The riots that started in Tottenham, London on 6th August and spread throughout London and England for the subsequent 3 days, could not have been predicted. Initially people thought that the shooting of police suspect Mark Duggan had sparked community tensions that eventually boiled over. But this theory has been quickly discounted. Others initially blamed government cuts for causing public anger. Others, including the Prime Minister, David Cameron, blamed a ‘Broken Britain’. None of these theories really provide us with a satisfying answer as to why so many young people looted, vandalised and attacked property and people without any tangible provocation. So we are left asking: why did so many young people take part in this Lord of the Flies style rampage?
Let us take a step back and look at who did what. Scotland Yard has now released its records of who have been charged with offences. Of the 1,457 people charged, a staggering 305 were under the age of 18. The remarkable and saddening thing is that many of the young people seem to be first time offenders, who for some reason felt compelled to contribute to the destruction. Take the well reported case of Chelsea Ives, 18, who is (or was) an Olympics ambassador who was throwing bricks at police cars and looting. Then there are the cases of young teenage boys and girls who went on looting sprees night after night. The youngest defendant was a shocking 11 years old. Some of these young people allegedly used Twitter and Facebook to organise themselves and encourage their friends to join in. The images of this carnage are surreal to say the least.
The Magistrates and Crown Courts are working overtime to prosecute those charged and as might be deemed right and just in the circumstances, they are punishing up to the limits of their powers. Thinking within the legal paradigm there is at least the satisfaction of being able to prove that a defendant committed a certain act with the requisite intention. Back in the real world we are left wanting better answers and they make some time in coming. At IARS, we believe that the first people that we need to speak to are the young people themselves. Dr. Gavrielides in an article published on the Guardian website, outlines his argument for engaging young people in the restoration and recovery process. Letting young people tell us what happened and why might be the only way to really provide a satisfactory answer. IARS’ 99% campaign is doing just that; engaging with young people to help them be a part of the solution. (Follow the 99% campaign on Twitter)
Whatever the cause of the riots, something amazing happened, which should not be forgotten or overlooked; Londoners of all backgrounds, including young people, came out in force to defend and clean up their city. Rather poetically, the clean-up was organised using the very same social networking mechanisms that were used to orchestrate the chaos. In a truly unique and very British display of defiance and civic pride, thousands of people formed an army of cleaners, equipped with brushes and bags. David Cameron has been trying to tell us that we need to build the Big Society; this response showed that his empty rhetoric is redundant, because for the large part, we already have the Big Society. So, going forward, hopefully we can retain this positive image, engage young people in the next steps and deal with offenders firmly, but fairly.
In the coming weeks IARS will be gathering intelligence from young people and promoting positive stories of young Londoners doing their bit. To follow our progress, go to www.iars.org.uk and www.99percent.org.uk to find out more.