Tom Clements: Impact columnist
Whether or not they were a two-finger salute to the authorities, a manifestation of public nihilism, a symptom of poverty, or indeed a complex interplay between all three, a more pressing question still remains: are we, the British public, even interested in why these riots actually took place? Responses so far suggest that we as a nation are less concerned with finding the root causes of these events, and more preoccupied with simply condemning their perpetrators.
In the midst of all the media hysteria, we’ve all no doubt witnessed Daily Mail-esque reactionary spasms from people who we thought would know better, and indeed some rather draconian outbursts from our politicians as well. Take Tory MEP Roger Helmer for example: “It’s time to get tough. Bring in the Army. Shoot looters on sight.”
Britain’s immediate recourse to cynicism as a kind of coping mechanism goes back decades and is, to some extent, even reflected in the litany of sociological terms we still cling to: ‘the community’, ‘the poor’, ‘the working class’ essentially being nothing more than nice words used by our political leaders to cover an ignorance of the complexity of society. Such terms are also the curse of rhetoric peddlers in the media, who, in their hasty analyses of the unfolding turmoil, often appear hegemonic on casting a whole underclass as the enemies within.
Bear in mind that the inner-city youths that compose a significant segment of that underclass — many of whom are products of a failing education system, are growing up in single-parent families, have no job prospects, and live in dilapidated council estates — simply saw this as an opportunity to rob shops like Foot Locker and JD Sports with impunity (after all, they stood to lose nothing). These kids weren’t politically motivated in the slightest; they were merely reacting to what they were seeing out of both avarice and a petty defiance of the system that hammers them down.
Basically, none of us should feel coerced into thinking that to attempt to understand the underlying problems is to be deemed an ‘apologistic lefty’ or to have some sort of political agenda to espouse. It behooves us all — in order to improve levels of social justice in this country, and thereby prevent these sorts of events from ever taking place on our streets again — to make a concerted effort to get to grips with the real issues.
Remember that no person is born wanting to steal and to fight police. Call the looters animals if it makes you feel better, but what will that achieve?