London's Rioting Kids: Who Is Responsible?

Family Matters on 08.12.11
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Image credit: Emma LB, used under Creative Commons license.

As a Brit living abroad, I've watched with increasing anger and sadness the events of the past week. The mindless rage and destruction of property by rioters was hard enough to witness, and then news came in that three young men had been killed trying to protect their community and their businesses. It's a tragedy. But the father of one of the men killed made an eloquent and heart-felt plea for people to rise above the anger:

"I lost my son. Blacks, Asians, whites – we all live in the same community. Why do we have to kill one another? Why are we doing this? Step forward if you want to lose your sons. Otherwise, calm down and go home – please."

But calmer voices are a rarity right now. As people struggle to make sense of it all, the extreme events seem to have pushed people to extreme opinions. Folks offer single minded and polarized diagnoses and prescriptions - either the rioters should all be shot, the parents should be sterilized, and/or this is all the government's fault for slashing social safety nets and giving kids little hope of a productive future. From urban planning as a contributer to rioting, to consumerism as a bad influence on disenfranchised youth, I and my fellow TreeHuggers have of course been offering our own musings too. But the problem is bigger than any of us can even comprehend alone.

Amelia Gentleman has a fascinating piece over at The Guardian talking to the people of Tottenham about the root cause of the riots. And while politicians, pundits and the outraged public seek simple narratives, Clasford Stirling, a veteran youth worker, makes an eloquent case to her for why both discipline and social exclusion have to be addressed if there is any hope of something better:

"Bad behaviour and criminality has been glamorised on the streets. Teachers are scared to punish children. The modern child isn't frightened of their parents. They don't care if the police lock them up," he said.

Hovering between sympathy for the youths' sense of alienation and anger at their stupidity, he said the continued police stop-and-search tactics damaged children early on. "There is a big problem with stop and search. These searches leave a scar, a mark on that child. I condemn the violence, but we have to look at the frustration that everyone is going through. They don't have a platform, so they let off their frustration on the streets," he said.

Exactly what we can do about it is anyone's guess as the dust still settles in the streets of Britain's cities. But one thing is certain - we won't find answers unless we ask complex, deep and searching questions. And those questions will not get asked if we simply heap all the blame on the kids themselves. Nor if we absolve them of responsibility.

It takes a village to raise a child. And the UK is a very big, very traumatized village right now. Let's hope somebody calls a meeting. 

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