IN THE CANDID CORNER – Little England, be warned!
These are sickening scenes . . . of people looting, vandalizing, thieving, robbing, scenes of people attacking police . . . . This is criminality, pure and simple . . . . – Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron.
Events of the past week in Britain should cause Barbados, which we still fondly call “Little England”, to sit up and take note.
In David Cameron’s address to the country, the imagery of his language gives a sense of the sickness, the malaise, that has destabilized what used to be seen as “the gentleman’s country”.
Central to the prime minister’s lament are issues like “. . . innocent people who’ve been burned out of their houses”, “businesses who have seen their premises smashed, their products looted and their livelihood potentially ruined”.
The prime minister spoke of “people living in fear”. To the perpetrators of the criminality, he warned: “You are not only wrecking the lives of others, you are not only wrecking your own communities, you are potentially wrecking your own life too.”
While it is a fact that the fatal shooting of Morgan Duggan at the hands of the police in Tottenham might have been the trigger, there is a sense that what happened in the erstwhile “Mother Country” was a riot, not an accident, that was long waiting to happen.
Britain went soft on immigration, soft on crime, parents were told “not to smack their children”, teachers were prevented from chastising kids in schools and children could call the “bobbies” for their parents.
The society jumped on the “rights” bandwagon and de-emphasized the corresponding responsibilities. In a sense, it is strongly believed that Britain is now reaping what was sowed and as such a “whole riotous generation has been lost”.
Two British criminologists advanced their views as to the underlying causes of the riots. The BBC News cites a Sir Max Hastings’ article carried in the Daily Mail in which he focused on “a perverted ethos, which elevates personal freedom to an absolute, and denies the underclass discipline – tough love, which alone might enable some of its members to escape from the swamp of dependency in which they live”.
The professor of criminology at Birmingham City University and former prison governor argued that “it is not just about the underclass – it’s about politicians, it’s about bankers, it’s about footballers . . . it permeates all levels of society”.
According to him, “when we see politicians claiming for flat-screen TVs and getting jailed for fiddling their expenses, it’s clear that young people of all classes aren’t being given appropriate leadership”.
Marion Fitzgerald, visiting professor of criminology at the University of Kent, refers to studies which suggest that living in social deprivation could be a factor. She, however, concedes that “the socially excluded” are not always the ones who are rioting and that in fact they are the ones who are most vulnerable to riots. In a sense therefore social exclusion should not be used as the cause of the riots.
Cristina Odone of the Daily Telegraph links the riots to the lack of fathers in the home and the general lack of male role models. According to her, “like the majority of youth offenders behind bars, these gang members have one thing in common: no father at home”.
Ken Livingstone, speaking on BBC Newsnight, locates the cause of the riots at the feet of politicians and their austerity measures. As the Labour candidate for Mayor of London says: “If you are making massive cuts, there’s always the potential for this sort of revolt . . . .”
While Christina Patterson notes that “too many black men have been killed by the police. Too many black men and women have been treated like criminals when they are not. While racism is not seen as the cause of these riots, it may be a contributing factor. From my own observation of the phenotypical imagery of the rioters, it seems to me that race is not a factor, just an excuse”.
Three other factors have been cited. These are the gangsta rap and culture, consumerism and opportunism. Paul Routledge of the Daily Mirror blamed “the pernicious culture of hatred around rap music, which glorifies violence and loathing of authority, exalts trashy materialism and raves about drugs”.
Zoe Williams of the Guardian said: “This is what happens when people don’t have anything, when their noses are constantly rubbed in stuff they can’t afford and . . . will never be able to afford.”
Speaking recently in the House of Assembly, Minister of Education Ronald Jones made some remarks that are instructive. Implicit in his assessment is that too many Barbadian communities are being terrorized by young vagabonds who are proud of their charge sheet and their involvement in decadence; who enter the sanctuary of homes and take lives and who don’t care if you exist. It frightens him and it frightens me.
A measure of social reengineering is urgently needed if “Little England” is to avert experiences akin to the current riots in what we used to call our “Mother Country”. What Mr Jones described, like the British prime minister, is “criminality pure and simple”.