I was in America on business when the scenes as depicted in this photo were blazing across my screens on Fox news. I could not believe what was going on; it was like watching a poorly scripted movie.
I’m a London boy born and bred and lived most of my formative years in Enfield and Edmonton, a stone’s throw away from the killing of Mark Duggan by the police – which soon become the catalyst for a few consecutive nights of the worse examples of civil unrest seen in the UK since the early 1980’s. Many issues have been vaunted as the root cause; deprivation in society, feckless parenting, and opportunistic greed. A little less has been spoken about the culpability of “the haves” as opposed to “the have nots.” Would it be fair to say that the riots in London were a vivid demonstration of a class war and civil schism?
It would seem to many that Western democracies put monetary values ahead social policy. A survey of 563 risk managers undertaken in conjunction with Cranfield School of Management, trying to understand the banking crisis, stated “pursuit of profits had effectively displaced concern for people.” (Margaret Heffernan Wilful Blindness Chapter 9 page 249)
The paucity of people-centered leadership and an over-indulgence in self can be viewed at all levels. Over the last few years scandal after scandal has been reported through the fourth estate (themselves not immune to controversy as seen in the revelations around Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation phone hacking scandal) of one white-collar crime after another.
When Harry Markopolos in USA testified before congress about the Madoff fraud, he argued that white-collar criminals did far more economic damage than drug dealers, armed robber and all associated social miscreants put together: “these fraudsters steal approximately five per cent of business revenue annually, dwarfing the economic losses due to violent crime, yet not nearly enough federal law enforcement resource are devoted to catching them.’ (Margaret Heffernan Wilful Blindness Chapter 10 page 267)
Days after the UK civil insurrection, vast amount of British tax pounds were spent on rounding up the “have nots” and exacting punitive measures in fines and incarcerations.
In the sceptered Isle, examples of gross corruptions and dubious values are not the sole preserve of the financial industry or fourth estate. In the highest echelons, a formerly royal Duchess was caught in a sting demanding cash from a wealthy Arab for commercial access to the Duke of York. The UK legislature was up to no good when British politicians at all levels were exposed as thieves for fiddling their expenses. And even our military have been tagged “mercenary agent provocateurs” as excursion into sovereign states on trumpeted up charges of WOMD (weapons of mass destruction) have later been proven to be pure fabrications.
These aforementioned examples of dereliction of duty and myopic self-interest are the true WOMD, destroying any semblance of moral authority transmuted to persons at the margins or base of communities as they attempt to become social climbers. Well, said the Good Book, “When the King is corrupt the nation will perish.” (Proverbs Chapter 14 v34; Chapter 16 v12-13; Chapter 29v4 )
It is easy to be “willfully blind” to the effects of austerity measures on the have nots when there is a vast chasm in the social pecking order. My first thoughts as I watched the wanton destruction from my $600/night bedroom suite on Pebble Beach in California was ‘bang them up; this is outrageous behaviour; where is the “tear gas”, the “water cannon?’
There were many victims during the London riots. Dedicated shop keepers and policemen doing their job. Innocent civilian passers by (who can forget the image of the young Asian student with a broken jaw being helped to his feet by an assailant who minutes later joined with the crowd in ransacking his backpack?) Society at large, as ordinary citizens sat cowering in their homes with a self imposed curfew not daring to go to the local vicinity for fear of getting drawn into an ugly mess.
But many of the perpetrators were victims too: victims of a society that was hastily taking away all of the protection and provision mechanisms that make life palatable in the 21st century’s so-called advanced economies.
Ruth (named changed) is a single mother – twin boys and a girl aged 13 born from an absent father. She is now 29 has two more children; one is seven, the other is a toddler, each also from different fathers. Until recently she has been getting a variety of handouts including income support, single mother benefits and housing allowance to bring home just under £1k/month. But in the austerity measure this has now been cut so savagely that she has to work three jobs in order to get back to within 25% of her previous income.
She loves her children, too, thus forcing her to work with early starts and late nights. She and her friends take it in turns to nanny each others’ toddlers. The eldest go off to school but come home to an open door and food prepared in the fridge. When she returns at 8pm the eldest go out to play; the daughter with her girlfriends, the son now on the street corner with the crew. He used to go to the youth club and organized activities but those have been closed down without warning (local government cuts) so they now hang out at fast food joints.
When the children come home late “after hours” (any time from midnight) mum can’t give them “licks” ’cos the kids know their rights. So she mutters a few words and then follows them to bed. My friend who explained this scenario said to me, “the children are not my kids “innit? The government tell me what I can do and not do with them.”
“They are yours then,” she retorted.
And then I realized as a child who graduated from the social care system 1975 that “there but by the grace of God go I!” … should I have done so in 2011.
This is Akabusi signing off acknowledging the truth of the adage “don’t judge a person until you have walked awhile in their moccasins.”
Photographer of riots image unknown: many thanks to its originator for its loan to us. (Please note this is a non-commercial weblog.)