On Tuesday, like most Londoners, I watched in horror as our city was torn apart by rioters. There is of course, no excuse behind the reckless criminality of individuals and London, as well as other major cities, will no doubt be severely scarred in the aftermath of smashed shop windows, stolen goods and burnt out buildings. But these cities have not just been physically damaged; they have also been emotionally disturbed as people try to come to terms with the apparent break down of society. And inevitably as this occurred, popular internet forums, Twitter feeds and social networks indulged in cynical blame games, whether on local authorities, the government, or most depressingly, certain social and ethnic groups themselves.
Asserting such unfounded claims upon social and ethnic groups serves not only to distort wider pictures of the riots, but also exacerbates the problems that caused them in the first place. The dark reality behind these riots is that they were not spontaneous; rather, they are the beginnings of an imminent eruption, caused by years of brewing social negligence and irresponsibility. Furthermore, it should be noted that despite the opinions of Ken Livingstone, these riots fit more within a sociological, rather than political framework. Viewed from this perspective, the events we have seen unfold in the past few days are somewhat unsurprising.
Those familiar with inner city communities are aware of the familiar story that binds its youth. Young boys and girls, detached from the suburban mainstream of society, haunted by dark pasts and knowingly bleak futures. Those who have lost faith in poorly performing state schools and lack extra-curricular support desperately needed from a young age. For some of these young people, joining gangs provides a greater sense of security than the community institutions that have failed them time and time again. These gangs thrive in the detachment of such vulnerable communities. They actively set out to separate themselves from their neighbours, operating on different models of ideals and values; indeed, while London may be celebrated as the city where the rich and poor live in relatively close proximity, the communities within these confines are more separated than ever before.
Examining the nature of the riots may give a further explanation. The Guardian’s Zoe Williams correctly states that greed is significant in analysis. The selective rioting of stores, mainly on sportswear, technology and alcohol, not only indicate the worrying number of youths who feel that material goods dictate their individual value, but should provide an adequate platform on which society as a whole should re-assess itself. With fascination in celebrity culture and material possessions increasing rapidly, are we surprised that the demand for luxuries has escalated even to those that knowingly cannot afford them?
For whatever young rioters have done, one thing we cannot entirely blame them for is the way in which they quantify their worth.
The coming days will undoubtedly see a myriad of differing opinions emerge. We should be cautious not to jump on populist bandwagons, or adhere to reactionary measures. As we slowly rebuild our communities we must acknowledge that to bring about social cohesion, a restructuring of society, which includes vulnerable inner city communities, is absolutely essential.