Monday, 15 August 2011

My England and keeping the scum in check...

London riots 2011

I’m sure you can’t help but have noticed that England has been at the centre of some very serious rioting and looting last week. I say England not Britain because this has specifically been an English problem not Scottish or Welsh. Shameful acts of wanton criminality and greed have been broadcast all over the world. These were not politically or racially motivated acts; it really was just a case of rank opportunism and consumerism. Shoplifting with violence one commentator called it. What must you think of us?

St. Ives, Cornwall
I’ve heard many people say that ‘it makes you ashamed to be British.’ Well, I’m ashamed of this behaviour by a minority of amoral British people but I’m not ashamed to be British, or English. These acts of arson, rioting and looting are not a picture of England that I recognise. This is not my England or the England that the majority of English people will identify with. I would not like you to be left with the impression that this is the real England.

Perhaps you think I am naïve or have lived a sheltered life?  Well, I admit that I am lucky enough to live in one of the leafy middle-class suburbs of my city (which didn’t suffer any riots by the way). There is a very low crime rate where I live. However, I happen to work on some of the most deprived and notorious ‘sink’ estates in the city. These are estates that regularly witness acts of vandalism, anti-social behaviour, drug trafficking and the occasional murder.

Kinder, Peak District
My job is to visit people in their own homes and advise them on welfare benefits and help them to make applications/appeals. These are some of the poorest people in society. I have to admit that when I first started the job I was quite nervous about driving onto these estates and leaving my car parked in the street. I wondered if it would still have wheels on when I returned. I worried about what kind of people I would be visiting, what the state of their homes would be like. I no longer feel like that. What this job has shown me is that even on the worst estates the majority of people living there are decent, moral, law-abiding citizens who welcome me into their clean and tidy homes and offer me their hospitality – can I make you a cup of tea my dear? 
British Museum, London

I don’t think I am naïve or sheltered from the realities of modern life for some people. And I still don’t think England has gone bad. Britain is a beautiful place to live and for the vast majority of people, a safe place to live. My family and I visited London only the week before the riots and were very impressed with the magnificence of the city. We visited many of the usual tourist places – Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Madame Tussauds, Regent’s Park, Houses of Parliament, Horse Guards parade etc.  We had a great time and felt very safe.
Trafalgar Square

Both the police and politicians have been criticised for their handling of the riots, mainly for not getting a handle on the situation quickly enough. All the senior Cabinet Ministers (including the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Home Secretary) were all out of the country at the same time – not a sensible policy! (What company would allow all its senior directors to take annual leave at the same time? Who runs the ship?) The poor old police force are damned if they do and damned if they don’t – they get criticised if they are too heavy handed with rioters/protesters and criticised if they are too lenient, which is what happened in this case.  All this meant that it took a couple of days to get things back under control.
Horse Guards Parade

But it is under control now and hundreds of local people have voluntarily taken to the streets with brooms to clean up the mess in their communities – the British Broom Army, British people at their best, helping each other and sorting out the mess. Many people from within Britain and around the world have contributed to the many funds that have been set up to help the victims of these riots – people who have been burnt out of their homes, lost their businesses or been injured or murdered during these riots. Yes, it really has been that bad.
Big Ben

Over 3000 arrests have now been made with Magistrates Courts working late into the evenings and weekends to get through the cases. Justice has come swift and hard for these people with many receiving custodial sentences and/or hefty fines. One guy pleaded guilty to stealing a bottle of water and received a 6 month custodial sentence. Many people have had their cases referred to the Crown Courts where stiffer sentences can be levied. Britain will not tolerate this behaviour and is giving a stern message to people who might involve themselves in such acts in future.

Houses of Parliament
In Rory Miller’s book, Facing Violence, he mentions something that someone told him once about 3% of the world’s population being scum. The full quote was: “No matter what any bleeding-heart tells you, 3% of the people in the world are scum. The trouble is, if you spent 80% of your time with that 3%, you start thinking that 80% of the world is scum.” Three percent of any country’s population will always be scum; we can’t do anything about it except keep them in check. However, we mustn’t let that 3% rule our streets or define us as nations. Britain has its scum – they all came out on the streets last week, but we’ve got them under check again.
Buckingham Palace

I refuse to let the events of the last week define either me or my country. It is just a blip. Britain is still a beautiful place to live in and a great place to visit. I refuse to be cynical and I am still proud to be British.

