Response to Penny Red’s Blog Entry on the Current Riots

I tried to make a comment on the Blog entry, but I guess my comment was too long, because I couldn’t post it!

So, here is my comment, given that I’ve gone to all the problem of typing it in Notepad. The comments in quotes are statements made by Laurie Penny, the author of the article and creator of the Blog, Penny Red. The responses are directed at her.

“Violence is rarely mindless.”

What kind of sheltered upbringing did you have? Were you never a school kid? Did you not break things for the fun of it like most normal kids do? Have you not seen kids torture animals for the sheer fun of it? Those of us who went to normal schools and grew up around normal kids know perfectly well that violence and vandalism, far from being rarely, is actually usually mindless. And for many, it was and is fun.

Many of us were reprimanded (in my case, smacked… oh the mental scars!) for such behaviour and we stopped because we no longer wished to be chastised, we understood the arguments against such violence, or we just grew up. Others were not so ‘fortunate’.

“…in a community where locals have been given every reason to mistrust the forces of law and order[…] Nobody has been watching Tottenham since the television cameras drifted away after the Broadwater Farm riots of 1985.”

I guess that all those community groups, community centres, rap/beatboxing workshops, graffiti walls, positive discrimination, employment initiatives, charities and social organisations, training schemes and education grants, community leaders, and an entire multi-million pound community-relations industry just weren’t enough then. Nice one, ignoring the comments of these criminals’ own ‘community leaders’, who are condemning the actions of the mob as loudly if not more so than your traditional political targets.

Or maybe, just maybe, I don’t know, the problem is that these kids are raised in backgrounds where there is no discipline and no father-figure (take a look at the disproportionate number of black men who abandon their families – based on known research, not prejudice, before that accusation is hurled at me). Kids of all ethnicities are allowed to roam the streets at night and join gangs (you’ve obviously never seen these groups, think that they’re discussing political issues, or you choose to ignore them); they listen to music which glorifies violence and sexism (or maybe you aren’t aware of what they listen to); their currency is jewellery, sportswear, and electronic equipment (or are you conveniently overlooking the targets of the mobs); they idolise infamous gang-members and particularly those who have died at the hands of rival gangs. And these groups comprise kids from all backgrounds.

I am 40 now and have grown up in a background of an increasing willingness on the part of society to reach out to these communities. As long as I can remember, the agenda of engaging these communities has been at the forefront of political decision-making. Key ‘community leaders’ have acknowledged the work that has been in removing racism from the police and have commented on how far things have moved on since the early 1980s.

The more people like you give any justification for the behaviour of the mob, the more you justify their actions and the more the mob will use your own arguments against ordinary people of all ethnic backgrounds, all they hold dear, and possibly one day, you.

A minority’s resorting to lawlessness and violence and attempting to justify these actions does not mean they are right or have any legitimate grievance.

“It has become clear to the disenfranchised young people of Britain, who feel that they have no stake in society and nothing to lose, that they can do what they like tonight, and the police are utterly unable to stop them.”

They are disenfranchised because they have made that choice. Again, if you went to a normal school, you would know the kids who would be likely to go on to claim that they were ‘disenfranchised’. They have made a cultural choice in the backdrop of a society which (and this is where I may agree with you) has become complacent in a capitalist society. But these kids have never had it properly rough – not in the same way kids in Africa, who would give anything to have the same chances of these criminals, do. They haven’t had it tough like their ancestors or even British people in the 1930s had it tough, without the luxury of a welfare state to keep them in perpetual relative wealth (historically and geographically speaking), even if they choose to do absolutely nothing. Think about that. They have never fought for their very existence.

“In da ghettos of Berkshire, right, you ain’t got nowhere to put da energy, ‘cos like apart from youth clubs, cinemas, theatres, sport centres, amusement arcades, football, school clubs, go-karting, dry-slope skiing, ice-skating, fishing, skate-boarding, Legoland, sea cadets, scouts, roller-discos, music workshops, oh yeah and swimming,… there ain’t nothin’ for kids to do.” – Ali G

They have had things to occupy their minds, such as youth groups, school, and many of the things mentioned by Sacha Baron Cohen in his guise of Ali G in the quote above. If you chose to listen to them, you would find that they don’t think such things are cool and so they choose not to participate, choosing instead to say that there is nothing for them to do, when the reality is the opposite.

