August, historians will tell you, is a good time to start a war. And, boy, does this feel like a war.Oh, good grief! That line could only be written by someone who’s never seen a war…
… for the people who lost their homes, and all their possessions, and their children's toys, and every single photo of their children, which they will never, ever be able to get back, and who nearly lost their lives, and their children's lives, because someone thought it was a good laugh to throw a can of kerosene and a match, it must have felt as near as you get to losing your world, without losing your life.So, what caused this ‘war’?
This is what happens in a war. Wars start for a million different reasons, and the time to understand those reasons is not while the war is going on. They can start – even world wars can start – with a single gunshot. This one did. This one started with an old, old story, of a black man killed by police.Oh, here we go…
It started when a woman wanted to know why four children would never see their father again.Because he was the sort of man who comes to the attention of armed police. Next!
And when the police said nothing.Because they can’t say anything until they have some forensics. Which they’ve now got. Next!
And frustration turned, as it often does, and particularly in communities where there's a lot of frustration, to anger, and anger turned, as it often does, and particularly in communities where there are a lot of teenagers with not very much to do, to violence.What a shame the first few rioters and looters to be charged were not entirely jobless teenagers, but teachers, postmen, lifeguards, dental nurses…
And it spread. Do we know if the boys, and young men, smashing windows, and trashing shops, and burning cars, and buses, and buildings, in Hackney, and Croydon, and Brixton, and telling passers-by that what they were doing was "fun", and that they were "trying to get their taxes back", knew about the shooting of the black man, or even cared?I rather think you’ve answered your own question, haven’t you?
Do we know if they knew about the black teenager in Hackney who was stopped and searched by the police, and found to have nothing illegal on him?And that’s some kind of burning INJUSTICE!, is it?
We don't, and we can't. We don't, and can't, know why young men, and teenagers, and children as young as 10 suddenly decided that it was a good idea to do what everyone else was doing, which was to spread chaos, and violence, and fear.But you’re going to hang your hat on racism, aren’t you?
Race didn't cause these riots, but it played a part. Why else do you get three black men talking about them on Newsnight, when you almost never see a black man talking about anything on Newsnight?Have you ever even seen Newsnight, Christina?
There are 169 gangs in London. There are 22 in Hackney alone. These are people, often people who have grown up on estates where almost nobody works, often without fathers, and often without any qualifications, skills, or ambitions, who feel that the world has let them down. The guns and knives they carry make them feel that there's a tiny corner of the world they can control. And because of these boys – no more than 2,000 of them – who carry guns and knives, and because it takes more than reports on "institutional racism" to get rid of "institutional racism", you can hardly walk down a street, if you're black, without being stopped and searched.It’s the decent black mothers and fathers terrified for their kids that are actually happy for stop and search, though…
Too many black men have been killed by the police.Should they kill some white men to even the score? They’re trying, after all!
Too many black men and women have been treated like criminals when they're not.Same goes for white and brown men and women. I don’t see them rioting.
Cuts won't help. Growing unemployment won't help. Some investment, in youth services, and better schools, and mentoring schemes, might, but money alone isn't the answer.It isn’t? Great, so carry on with the cuts!
It wasn't these children who created the culture that told them that what mattered was the brand of their trainers, or the glitter of their bling. It wasn't these children who created the culture that told them that their one hope of escape was hip hop, or fame.If they didn’t create it, who did?
It wasn't these children who created the institutions of a country where all the black workers were in the canteens. We have, as a society, created this monster and, as a society, and like those people heading into the trouble spots with dustpans and brushes, we must pick up the pieces.Good idea.
To be continued...