Gleeful looting, mindless violence and mass destruction. Have the young generation been demonised to the point of no empathy?
It is possible to wholly condemn the trail of destruction and opportunistic crime, but still ask how we got here. It does not make you an apologist to look for an explanation, but it will take time to step back from the aftermath and pinpoint what went wrong. Though, early on, it’s clear that this was not just the result of that wearying inner-city cycle, of police accused of abusing their power, versus every yoot in a hoody automatically treated as a crime suspect. These riots were not just a rampant underclass gone wild, but all sorts of young people, of all races, from repeat offenders to clean records. People that felt ignored.
I’m sat between the comfort of the Home Counties and the wasteland that is London’s Haringey. I have family and have lived in both. Since the riots escalated so dramatically, it’s been easy to be flippant and make hilarious, original insights such as, “perhaps if they looted books it would do ‘em some good!” when you’re sat comfortably away from it all. But if some were to go down the road, instead of taking on the understandably shocked but knee-jerk reaction, of police back-slapping and repetitive use of “mindless thuggery”, they’d see the ‘gulf between the rich and the poor’ so heavily referenced in the papers they ruffle with liberal pride. Except that’s exactly what happened on Monday night. Rioters took the “thuggery” of their ends and brought it to the more affluent areas of Clapham, Ealing and deep into Greater London. Utterly indefensible, yes, but you couldn’t sweep it under the carpet like Tottenham’s unrest.
The Jeremy Kyle benefit thief caricature is one we lap up, but it is a fallacy that all our ‘disaffected youth’ expect to have handouts. I could stand on my soapbox all day and preach that if you’re young and want to be independent, there is nothing more demoralising than relying on charity from the state. Nobody wants to admit they’re broke; the financial climate has at least meant more people have felt that pang of shame. Much of the arrogance of this youth is a cover for feeling inadequate. On the flipside, we are a greedy generation that’s been taught to consume. So, it is grating to use the word poverty, when you see this ‘youth’ running around with brand new phones and fresh trainers. We piss any money we get on keeping up appearances, we lust after glamorous, oversubscribed jobs then are frustrated when we can’t keep up with the lifestyle we’ve started. But if there was no guidance, or engagement to begin with, who is to blame?
It isn’t reaction to a man being shot dead any more, it isn’t even anger, it’s not giving a shit in its purest form. We knew this was brewing, why didn’t everyone else?
That is not a cue to pat young people on the head and remind us times were much worse under Thatcher, that there were much less opportunities under the Iron Lady, that we’ve had all these riots before and dealt with it. While I’m sure more than a lot is being taken from then and applied to today’s troubles, I was still in Pampers when she was in power. It offers no comfort. Moreover, we don’t need fuel; we’ve not been apathetic. In the last 18 months there were the EMA and tuition fee protests, there were marches to Scotland Yard, there were sit-in protests and there was the continued petitioning against council cuts. This was not only action from well-to-do, middle-class kids as it was painted; this was a snap out of apathy of young people from all walks of life. The fiercest petitioning against cuts to local youth budgets was from teenagers in Haringey, the very borough to spark the wave of anger. Just over a week ago it was outlined prophetically with a video entitled, “There’ll Be Riots”. The ‘youth’ cried out with clear political agenda and nobody answered. The ‘youth’ went feral on the country, destroying their own neighbourhoods and now you’re sitting up. It isn’t reaction to a man being shot dead any more, it isn’t even anger, it’s not giving a shit in its purest form. We knew this was brewing, why didn’t everyone else?
Watching both the surprise and (what with the Prime Minister and Mayor of our capital away cupping their balls on luxury holidays as our cities were literally in flames) the lack of regard from politicians has been energy sapping. Meanwhile police and the news, reported on Blackberry BBM messaging like it was some kind of magical new dark art. Never before have the powers that be, felt so painfully out-of-touch. With potentially many more nights of unrest to come, it doesn’t feel like this is a demonisation that can be reversed.
I’m ashamed that I know people who were stupid enough to be swept up in the mob mentality. I’m more ashamed that when I heard that very first gossip of violence in Tottenham, I reacted immaturely and applauded it. I wanted a ruck with police and government, I wanted to see them upset, instead my peers attacked those closest to them. After all these acts, so childish and volatile, I feel like the rest of the UK may have lost the ability to empathise with its youth.
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