. These kids will bear the brunt of the stigma that will now be associated with the youth of this city. They are not hooligans but they too will be looked upon with suspicion.

This country has been held hostage by thousands of disgruntle youth who have resorted to violence and crime initially to perhaps raise a voice against oppression but now it seems to be overtaken by blind mob behaviour, greed and cruelty. If we don’t stop the mass carnage on our streets; we are just sending the wrong signal. The violence has to stop. The guilty have to be punished. But the innocent should not be made collateral damage either by the rioters or the police.

Also calling it ‘mindless criminality’ is not the answer. The government needs to acknowledge and understand the factors that have pushed thousands of young people into criminal behaviour. If we don’t listen to the grievances of our youth; if we don’t do something to improve their future, then tragically we have lost an entire generation.  

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"I have often seen young boys ask the police ‘why me?’ when they are stopped and asked questions about their whereabouts. There is an undercurrent in the minority community in London especially among the black youth that they are targeted, they are victimized and they will always be looked upon with suspicion. "

Yes but most of the victims of london's shootings and stabbings are also young balck men, so they bitch about the police not being effective.

So how do the police succeed?