London is burning around me. Two minutes walk away, shops are having their windows smashed in and cars are being set alight. The other side of London, in Croydon, a street has been razed to the ground – including a furniture store that has passed through five generations of the same family.
The police are struggling to keep pace with the spread of the riots. A commentator on Sky News has just explained that the police now have everyone out on the street, officers who have only received the most basic training in controlling public order.
News agencies are relying on mobile phone footage and telephone interviews as it isn’t safe for their camera crews to be seen recording footage.
Undoubtedly, the people involved are mindless thugs. Wilfully roaming from street to street trying to cause as much destruction as possible. They want to cause damage. They want to break windows. They want to leave with armfuls of loot.
The question is why?
It isn’t how; it is quite clear how they are doing it. It isn’t where they are doing it; it is quite clear that it is anywhere they feel they can. It is why? Why do they want to destroy their own communities, why do they want to endanger people’s lives by setting buildings alight, why don’t they want to stop?
The conversation is being dominated by disgust at these people’s actions. Yes, they are horrendous acts, but where are we going to take the discussion if we just cast aside the people responsible?
The warm up act to this problem is the disaster that was Tony Blair’s Anti-Social Behaviour Orders. Created as a way of stopping socially unacceptable action by small groups of people, they soon became badges of pride to the very people they were supposed to stop. Why didn’t we learn the lesson from this? These people are at the bottom of society. And they are only getting further and further away from the middle.
What reason do they have to care about what the politically cherished middle class think of them? They don’t care about their local communities suffering with the damage it’s own inhabitants have done. These people and places provide them with nothing. They have no hope, they have no opportunities. They aren’t suffering because of the cuts, they are suffering more because of the cuts.
There are no facilities for people young and old, no prospects and no concern from the society above them. They don’t care if it is David Cameron, Nick Clegg or Ed Milliband in Downing Street. To them, no one cares about them, they look after themselves.
One picture doing the rounds on Twitter is of a looter making off with a 5kg bag of Tesco Economy Basmati Rice. Nowhere amongst the jokes about him being the worst looter ever was there anyone asking why you would feel it was worth stealing a bag of economy rice, even if it was a 5kg one.
The situation is sad. The question is why?
Newspapers and television frequently debate at great length the merits of British involvement in helping the developing world, or how cuts will affect ‘hard-working families’. Rarely is the main topic of discussion how on earth do we help the ever worsening situation at the foot of society.
The question is why? Why didn’t we notice?
I’d like to be clear, this is not a defence of the rioters (looters, protestors, thugs – whatever you wish to call them). It is an attack on those who castigate the people out on the streets without stopping to wonder what would move you to be out on the street, not caring if people thought you were a thug, rioter of protestor.