 Hope you enjoyed some of my views of Britain...

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Charles James said...

I am truly sorry that you fine Brits had to endure the undisciplined actions of ignorant ruffians.

It does not reflect on you. It does not reflect on decent people regardless of the locale of such actions.

It does not reflect on the British peoples.

I sympathize with the difficulties of such events of social crises, it is most difficult.

I wish the country good luck and quick recovery.

My deepest respect for Britain and its people is not affected by any of these things.

Journeyman said...

I love that you call it your England. You are, and should be proud.

I have to remind myself that most people, the vast majority, are decent folks. The fact that I rarely deal with these people can sometimes give a skewered view of things.

'Police are the people, and the people are the police' is one of my favorite sayings. When people show up to help or clean up after the scum, you get your faith restored.

I must say, I appreciate your perspective of how the police are viewed.

I hate rioting of any sort. It paints such a negative picture on the surroundings. A tiny group can cause such hardship to so many. As you say, though, It is but a blip.

I'm happy you chose to post on the topic. Well done.

Sue C said...

Charles, thank you for your kind words.

Journeyman, "police are the people.." I like that. I think sometimes that people think the police are all like
robocop. It must be pretty scary dealing with a rioting mob, even with training and full riot gear. Many of our police worked double shifts or more in the attempt to make swift arrests this last week, so keen they were to see justice done for the people that have suffered. I think they all deserve a lot of praise and respect from us.

John W. Zimmer said...

Hi Sue,

I was sorry to see these events unfold. We had our own LA riots in 92.

I was working in the worst affected areas just a couple of weeks prior to the riots and was lucky to be gone.

Unexpected event are what we train for in the martial arts and hopefully we will not put these talents to use. :)

Sue C said...

Hi John, thanks for your comment and your support (as usual) ;-)

etali said...

I have friends in London that were directly affected by the riots (one saw the houses on both sides of hers burned down, although her house survived with just smashed windows and a door ripped off). I live in the north, and it didn't reach up here, but it is scary to think how quickly a legitimate and peaceful protest degenerated into senseless destruction.

Looting of shops, I could understad in some twisted way - but there was footage of people stealing expensive stuff like TVs and then smashing them up. That, to me, makes no sense - you can't even rationalise it by saying you 'need' the money.

I liked your post though - it's important to remember that theres good and bad everywhere, and that it's too easy sometimes to just focus on the bad.

Sue C said...

Etali, sorry to hear about your friends, it must have been very frightening for them. You're right - the rioters were a pretty brain dead bunch of thugs, trashing their own communities and then smashing up the stuff!

John Coles said...

That is by far and away your best blog. Intelligence, reason, concern, and your personal perspective from a personal point of view.

It pains me to see London experiencing this pain. I confess, even having lived in London, I never had any great affection for the city until visiting there a few years ago with my adopted niece. For me, it was always a jumping off point to the European mainland, mainly to teach jujutsu. But now, I hold the city with great affection, particularly the history and character of the place.

Your comment, which was noted by Journeyman, about the constabulary ... I'm getting older because all I can think about is that we are sending our fathers, mothers, sons, daughter, and partners into harms way on our behalf. Surely we should at least be a little supportive of their efforts.

I think we all lose when these situations kick off. We are all the less for it. I suspect, as so many commentators suggest, that it reflects deeper underlying issues. Rather than pointing fingers, we should spend more time asking 'why?'.

Sue C said...

John, I suspect you've visited London more times than me! I did find it a very impressive city though I wouldn't want to live there (I'm not really a city person). The riots came to a swift end and justice handed out pretty swiftly and harshly (4 years for inciting a riot on facebook - even though nobody turned up). I think a lot of people will have a lot of regrets about the way they jumped on the looting bandwagon without a thought for the consequences.

