Saturday, 13 August 2011
RIOTING CANNOT BE EXCUSED - BUT POLITICIANS MUST TACKLE SOCIAL DEPRIVATION
The most poignant scene that came out of the dreadful violence of the last week has been the highly emotive and dignified speech made by Tariq Jahan, the father of Haroon, one of the three men senselessly mowed down in Winson Green, who called for sanity and to urge people not to seek revenge for the tragic events that resulted in his son's death. We must all learn something from this.
The rioting that occurred across our nation has been dreadful and can never be condoned in any way. We must make every effort to ensure that the scenes we witnessed in Croydon, Ealing, Enfield, Tottenham and many other parts of the country, including some that never made the headlines, will never be repeated. In view of the scope and extend of the violence it is a miracle that so few have been killed or seriously injured but hundreds have become the innocent victims of indiscriminate vandalism and arson that cannot be tolerated.
The debates will continue long into the future and differences of opinion will prevail over the causes of the shocking devastation and the ways that we should be dealing with mindless acts of violence. But the rioting that took place has long been expected and there have been plenty of warnings that civil unrest of this magnitude had been festering just beneath the surface for some considerable time. Community leaders from areas that are particularly vulnerable have been telling the authorities of this but as usual nobody was prepared to take any notice.
When armed police shot Mark Duggan dead in Tottenham it was initially seen as the spark that lit the fuse for the rioting that followed and the way that the police subsequently handled things has to be questioned. While this detonated the devastation that occurred in that part of north London, this cannot be seen as the root cause for the spread of the rioting that followed elsewhere. There are of course plenty of other underlying causes that are causing major concerns, but none of them are an excuse for the events that took place. A high rate of youth unemployment, poor housing on deprived inner city estates, and a lack of future opportunities are all being blamed. But we have to be careful - not everyone who is out of work and not all of those living in deprived housing took to the streets. Much of the trouble, in Salford for example, was perpetrated by career criminals while elsewhere opportunists joined in with the flow by grabbing the free booty that was on offer from destroyed business premises. It has become evident from the numbers that have been so far charged that many looters were employed; they come from varying backgrounds and some have never been in trouble before. So, can we assume from this that some of those that became embroiled in the rioting merely saw it as a chance for instant gratification, to acquire high value goods for free with, so they thought, little chance of being caught, while others saw it as a way of getting, to use that over-used description - a 'buzz'?
We will be wrong to be flippant and we must not ignore the existence of very real underlying factors and while just punishment has to be dealt to those that offended we should not let this cloud our judgement. It is easy for politicians to cast blame on others when in reality they, and the police, should be looking at their own conduct. Many youngsters, not necessarily those involved in the rioting, have suggested the way MPs abused their expenses was a factor. This has led to a view that 'if the politicians can get away with things - then so too can we'. While a handful of errant MPs have been jailed many feel far too many who were 'playing the system' such as the former Luton MP Margaret Moran should have been severely punished and this has caused a deep resentment that will not evaporate particularly with those are struggling to put food on their tables.
It is no surprise that a large number of rioters, but by no means all, were coloured. For as long as I can remember, the police have been accused of racism and there is plenty of evidence of their heavy-handedness when dealing with the young from Afro-Caribbean backgrounds. With the gang culture that prevails there is some justification to this and there is no easy way of tackling the problem but one way might be to identify the reasons why gang culture is flourishing. The police have also been severely criticised, again with plenty of justification, over the way they tackled the rioting as it unfolded in some areas by a public who felt they were not being adequately protected. Victims have blamed the police for standing back as spectators while rioters looted shops in front of them and it has been suggested in some quarters that this may have been a deliberate ploy by some forces as a form of protest against the cuts in manpower the Government proposes. I do not agree with this assumption and the reason the police appeared helpless was because they were vastly outnumbered and poorly protected. This has led to a call for water cannon and baton rounds to be used in cases of civil disorder.
In some towns TV footage showed the police to be pitifully poorly equipped and even unprepared for the levels of violence that occurred. This has probably been caused by the fact that too few officers patrol on foot any longer causing a detachment between the police and the community. For some time there has also been a growing lack of confidence in the police. As many members of the public can relate, there have been numerous cases where the police have failed to respond to 999 calls. Indeed, during the height of the disturbances this week one Asian shopkeeper in Croydon spoke out on television to tell how after being subjected to violence and looting he had called the police three times only to be told that he was 'wasting their time'. If this is true then it can only be described as disgraceful. Another witness to the rioting told reporters how it had taken the police well over an hour to arrive on the scene of some of the worst rioting. If this is the kind of reaction we can expect from the police it can come as no surprise when local residents and business owners group together in order to try and protect their property. We have seen this already with Turkish Kurds who successfully defended their businesses in Dalston; residents who gathered in force in Enfield, Sikhs in Southall and Asians in Winson Green, Birmingham that sadly witnessed the deaths of three young Muslims who were run down by a car. Forming vigilante groups is a dangerous course to follow but when the public feel their homes, businesses and even their lives are in danger, what else can they do? The politicians and the police can criticise all they like but if they are unable to offer no alternative self protection of one's home and business becomes a natural reaction.
While emotions run high it is also easy to jump to the wrong conclusions and for politicians to make hasty decisions. There has been talk of banning social networking and introducing curfews as a means of controlling young people. But we have seen in the past that by banning guns after rogue gunmen ran amok murdering innocent victims in Dunblane and Hungerford has not solved the problem of shootings, nor has the Dangerous Dog Act introduced twenty-years ago prevented people being mauled. Nevertheless, it is inexcusable that it took until Thursday for Parliament to be re-called, yet it took no time at all for leading politicians and their entourages to arrive at the riot torn districts in order to score political points. The public are tired of rhetoric and we certainly have no time for the childish squabbling that has evolved between the Government and the police authorities over who is owed the credit for returning the country to some kind of order.
The public is also tired of hearing the over-used mantra uttered by David Cameron that 'lessons will be learnt'. The sad thing is that our leaders never seem to learn much at all and they continue by ignoring the problems created by an increasing divide that exists between the rich and the extremely poor. This in itself cannot be used as an excuse to smash up and burn communities and the majority of the poor would never dream of becoming involved in rioting, but this does not mean plenty of people are angry because they are simply not be listened to as their lives fall deeper into poverty.
If we are to prevent anarchy first of all politicians have to start listening to the problems individuals are facing and begin to address their concerns. Successive governments have failed to do this and the Alliance does not look like being any different. It must also begin with politicians learning to appreciate how ordinary people, once regarded as the 'working class' (but now so often the unemployed) are expected to live. The class barriers remain strong and have to be broken down and although nobody will profess this will be easy, this is the only way that future rioting of an even greater scale can be prevented. Although Britain is broken in so many ways - we must not give up hope. It is for the majority of good people in this country to unite to lobby Parliament to force change. The good and bad of what people power can achieve has been obvious this week. On the positive side we should be proud of the tireless efforts and unselfishness of the volunteers that pulled together from all age and ethnic groups to repair the damage caused by the bad elements. This showed a remarkable public spirit that proved that how the British people can unite in a way that brought some sanity back to our nation.