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I’ve half-written and abandoned many paragraphs about the London riots. It is a complex issue and I like to do complexity justice, to try and build bridges between the polarised discourses I’ve been seeing on the media and between people. The middle-place, the meanwhile place is an intensely uncomfortable one (stripped as it is of the snugly coziness afforded us by righteous indignation and conviction of rightness) but it is the place most nurturing to humility, dignity and compassion. It’s the no man’s land between my intense sense of personal rage and sense of empathy and love. This groove is unsustainable because all things are in flux, and I am human – the place to which I aspire to return. The place from which I do my best parenting and thinking and relating. It’s the place from which I have been trying to write about this.

The young offenders are not blameless victims of society, and Cameron’s policies did not cause the riots. The people who looted and burned were not political protesters of the left or modern day Robin Hoods. They should not be excused or glorified. However, I don’t think they should be demonised either, nor marginalised in our thinking. Scapegoated into the feral other to be feared and contained and swept out of view. Locked away and stripped of all dignity and right.

I mourn the loss of lives and homes and livelihoods. Although I never felt a personal sense of fear and danger (violence in my neighbourhood was scarce and well-contained; I don’t live above a shop and am of little interest to young louts) my heart went out to those who did, whose circumstances on this round of Fate and Luck placed them in hand’s reach of peril.

Those who rampaged through the cities without care for who they hurt failed us certainly, but they were also failed by families/communities/societies/politicians. The cuts did not cause this, but they catalysed it.

Bored children are dangerous children, almost any parent can tell you that. There has always been a proportion of young people growing in boredom and restlessness and chaos whose homes contained absence or violence or chaos and were not good places to be. The lives of these young people often seemed marked by chronic structure-lessness and hopelessness and lack of aspiration. Nowhere to go, nothing to do except hang around with others who fit the same criteria and amuse themselves with random acts of nuisance or aggression. A sense of power and kinship is intoxicating, especially to those who have chronically felt humiliated, marginalised and disempowered. Those who feel adrift from the larger community/family/society form their own societies in which (more often than not) the already familiar rituals of criminality and violence become rituals of bonding and belonging. They don’t feel that they owe us anything and they don’t feel they have anything to lose – a dangerous combination that is unlikely to be solved by simple application of stringent sanctions because a prison term is the expected rite of passage in that set. It doesn’t mean the current set should not face criminal persecution/civil fines – only that the scope of the problem goes much beyond them and extends into the coming generations, and that its corresponding solution needs to be long-term and systemic.

The thuggish underclass running riot are not separate from us. They are the feral children of the society in which we live and to rehabilitate them we need to teach them a new language. The ASBO-happy tend to come with long histories of exclusion. Too much trouble to keep at home, too much disruption and administrative pain to keep in school. Community services for children with disruptive behaviour, chronic truancy, poor academic performance and poor social integration have never been well-funded. However, since the cuts most of the services and agencies I know of who were targeting this specific subset (such as the children who had or were about to be permanently excluded from school) have had to close and what rehabilitative or damage-controlling methods they offered vanished.

The results of hardened, trigger-happy children with time on their hands having a wild party are expensive, arguably even pricier than the cost of services. And the moment we turn into reactionary retaliation, the moment we emotionally disown them and ostracise them, strip them of all care – then we become part of the problem because we give birth to the mentality and the context which breed hostility and marginalisation.

Those who are not cared about, who in turn do not care about others – these are the ones who feel they have nothing to lose and are therefore unafraid of social sanctions. And teaching someone to care – to make themselves vulnerable enough to form relationships and attachments with others, to let themselves go soft and woundable enough to do this is incredibly intense and hard work. It takes a lot of resources and patience and love and it is usually met with chaos and lashing out. Staff who do this (because there are not families to do it in their stead) need to be funded and well-supported. All children (but especially wayward, feral ones) need structure and love. The measure in which each of these components needs to be administered to achieve best results varies from individual to individual, and societally is difficult to implement as a policy unless there is something like a period of compulsory national service (either in the army or the community) to try and reintegrate the truants, to teach them skill, to allow them to form relationships outside of the gangs – or if all else fails- to remove the opportunity and the boredom that free time allows.

It takes a lot of mindfulness and planning and care to implement something like this – damaged, dangerous children can be incredibly damaging to others- so any project of this kind has to be well funded, well staffed and well supervised. Prison without therapy and compassion will not support anyone in making different choices. It will not teach young people the error of what they did – only the deepen the discourse in which one is the enemy and the other gets what they deserve.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 11th, 2011 04:23 pm (UTC)
others say it better, but...
User kotturinn referenced to your post from others say it better, but... saying: [...] (to be read with the comments); another personal Retrospective on the London Riots and demonisation [...]
Aug. 11th, 2011 07:12 pm (UTC)
Yes to all of this. You have said what I was thinking, and trying to say, only better. Thank you.
Aug. 12th, 2011 09:24 am (UTC)
So sad. We didn't talk much at home about this - just didn't feel like to spout any more than has been already said everywhere else. All I could do was hold T tight and be amazed at his blessings...(not that it's guaranteed that he won't turn out to be sociopath or something)
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )


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