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Riots: A wake up call for the black community

I shuddered as I watched the freakish looting on London’s streets. Fear has spread to almost every corner of this nation as rioters attacked the focal points of our communities: our high roads and commercial centres where people socialise and do business.

As a young Black British woman I am enraged to see a considerable number of black and mixed race youth involved in this mass, violent shop-up.

The Turkish community had the capacity to fend off rioters because they had positive community values, but the Black British community had little hope of self-defence, as a disproportionate amount of men (in proportion to the majority population and as a racial group alone) were perpetrators or already behind bars.

I would like to say, this is an unfortunate comeuppance for a community where there is virtually no male authority. These young men and women have experienced disorder in their homes and are not pressurised from within the community to do better than their parents, to leave the cycle of dependency on welfare provision and enjoy a professional career. The street culture many young black and mixed race kids appropriate, advocates short-term glory respect on the street, which ultimately boils down to an intimidating street presence; scraps over drug domains; internecine violence and aborts the prospect of long term success in life.

Some community leaders have hailed liberal pro-child policy as a cause of disorder amongst the rioters.

My parents generation, born in the 1960s need to understand they cannot roll the clock back to an imaginary never-never-land where corporal punishment was a remedy to all bad behaviour.  The past, in this regard, is far more disturbing. Many men from the Windrush Generation (the first wave of Caribbean migrants to Britain 1948-1960s) left their wives, partners and children in the Caribbean behind, to enjoy new-found ‘freedom’ and exotic status in the UK; they found girlfriends, remarried, spawned new offspring with various women and unfortunately helped establish a pattern of familial brokenness to their grandchildren by walking away.

The answer from a lot of black clergy has been to pander to my parents generation we need to be able to discipline our kids i.e. we need to be free to punish them physically. I am from that generation and I bet you your bottom dollar the rioting young children have been smacked. Smacking was used indiscriminately by the Windrush Generation parents on their children (my parents’ generation) who often used it to avoid healthy discussion of awkward issues.

A certain level of education or training is needed to be integrated into the Knowledge Economy. Certainly there are issues of tacit racism in schools and swift recourse to exclusion. But difficulties do not entirely excuse parental responsibility to push one’s children. Indeed African-Americans faced more explicit discrimination in the United States, yet they fought back and overcame certain hurdles by fighting low expectations. Black parents have to recognise we are living in a country where there are considerable opportunities, especially in comparison to the Caribbean or Africa where primary and secondary education are not free. If black parents want their input to be valued they need to incorporate broader parenting styles, faithfully attend parent-teacher meetings, which are poorly attended in inner city schools; become school governors, and local councillors and actively encourage their children to enter the professions.

On another note, youth initiatives in the black community are sidelined. Churches in the black community have invaluable access to young black NEETs (not in education, employment or training), however many have misplaced priorities. Black Majority Churches have a tendency to spend extortionate amounts on rent for halls, stadiums and flights for international preachers for religious conventions that can last up to seven days, when events and initiatives for young people are strapped for cash and youth pastors are left to make do.

An extensive auto-critique of certain phenomena associated with the black community is needed; this is why so many black people screamed ‘racist’ at David Starkey’s remarks. If there is no introspective self-analysis, outside forces will step in and examine our community which will inevitably hurt more and are likely to be specious. With regards to Starkey’s critique of what some call ‘Jafaican’: there has been a weird change in young people’s vernacular. My grandparents generation from the Caribbean spoke better English than most street-speakers. Although they had an accent, they used Standard English and were taught that patois was only for home use. Unfortunately many young people cannot differentiate between the two.

To move forward community leaders could gain insight from the experience of young people from the black community who are educated or well trained. For example, I attended a ‘good state school’ yet I was bullied by the black girls in ‘the black group’ for being bookish and not hanging out with them; this happened amongst black girls in every year group in a multiracial school. Some of my bullies became single mothers and didn’t attend university; they are not fulfilling their potential.

