The rotten apples and the tree they fell from.

“Well good morning Tottenham! All feeling proud of yourselves after last night’s civil unrest? Right, lets recap then. In Japan after the tsunami there was no rioting or looting, and everyone worked together to get things back to normal. Meanwhile, in Tottenham, a scumbag opens fire on the police and is rightly shot dead – and the locals riot and set fire to the shops, cars and buses that service the local community.”

The above quote is taken from a FaceBook posting by my friend, Vince Fletcher. What I like about my friendship with Vince is that, ultimately, we have the same values and what fascinates me constantly is how we disagree about almost everything. Take the quote above: what happened in Tottenham is completely different from a natural disaster, which does draw people together.

What happened in Tottenham is about a community within a society that has a different experience of the police from us. I should state right here that I have a huge admiration for the police, who constantly put themselves in the firing line – sometimes quite literally – on our behalf. Yet the IPCC has made it clear today that the police’s initial account of what happened to Mark Duggan was quite erroneous. At this stage, it appears that Duggan was shot dead although he was not a threat.

If Duggan was carrying a weapon, which is appears he was – an illegal firearm – then I can understand that the police are involved in a war that I can’t begin to comprehend from their perspective. However, the bottom line is that the community in Tottenham see the police as the enemy and this killing of Mark Duggan was the trigger for the rioting. But this is not what I’m blogging about.

What has happened since, the rioting and particularly the looting, is not related to Duggan as far as I can see. It is a class of people who are using that shooting as an opportunity to express something which, again, is beyond my comprehension. I don’t understand their motivation or what satisfaction they are obtaining, if any. For destroying one’s own community is a form of self-harm and who truly understands that?

I am from London and, whilst windows can be repaired, stolen goods replaced, it has broken my heart to see the city burning. I hate what these people are doing. It’s hard not to hate them.

Talking heads on my TV are saying where are the parents? They are encouraging those parents to report their children to the police. I think this makes an assumption that the parent are “just like us”. That everyone has the middle class values that we take, as accepted wisdom, to be the basic ‘natural’ values of any decent person. This is simply not the case.

If you treat a part of your community without giving the basic rights of equal opportunities for housing, social care, health and education, if you do that for generations, then you build a (sub)culture that has all sorts of forms of abuse built into it. Most paedophiles, for example, are victims of abuse themselves. So, are they victims? Or would you call them evil?

I am closely involved with an excellent secondary school in a wonderful catchment area. The teachers here have the luxury of teaching the children, listening to them, understanding their needs and setting them up with a decent set of values for life. A good friend of mine is the deputy head at a school only thirty miles away. He has said to me that sometimes the best that he and his colleagues can manage in a day is to keep the children safe.

Many of the people on the television and on Twitter are – quite rightly – appalled by what these rioters are doing. I agree; it is vile, horrible, reprehensible and the perpetrators should be punished. What will happen with these people? I guess some of them will spend their lives in and out of prison, or will, perhaps, return to their broken, difficult communities. Will they bring their children up with new, different values? I doubt it.

So, what can be done. I believe the only hope is in education. Better schools, well paid and well trained teachers, proper care and counselling for those children with difficult home lives. To build a better society, those values that we profess to have need to be built into the process by which we introduce people into that society. Those people who are rioting now may well be beyond help; it’s simply too late.

Of course, I’m willing to accept that I’m naive, another bleeding liberal heart, that I’ve got it all wrong. But if that is the case, then what is the reason for what’s happening? Are we saying these are bad people? Inherently not decent? That it’s – what? – in their genes? That by fluke, they are all in the same communities.

I don’t claim to be right, this is just my opinion. If you know better, then please tell me. I want to know.

About fennerpearson
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9 Responses to The rotten apples and the tree they fell from.

  1. ‘For destroying one’s own community is a form of self-harm and who truly understands that?’

    As someone prone to masochism, I understand that very well. Not at a community level. But at an individual level. And really, ‘communities’ are just made up of groups of individuals aren’t they?

    • I’m out of my territory here. You’ll have to help me to understand the difference between masochism and self-destructive behaviour. (If, indeed, there is one.) From what I know of you, I don’t see you as self-destructive.

      Equally, I’m interested in, but not qualified to talk about, the way individual behaviour scales up to a community.

      But thanks, QRG. I’m always interested in your perspective.

      • I can be self-destructive, especially if I feel or become isolated myself, emotionally. but this isn’t about me! I really do empathise/sympathise though, with how people can lose track of what is ‘good for them’ and those around them. I often find myself thinking some people are ‘selfish’, when really they are being ‘self-interested’ or just ‘looking after themselves’. I think sometimes people are made to feel like they don’t matter enough to bother about whether or not they are acting in their own (and those near them) ‘s interests. So a ‘lack’ of ‘selfishness’ can lead to selfish/destructive acts.

      • OK, but just for my understanding, that’s not the same as masochism, is it?

        As to the rest of your argument, yes, assuming I’ve understood what you’re saying correctly, I agree. We need to treat people with respect and give them a sense of self-worth. And self-interest is fine if you are just taking care of yourself and those around you.

  2. I dont think education is the only solution but maybe it’s a bit soon to be coming up with solutions(whilst also too late). I think people should talk to the young people and all the community members about what happened. I mean isn’t this a very dramatic example of a breakdown in communication as much as anything?

    • I don’t mean to suggest it’s the only solution. But also I don’t think I’m coming up with a solution; I think this is well known, just not acted upon.

      But I agree entirely re the communication. I mean, right now, who really feels listened to?

  3. Hollowspy says:

    Great post. As a liberally-minded teacher I have to agree. A good education system could hopefully start to fill the gap that these kids need, and from the earliest age possible. Broken Britain ain’t gonna fix itself and ignoring or hiding it away is no solution.

    • Thanks for commenting.

      As QRG points out, it’s not the complete solution but it’s an easy, well-understood solution and even if it’s not 100% it’s significantly more than 50%, in my opinion.

  4. re: masochism/self-destructiveness. I think they are part of a ‘spectrum’ of impulses/psychology/emotion/behaviour. Not the same thing, but not a million miles away either.

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