London’s burning – why or why?

Parts of London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Leeds, Nottingham and Bristol are burning, shops are looted and youths in hoodies are walking around with their prizes ranging from Tesco’s own branded basmati rice or a nice pair of designer trainers.

Reading the tweets, blogs, social media and articles, opinion is split on who is exactly is to blame for the riots. London is experiencing the most destructive riots since the riots of 1981. Thirty years on as was the case in 1981, the riots took place against the backdrop of a royal wedding and an economic downturn. Some of the riots are taking place in some of the same locations with a followed pattern of events, but there is a very different tone to the riots this time around.

I grew up in Birmingham, studied and worked in Leicester, while also living and working briefly in Manchester and London. I just can’t comprehend that on the streets where I would walk and breath has become in some parts a war zone. According to the analysts from the left pockets of youth in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leicester have exploded their anger into violent action as government cuts, the withdrawal of college grants, an increase in tuition fees and rising youth unemployment all have added to the frustration, anger and isolation.

While the right believe that these youth are products of broken homes who have no responsibility and are resorting to crime and looting.

In the summer of 2010 I had spent some nights in the inner city areas of Manchester and Leicester to see for myself whether there was a perceived gang-culture within the streets which could escalate into something far sinister.

My observations which came out were that many of these young men who were aged from 15-18 were school dropouts, who had no real life mentors and were basically bored as they had nothing to do with their time. Some felt their communities had let them down, while others blamed the system, but the overall picture was they got used to hanging around in groups on street corners into the early hours of the morning, as they had nothing else to do.

A group of youth who allowed me to trace their steps told me, they felt the police would always pick on them and they had become vulnerable targets as public perception of the ‘hoodie’ was one of a trouble maker, a drug user and involved in petty crime. There was no real youth club, while others even let their anger be directed towards their community leaders for not doing enough to understand their needs and aspirations. With low educational level achieved with high unemployment the route to success for some would always be the life of crime.

I myself came across a 16 year old boy who came from a poor background and had no real relationship with his own father, who turned to selling drugs as the only source of income to fuel his expensive consumer influenced lifestyle.

The UK for a number of years as allowed this class of youth to grow in numbers, while at the same time they themselves have become disenfranchised with the system. David Cameron’s objective of ‘hugging a hoodie’ was ridiculed and supported, but the fact is perceptions of inner city youth is one of juvenile behaviour, broken homes and no real support.

Together with the lack of funding in successful programmes like youth work and family support, more and more of Britain’s youth were left on their own to make their own free time enjoyable.

David Cameron says he now wants to rebuild families and improve parenting so all children and young people grow up to become citizens who make a positive contribution to society. But from speaking to young people across the country, all they want is to be heard, respected and for their politicians to leave a better society for the future.

No doubt there are criminal elements that have exposed the vulnerabilities of a stretched police force, but many youth have just ridden on the bandwagon of carnage in order to resent the system but also get some satisfaction on the way.

The riots have become a product of the direction Britain is heading, for too long societies have been living side by side but not engaging or understanding each other. As groups of university students, faith groups and local community associations are cleaning up Britain as a way of reclaiming the streets, that in itself shows how divided the UK has become.

One on hand there is a group of people who feel let down that they continue to cause destruction and damage, and another idealistic group who urge society to reclaim a peaceful existence.

Many minority groups in an indirect way highlighted that the problems of society aren’t just race related as Sikh youth in the Birmingham suburb of Smethwick stayed awake all night to protect their community while Bangladeshi groups in East London reminded their fellow Muslims it is their duty to help their non-Muslim neighbours.

Unlike 1981 the causes of the riots can’t be just defined as black and white in definition. The riots have exposed the lives the rioters choose or feel constrained to live. Blaming the riots on individual wickedness, conspiracies or on government spending cuts is too simple for such complex issues.