In other words, my message to the Black community is to wake up and act like a community. We must address our lack of progress in recent years in order to avoid the loss of another generation to crime and hopelessness.

Written by Zaneta Denny

From a Soft Whisper to a Giant Roar: London Youth have been Speaking.

Less than a week before the London riots, teenager Chavez Campbell predicted the riots stating, there will be riots. There will be riots. Before that, Jody McIntyre’s Bars for Change, a short video that featured numerous grime artists challenging the power of the police aired on channel four. Durrty Goodz in the first episode made the statement in regards to previous police killings such as Smiley Culture, until we see justice, there will be no peace.

Less than a month before the riots, an event in Brixton which asked the question Who polices the police? ended with dozens of people, most of them young, filing complaints against the police for misconduct.

Live Magazine ran an article in its summer issue discussing the racial profiling and its use by police in stop and search procedures. For those who were listening to these subtle yet presents cries, the riots should not come as much of a surprise.

The recent riots in London have gained worldwide attention and brought to light some of London’s economic and racial issues. Many have voiced concerns over the effects of the riots. However, much like the Brixton Uprising and the previous Tottenham Riots, economics are a major factor. There is a correlation between the riots and recent cuts that affected numerous youth centers and the rise in tuition fees.

It seems that rather than the government addressing the issues at hand, they are far more dedicated to punishing the rioters. David Cameroon highlighted this by stating  “If you are old enough to commit these crimes, you are old enough to face the punishment”.

Severe punishment and increased police presence will increase tension between youth and police, once more creating the circumstances that helped spark the riots. The government should instead be looking at its very active role in the riots.

There seems to be a gap in the government between what they do and how the people react. Student protests throughout the year have demonstrated that the people, specifically young people are unhappy with its government. The assumptions that young people have not been speaking are untrue. There were numerous signs that London youth want a voice in their city. That is essentially what caused the riots.

Why does the UK government insist on ignoring its past? Smiley Culture, 1981 Brixton police profiling, lack of positive economic venues for youth, these are ghosts from the past living in the present. As proven in theLondon riots, they cannot to creep into the future.

United States gang expert William Bratton was hired to address the causes of the riots and increased gang activity. This money and energy should instead be used to invest into the youth, education and jobs. Why not talk to people like Chavez Campbell, real young Londoners who clearly seem to have a better grasp of the situation.

In addition to listening to the youth and funding youth centers, there needs to be a greater investment in youth oriented programs that encourage physical activity and positive mentorship. Living The Dream is a youth run dance company, which gained recognition for several things, one being a flashdance performed at Kings Crosson New Years eve. YBS is another organization that works with young people hosting events, success oriented sessions. They also have mentorship programs for younger people.

These are just some of the few examples of organizations that are investing in young Londoners. The riots in London proved the urgency in doing so.

Written by Caroline Karanja

What’s Really Going On?

No doubt a lot of the people involved in the looting and rioting were motivated by opportunism, some of them were only kids; literally bored thirteen year olds jumping on a bandwagon which tempted them with the promise of shiny new things. They saw that something big was happening and didn’t want to miss out. While it is no excuse for their reckless behaviour, it’s important to put this whole situation into context.

The violence in Tottenham on Saturday may have been motivated by anger for a mysterious murder but out in the rest of London, this reaction ignited a different emotion. To say that people in their twenties, younger and some a lot older, were solely motivated by the thought of a new DVD player is over-simplifying to the point where the whole issue gets swept under the carpet on the basis that they were just opportunistic hoodlums out to get what they could. So huge crowds of people just felt like risking jail-time, getting into violent altercations with the police not to mention each other and becoming Public Enemy Number One because they saw the window and took it? They are the villains and we are all the innocent victims? Up to a point. No matter their own precarious situations, both financially and in other aspects, these people had no right to damage other people’s livelihoods, burning shops and putting people’s lives at risk. The fact that many of them barely understand the aspirations of these independent businesses; the fact that they have probably felt ignored and marginalised their whole lives; the fact that they can not see themselves getting the high-flying jobs which could eventually get them out of the crappy area they have gotten so used to that they won’t even discover another zone in London, none of that makes what they did right but it goes some way in explaining it.

