The tumultuous events of last week that saw first London and then other major cities erupt into violent disorder gave many people grave cause for concern. In the aftermath there has been much proselytising and hand-wringing, with the politicians desperate to make capital out of the events. There has been much written about the causes for the riots, and many socio-political theories about the looting; some of the articles have been incisive, each making valid points that I don't intend to regurgitate here. Suffice it to say that I will only offer my thoughts and opinions in order to generate debate and discussion. My theme, as often, is responsibility.
There were many young people who were involved in the disturbances who could give no credible justification for their actions. They were just caught up in 'the buzz' of the events. There were some who claimed it was an attack on "the rich" and to show "the Government that we can do what we want" - although when pressed they were not able to say exactly which party were in power. We can laugh at their ignorance or be disgusted by their lack of respect but these comments (amid a raft of others carried by the news channels) are indicative of a number of the issues that have lead to the situation where such riots can take place.
To have our young people so disengaged from mainstream politics - the kind with a small 'p' as well as the national arena - has left them with no stake in their communities. They do not engage therefore they do not care. One of the reasons, perhaps, that they do not engage is because no-one listens to them anyway. Politicians and policy makers pay lip-service to young people's concerns in the same way that they do those of the elderly or with disabilities. These groups are used as causes to hang careers on, and to score points against the opposition. A very clear example of this occurred on the BBC Newsnight programme broadcast last Thursday (11th August)
The producers has convened a discussion panel that included a young, black man, Margaret Costello who campaigns on behalf of the victims of crime, a rapper called 'Reveal', and Kelvin MacKenzie, ex-editor of The Sun newspaper. Whenever the young man was asked a question and began to answer it, within seconds of him starting to talk the two older people talked over his answers, did not let him finish a sentence, objected to his arguments or contradicted his opinions. This happened consistently throughout the segment. In the end, the young man just sat with a resigned and bemused expression on his face whilst Kelvin MacKenzie went apoplectic beside him.
The irony was that the young man (whose name I really should have taken note of) was stating that many young people are disaffected and disenfranchised precisely because their views are not sought or, if they are, they are not listened to. The point was eloquently made by the actions of the two older and, one would have hoped, wiser panellists.
So, yes, those involved in the anti-social, disruptive and criminal behaviour must take responsibility for their actions. They must repay the debt to their communities, without question. But maybe the number of those involved might have been smaller had people been more prepared to listen to the concerns and opinions of those who feel cut-off from mainstream society.
We owe it to our young people to value them enough to let them express themselves. It is our responsibility to teach them how to do that. Young people, especially adolescents, are self-absorbed and introspective; that is the developmental stage that they are at. Much of what they will have to say will reflect this and may well strike us as ego-centric or naive. But in there might be some truths that we need to hear. They may well be uncomfortable truths too about how we are failing to support our future generations.