Condemning a Little Less…

I am reminded of John Major's notorious remarks to the Mail on Sunday about young offenders: "Society needs to condemn a little more and understand a little less". He won widespread plaudits at the time. The same sentiment echoes about today. Everyone who is calling for rubber bullets and water cannon to quell the 'London Riots' is busy condemning. And I can see why. It's very hard for me to see how torching someone's home, or making off with an armful of contraband electronics can possibly be justified as 'protest', whether against the government or the police. I could so easily join the queue to condemn too. It would cost me nothing to condemn the rioters – it takes no time or effort, requires no information or insight. I wouldn't need to find out how their communities have been policed, how their previous discontents have been heard and responded to, where their anger comes from, or even if it is anger at all. Maybe it is boredom, or despair, or envy. Maybe it is just 'badness'. Or maybe different people have different motivations. Oh dear – it's already getting too complex. Why don't I stick with condemnation, then I wouldn't need to care.

But I do care.      

I was born in London, then my family moved out when I was nine and I never loved the city enough to live there again. So I'm clueless, really, about these riots. I'm middle-class and middle-aged and white, and I live in the home counties. What do I know? What could I possibly know?

I know that society is deeply unfair. I know that intergenerational poverty blights lives. I know that parenting in poverty is really hard. I know that support for children and families has been cut. I know that unsupported families often twist and turn in a vortex of financial nightmares, chronic ill-health and mental-illness, substance abuse and chaotic and sometimes violent relationships. Once in that vortex, cause and effect become difficult to unravel. I know that children raised in such environments are fighting a losing battle not to replicate those forces in their own lives as young adults. I know that fear and aggression, like despair and bravado, are twins. I know that "challenging" and "vulnerable" are two sides of the same coin.

I know that rubber bullets and water-cannon won't fix this (in the same way that they have never 'fixed' anything in Belfast). I believe that understanding will. Nothing justifies looting or setting fire to homes and businesses;  some things do explain those actions. Understanding causes takes us more than half way to dealing adequately with consequences.  

I may not love the city enough to live there, but it breaks my heart to see London on fire tonight. I have no instinct to condemn. I really do want to understand. And help fix this.

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