steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

What to do about the riots...

I'm trying to keep up with the suggestions from David "Hang a Hoodie" Cameron and his pals. So far, their bright ideas for mending broken Britain include:

Shut down Facebook and Twitter

Cut off rioters' benefits

Evict accused rioters and their families (no need to wait for a conviction)

Strip children of their right to anonymity in court cases

Impose conscription on all 16-year-olds

Establish area-wide curfews

Impose punitive (i.e. excessive) sentences, such as sending a person of previous good character to jail for six months for taking £3.50 worth of bottled water

Have I missed anything? Feel free to add. My own suggestion is to shut down Les Miserables. It only gives the malcontents ideas.

Imagine a housing estate with a little park next to it.

The estate has "no ballgames" and "no skateboarding" notices all over it.

The park is just an empty space.

And then imagine you are 14 years old, and you live in a flat four storeys up.

It's the summer holidays and you don't have any pocket money.

That's your life.

What will you get up to today?

Take in a concert, perhaps? Go to a football game? Go to the seaside?

No - you're talking £30 or £50 to do any of that.

You can't kick a ball around on your own doorstep.

So what do you do?

You hang around in the streets, and you are bored, bored, bored.

And you look around you.

Who isn't bored?

Who isn't hanging around because they don't have any money?

Who has the cars, the clothes, the power?

As Femi's character in the film found, even if you're not interested in crime, it's difficult to avoid the culture.

Of course, not everyone who grows up in a deprived neighbourhood turns to crime - just as not everyone who grows up in a rich neighbourhood stays on the straight and narrow.

Individuals are responsible for their actions - and every individual has the choice between doing right and doing wrong.

But there are connections between circumstances and behaviour.

It's easy to feel pessimistic when you see that film.

But I think that's the wrong response.

We can't just give up in despair.

We've got to believe we can do something about the terrible problems of youth crime and disorder.

We've got be optimistic about young people, otherwise we'll forever be dealing with the short-term symptoms instead of the long-term causes.

And I think there are three things that are vital if we're to make all our communities safe and give every young person the chance they deserve.

The first thing is to recognise that we'll never get the answers right unless we understand what's gone wrong.

Understanding the background, the reasons, the causes.

It doesn't mean excusing crime but it will help us tackle it.

In that context I want to say something about what is, for some, a vivid symbol of what has gone wrong with young people in Britain today: hoodies.

In May last year, hoodies became political.

The Bluewater shopping centre banned them, and the Prime Minister said he backed the ban.

I actually think it's quite right for politicians to debate these matters.

But debating the symptoms rather than the causes won't get us very far.

Because the fact is that the hoodie is a response to a problem, not a problem in itself.

We - the people in suits - often see hoodies as aggressive, the uniform of a rebel army of young gangsters.

But, for young people, hoodies are often more defensive than offensive.

They're a way to stay invisible in the street.

In a dangerous environment the best thing to do is keep your head down, blend in, don't stand out.

For some, the hoodie represents all that's wrong about youth culture in Britain today.

For me, adult society's response to the hoodie shows how far we are from finding the long-term answers to put things right.

Camila Bhatmanghelidj, of the visionary social enterprise, Kids Company, understands.

In her new book, Shattered Lives, there is an account of a girl whose pastime it was to "steal smiles", as she put it.

To viciously hurt people in the street who she saw smiling.

It's the only thing that would give her pleasure.

Of course we should condemn her behaviour.

But that's the easy part.

Because if you knew that that girl had suffered years of abuse and neglect from her family, and years of institutional indifference from the social services you would begin to understand that there is more to life on the streets than simple crime and simple punishment.

That girl is getting better now, thanks to the deep understanding and patient work of Kids Company.

She still struggles - Kids Company don't do miracles.

But she's not offending any more and she's just completed a course with the Prince's Trust.

So when you see a child walking down the road, hoodie up, head down, moody, swaggering, dominating the pavement - think what has brought that child to that moment.

If the first thing we have to do is understand what's gone wrong, the second thing is to realise that putting things right is not just about law enforcement.

It's about the quality of the work we do with young people.

It's about relationships.

It's about trust.

The speaker is, of course, David "Bag of Shit" Cameron.
Tags: current affairs
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