“People riot because they have spent their whole lives being told that they are good for nothing, and they realise that together they can do anything – literally, anything at all.”
A good argument for National Service there (military or social). The “Bad Lad’s Army” series showed the clear benefits of instilling a sense of collective pride and discipline in a group of disaffected youngsters with criminal records. In case you missed it, the undeniable conclusion of the series was that pretty much all the participants (with only one or two exceptions) transformed their outlook on life for the better following a brief stint of National Service. Watch it and then tell me that you still think it doesn’t work.

“People to whom respect has never been shown riot because they feel they have little reason to show respect themselves”
Respect has to be earned. Real respect is not “yoof respect”, but the true respect which comes from achievement through merit or good example. Rioting does not earn respect – it destroys communities and will further deprive them of money in order to conduct repairs to public property and almost certainly push up private insurance premiums.

“The so-called leaders who have taken three solid days to return from their foreign holidays to a country in flames did not anticipate this”
Those ‘so-called leaders’ are as entitled to their holidays as anyone else. They’ve cut them short. Technology allows people to work remotely and retain perfectly adequate communication. They don’t need to be on the streets. Cheap shot.

“They thought that after thirty years of soaring inequality, in the middle of a recession, they could take away the last little things that gave people hope, the benefits, the jobs, the possibility of higher education, the support structures, and nothing would happen.”
Benefits may have been cut, but jobs are available, as is higher education, if you can be arsed to go to school and learn that is. The most important support structures are family and peers. It is not the State’s role to wipe peoples’ arses. It is a mark of how cushioned your life has been to even assume that you have a God-given right to these things when others in other cultures and history lose and lost life and limb to fight for the rights to even have access to them. You’re good at accusing the political classes of complacency, but you may like to look a little closer to home.

To the rioters… Stop. Go home. Stay at home in the evenings and read. Go to school and take the very rare advantage and privilege you have to a free education. If your ego and self-image can stand it, join a community group such as Scouts and put your energy into productive activities. You think you have it hard? Read some more history and look further across the world and then tell me you still have it hard.

As far as I’m concerned, you’ve had things your way for all of my adult life (or at least closer to your way than my way). Successive governments of all political persuasions have been keen to engage communities in our multi-cultural society, bend over backwards to actively avoid raising tensions, and this is where we are. Time and time again, we are told we need to better understand these disaffected people, and policies are implemented such as the EMA to bribe kids into staying in education when the privilege of education should be enough incentive in itself.

Now can we at least try things my way, based on the experience of our older generations, whose experiences you ignore at your peril?

For the indefinite future, introduce curfews for school children throughout the year when unaccompanied by responsible adults. Any children in groups to be rounded up and returned home; their parents to be warned and fined for what amounts to persistent child neglect. That will keep the kids at home, where they can do no harm to their community and they themselves are safe from harm.

Then we need to look at ways of pulling many youngsters away from gang and mob culture. I suggest that we make said culture into the comedy target it is. Ali G attempted this, but clearly many were too stupid to get the point of his comedy. The whole culture of rap and street culture is both alien to this country, laughable, and well, let’s face it – just so 1970s now. Turn it into the comedy, bling-ridden, crotch-grabbing target it is and maybe we can start to make it less attractive to kids of all backgrounds and ethnicities.

All youngsters should be involved in community programmes or summer jobs throughout summer holidays (thereby removing the excuse of having nothing to do) and should be paid for their efforts. That way, we can instill a sense of civic pride in our youngsters, show that exemplary behaviour is rewarded, and show them that they are valuable members of society. Yes, I am all for rewarding kids, but rewards come after, not before, effort. Kids who opt out of such programmes or abuse them should be sent to a boot camp. We need a widespread cultural change for the benefit of our society – including for the sake of the potential rioters themselves.

See, I do care.