Does it take violence to get noticed?
Let’s start this post by making it absolutely clear that we’re in no way condoning the behaviour of people who have taken it upon themselves to take to the streets of London and go on the rampage. The story of a young boy, bloodied and confused from being caught up in the mess, having his backpack sliced open and his lunchbox stolen, is no political statement. It’s a tragic indictment of a society that is failing repeatedly to protect the innocence of its young people, and to craft political, educational, and economic structures that they can engage in with hope and purpose. We literally weep for that boy and the brokenness he represents.
And yet, blanket condemnation of the rioters seems hollow and wholly inadequate. People with a stake in society do not take it upon themselves to set cars on fire and kick in the windows of sports shops. They’ve got jobs to go to, reasons to prefer constructive behaviour to mindless destruction.
They didn’t create the environment in which they grew up, the grinding poverty and endemic unemployment that pretty much guarantees a lifetime of low expectations. And some of those articulate enough to voice a perspective suggest that they riot because they know of no other way to be heard.
Think back to the protests against the invasion of Iraq, which has subsequently been demonstrated to have been based on false and/or doctored intelligence. Tony Blair’s government paid not the slightest bit of attention to the concerted public unrest centred around his plans.
For thirty years, successive administrations have been pursuing a neoliberal economic approach that systematically widens the gulf between the rich and the poor. And have they listened when people have complained about the policies it took to build that regime? Not so much.
And now it seems that tensions have reached breaking point. That those who have suffered most under decades of punitive social policies have discovered that, when they form large enough mobs, the police can’t stop them. And suddenly, all the publicity that has eluded them for so long is theirs for the taking.