A few months ago most of us watching the news on television saw criminal mobs of rioting youths looting English cities, setting shops and flats on fire, assaulting bystanders and throwing rocks at the police.
How wrong we were. What we actually saw was a politically astute group of alienated young people driven to despair by poverty and police brutality and insensitivity. At least that is the conclusion reached by the Guardian/LSE ‘Reading the Riots’ investigation into the riots and published over eight pages of the paper earlier this week. As Guardian journalist Gary Younge argues, the rioters “were acting politically.” It is just unfortunate that for some reason these ‘surprisingly articulate’ politically active youths couldn’t articulate their discontent without throwing a rock through a shop window and stealing a television set.
Younge is quick to blame the police for creating the conditions which bred the riots. “Almost three-quarters of interviewees said they had been stopped and searched by the police in the last year; 85% said “policing” was an important or very important cause of the riots. Just 7% believed the police do a good job in their area.”
So let’s work this out. Some criminals have said that they don’t have a good relationship with the police and would much prefer it if the police would just leave them alone. The Guardian itself reported that the 73% of rioters arrested had previous criminal records and one third had served prison sentences. Yet because they complain that the police don’t let them go about their unlawful business Younge assumes that rioting, looting, assault and arson are somehow justified.
The report relies on the testimony of the rioters themselves and they’re hardly likely to blame either themselves or their families let alone welfare dependency, the entitlement culture and their somewhat relaxed attitude towards crime.
Nevertheless, as one would expect, the archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams has followed the Guardian line and has also explained the riots by rooting them, amongst other things, on “massive economic hopelessness.”
The archbishop does not seem to take into consideration that only a tiny minority of those young people living with “massive economic hopelessness” actually rioted. The vast majority were appalled at the behaviour of the rioters. Also it is apparent that the rioters had many of the accessories which mark an acquisitive society. The riots were organised by the widespread use of BlackBerries, an upscale electronic devise most of us cannot afford. It would appear that those who were truly economically hopeless were unable to communicate with their well heeled criminally inclined rioting contemporaries.
Dr Williams was a little nearer the mark when he said that, “Too many of them inhabit a world in which the obsession with ‘good’ clothes and accessories – against a backdrop of economic insecurity or simple privation – creates a feverish atmosphere where status falls and rises as suddenly and destructively as a currency market.”
It is undoubtedly true that we live in a materialistic age where ‘things’ assume a corrupting importance, amongst wealthy as well as poor. Unfortunately Dr Williams misses the point articulated by one of the rioters, “There was all this free stuff. Stupid to let it go, innit.” Most of us non Guardianistas would refer to this as theft rather than a politically motivated expression of social discontent. It was not the importance of “stuff” or the lack of it, it was the utter lack of moral values and personal responsibility which led to the rioting and looting.
We all inhabit a materialistic, acquisitive world, very few took this as a motivating factor in burning down shops with people living above them or in pretending to help someone who had been attacked only to rob them and inflict further injury upon them.
It is Dr Williams’ task as leader of the Church of England to remind us of the individual’s personal responsibility for how we follow the moral law and how we treat our neighbour. Didn’t the actual Head of the Church have something to say about that?