The rioters, many of whom are teenagers, probably felt that they owed nothing to a society in which they had never really felt included anyway and which, in the aftermath of the economic crisis, seems increasingly unable to support them. Look at what they chose to steal and from where; the clothes, the trainers, the televisions I know that if I were in the same position, the last shops I would think of placing on my wish-list would be Argos or JD Sports for the simple reason that they are stores pretty accessible in my everyday life. Instead of dismissing these choices as merely selfish and materialistic, we should look at them as telling signs of a kind of struggle that many of us cannot even begin to comprehend. Able to access high streets up and down the country, luxury labels such as Louis Vuitton or Prada were left relatively unscathed whilst brands more familiar to the majority were ransacked with the fervour of a group of people who couldn’t believe their luck.

The opportunistic aspect of the rioting should not be taken as an answer with a full stop either. I live in an area of Central London that would be described as anything but ghetto, turn a couple of corners and it may be another story but you definitely wouldn’t imagine the scenes that were playing out on the news on a normal evening around here. Yet on the night of Monday 8th August, a small crowd of people were moving with purpose on the street outside my house. They knew better than to touch anything on their own doorstep, instead directing themselves to the posh shops a couple of streets up. They smashed some windows; businesses selling luxury diaries, a well-known bakery chain. This wasn’t about filling their wardrobes, it was a strike against the people who live so close, go to the same corner shop, walk the same streets day-in, day-out, and yet have a completely different, apparently unobtainable lifestyle to theirs. It was a reaction that spoke of isolation and resentment.

The wealthy and the disadvantaged live in close proximity in this area but whilst the former are able to make the most of the restaurants and glossy shops, leisurely lunches and shopping trips in boutiques are not available to all the locals. As someone who fits directly into neither category I can understand the looters view of the targeted shops as part of a world that they are constantly reminded of but never granted access to. Having said that, I have never felt such an intensity of resentment to want to physically damage those shops. It may be a world that I am not part of now but I have always felt that the option of dipping into it in the future is there for me. In my opinion, this is what tips the balance between mild alienation and the unleashing of anger: so many people see themselves to have very limited options.

We are living through an economically dark moment and for some this signifies the worsening of an already bad situation. If someone resigns themselves to the belief that they will never get out of a particular predicament, they will have no motivation to work for something more. Anger, repression, opportunism, reckless ignorance, whatever you want to call it, there is more to the rioting than simply a taste for anarchy. This may soon become old news but the sentiments will remain. The shopkeepers and local residents who bore the brunt were innocent victims of an eruption that found a dangerous outlet in the events of that week.

While there is no doubting the fact that unity, supporting each other in the rebuilding of communities, is crucial, we must also take care to avoid just dismissing the rioters, forgetting about them and abandoning them in a position so bleak that they saw this outburst of violence as an opportunity to reach better things.

It seems the government’s answer to the riots has been to come down hard and make an example of those involved, sifting through CCTV evidence to make sure that they punish as many of those involved as possible – and it is right that they do so. People need to know that there are consequences to such violence and destruction. What we should not be focusing on, however, is locking up every single kid caught and throwing out the key. This kind of reaction will only create a vicious cycle in which people will carry on living on the margins, ignored by the rest of us and resentful about the environment in which they continue to live. We need to be given hope, a belief that we all have the opportunity to make something more of our lives whether we are broke or well-off, whether we went to uni or not. We need to know that there is more than one path to success and actually change the meaning of that word so as not to be so focused on the materialistic aspect of life. We need to be motivated; community centres providing dance classes, lessons in martial arts, drama, these would provide incentives to keep kids off the streets and give them a focus that they would think twice about risking losing. It is a tall order but when there is such a serious social problem, it needs to be tackled, not locked away.

Written by Aisha Brown Colpani