BEHIND THE VIOLENCE IN THE CITIES OF ENGLAND
The shock of seeing out of control hooded and masked young people, some in gangs, rampaging through the streets of London, attacking police, setting fire to shops, cars and private property and looting at will has produced images that will haunt many minds of the general population for many months to come. More worrying is that many of the likely contributing factors are present, not just in many of the cities of England, but in many cities in the Western world.
In 2008 a conference called by the police and the Lord Mayor of London had previously identified some of the triggers of lawlessness and antisocial behaviour.
From the crime statistics of that year they already had noted there was a clear over-representation of African-Caribbean and African born, both among victims of and of instigators of violence. At the time there was also a mounting gap between the haves and the have-nots in areas prone to violence and it was observed when both groups are in the same general area the have- nots tended to become more anti-social in their behaviour. It might for example now be noted that a number of those amongst the current rioters who have been interviewed had expressed their contempt for both the rich and for the police.
It should however be noted this most recent series of disturbances was more a gap problem than one of grinding poverty. The have-nots are clearly not as poor as those in third world countries and it was very noticeable that much of the looting was targeting high cost items such as jewellery and i- phones rather than items such as food more commonly associated with survival needs.
In the 2008 September seminars where experts in youth crime and social problems shared their experiences about youth violence it had been noted that the following issues were identified as contributing to the problem:
Personal risk factors that appeared to increase the risk of offending were:
• insufficient learning of empathy during preschool period
• poor parental supervision, discipline, family conflict, condoning problem behaviour
• low achievement, truancy, school disorganisation resulting in educational polarisation and vastly diminished employment prospects. The visible association between failure and race aggravated the social dislocation and feelings of resentment.
• gap between puberty and beginning work with prospects for self improvement.
• low family income or poor housing
• drugs and alcohol availability
• early involvement in problem or aggressive behaviour, including bullying
Media coverage of violence adds to the fear and makes carrying and using weapons more acceptable.
The de-industrialisation of many of the cities when accompanied by the phenomenon of older people staying in the work-force leads to a clear reduction in employment opportunities for the relatively unskilled.
The high youth unemployment prospects for such a group of young people in effect gave them few positive outlets for their energy. We may surmise that this makes the present rioting appear a welcome change for some of the rioters.
Although such events as the recent riots usually have multiple causes there is no indication that any of the above factors has become less important since the 2008 seminars, but the naïve statements of the current crop of rioters suggest that many of the actions have not been thought through to include realising likely consequences. The excitement of stealing previously unattainable goods from those they classify as rich, torching property, and as some of them put it, teaching the police that the young people can do exactly they like appear for a good number to have been strong motivating factors. For what it is worth, and it is only an opinion, I suspect if less publicity was given to such scenes in the media and more was given to the ordinary people suffering as a result, some rioters might rethink. The recent cancellation of key football matches may yet prove to dampen the enthusiasm of some of the rioters – as might the constant visible reminder of burnt out buildings in previously valued neighbourhoods. We are yet to see if the consequences will be more dire. For example if the violence is not brought under swift control it seems more than possible that the Olympic Games will also be threatened and the considerable costs of righting the current situation for the cash strapped government will be most unwelcome.
When it comes to social problems, governments, the churches and a raft of social agencies are traditionally rather better at diagnosis than organising treatment. In this instance it begins to look as if the diagnosis preceded the evidence of the full blown disease.
Any thoughts about what those affected should be doing next?