No doubt a post-mortem will ensue to look for reasons but at the end of the day people are responsible for there own actions and should be made accountable - you can't blame parents, schools and poverty for everything.

Anonymous said...

In spite of the ideologically motivated opinion forming in the media it is a fact that there is a huge discrepancy between the rich and the poor in England in terms of material possessions, educational opportunities, job perspectives etcetera and recent and future budget cuts will ensure that this will deepen even further.
There is much truth in the saying 'when people have nothing to lose they lose it' and it is a fact that there are neighbourhoods that are so poor and destitute the illegal economy (drugs, prostitution, dealing in contraband) far outweighs the regular occupations and this is in large part the goverment's fault for turning a blind eye for so long.

It's very easy for relatively well to do middle or upper class folks to critize the 'scum' and demand 'justice' without looking further into this problem. I don't condone violence in any form but if you endorse a materialistic culture (how much money or goods you have determines your value as a human being) whereby the rich have all the advantages and the poor work their fingers to the bone just to get by or simply have no job at all this is what you will get. The laws should be upheld but if those very same laws or the society they're supposed to organise and protect is unjust then maybe we should look further into the causes of outbreaks of violence and unrest instead of just pointing the finger at a few thugs and misguiding youths and dealing with them as harshly as possible. If it were only a small minority there could never have been such mayhem and destruction: if politicians don't open their eyes and deal with the real problems instead of spouting meaningless retoric it will get much worse and we'll wake up one day in a polarised society with a contineous war between the haves and the have-nots.

Lack of hope and lack of opportunities resulting in unemployment and poverty is still one of the main causes of criminal behaviour: take away the cause and you remove the consequence but of course that takes more than arresting and jailing a few thousand people. If you ask me they've treated the symptom instead of the disease and anyone with the least bit of medical knowledge knows the underlying disease will flare up sooner or later and by then it's usually far worse.

Perhaps your next blog post could be about the ingenious, intricate ways in which the rich manage to pay the absolute minimum in taxes, thus legally robbing the goverment of money that could be spent on actually helping the poor instead of locking them up. There is much 'scum' and criminality in the upper classes too, it just takes on different forms and it will never attract the same amount of protest and outrage than those riots. The current worldwide financial crisis was in large part caused by such white collar fraud and greed yet few if any of those corrupt bankers and politicians will ever be brought to justice. In our society Orwell's maxim still holds true: 'we are all equal, but some are more equal than others'.

Sue C said...

Anon, It is a mistake to blame all amoral and criminal behaviour on poverty and lack of opportunity. The vast majority of people living in poverty and with low educational achievement are law abiding citizens who would not dream of looting, burning, rioting and being violent.

The recent riots were not an exclusively 'poor people's' riot'. Many of the looters were middle class and professional people (who have now mindlessly thrown away their futures). Innocent people were terrorised and robbed at knife point in restaurants. These people had no regard for the lives of others when they set fire to businesses and homes.

Even if their behaviour is somehow explainable (and I don't think job cuts and poverty explain it), it is not excusable and deserves the full force of the law.

People have to take responsibility for their lives and their behaviour. The government throwing money at people will not change behaviour. However, ensuring that people are made to suffer the consequences of their actions might.

And by the way I have no idea how rich people evade taxes and I have no idea of how the financial markets work. Perhaps you could enlighten me...

Mr. Martial Arts said...

Sorry that you fine Brits had to endure the undisciplined actions of ignorant ruffians.

Sue C said...

Thank you Mr Martial Arts :-)

SenseiMattKlein said...

Hi Sue,
We have most of our laws on the books thanks to the actions of a few idiots.

One of my top students was going to go into the police force after leaving high school. I counseled him against it as he, after dealing with those 3% morons and careless scum every day, would ultimately become hardened to it, and it would affect him. He is currently a very carefree and fun person to be around. He probably would have been a good cop, but he is now going to be a teacher, at which he will excel.

Sue C said...

Hi Matt, I understand your thinking but somebody's got to do the job and thank goodness they do. I expect your student will make a good teacher though, if you've been his role model ;-)


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