Police sirens, broken glass, the smell of smoke from something ablaze and a lingering sense of dread has filled the air across many of the UK’s major cities for the past few nights. It began with a peaceful street protest in London, following the fatal shooting of 29 year old, Mark Duggan, by armed police. Since then, an uproar and wave of unrest has surged through the inner-most towns of London and other major cities. Shop fronts have been smashed and looted, and vehicles set alight as the riots spread like wild fire across the country. It is evident that the current situation has moved away from its clearly defined beginnings. Almost like a domino effect, Birmingham, Nottingham, Manchester and Liverpool (amongst other cities) were also hit.
In reality, the arson, robbery and looting part of this uprising look a lot less like a protest and more like a criminal free for all. What we see now is symptomatic of a bigger problem- a societal disease with deeper issues to be unearthed. Rather than looking for logical reasoning behind the mayhem, perhaps the focus needs to be on the fact that what we are witnessing runs deeper than thuggish youths getting carried away with adrenaline and angst.
Many people are bewildered at the fact that they are indeed destroying their home towns and communities. What state was our community in to produce a group of individuals so morally disconnected and disenfranchised in the first place? In these riots, young people have carried out mindless acts of violence with little regard for the consequences. At this stage it isn’t so much a question of why they are acting out in this way, or even a question of how or when it will be stopped, but rather what enabled this problem to exist in the first place? What is the root cause? Crime has long been connected to lower socio-economic status and poverty. So what lies behind these groups of people, described as ‘feral children’, ‘wild and animalistic’, indiscriminately wreaking havoc like this?
For a start, the recent economic downturn has affected the whole country and the recession dealt a particularly damaging blow to Britain’s deprived communities. Lower health status, made worse by poor nutrition, low career prospects due to failing education and an all together lower quality of life has in many ways left the working classes regarded as the lower, ‘sub-class’ of society. The recent increase in university tuition fees, harsh public spending cutbacks and unemployment have effectively shut off access to a better future for young people in this environment, leaving them with little success to aspire to. Add broken families to fractured society and you’re left with gang culture, and crime chosen as the option for survival.
Many have disregarded these young people as, selfish and opportunistic thugs who feel owed something by the system. It is a fact that many experience hardship further down the socio-economic ladder and yet do not turn to a life of crime. In many ways these ‘out of control youths’ are a product of their surroundings, and though their actions are their own responsibility the pressures of their environment do not help matters.
As a side issue, the urban scene is constantly being fed images which inspire young people to be little more than consumers of the latest technology and fashion. It is not surprising that fashion sportswear and mobile phone shops were among the most looted. Low education, and poor job prospects have created a vicious cycle in which an unattainable lifestyle is being chased. This is not the case with all young people of course, as many pursue creative entrepreneurial ventures as a means of bettering themselves. but generally there is a lack of ambition and hope for the future.
Positive parental role models should take precedence over the voice of the media, but this is clearly not happening as the problems stem back further than just this generation. Right now, all of society is looking down on these rioters, as what they are doing is inexcusable. In our conversations we’ve got to be aware of the words we use regarding the future of young people, remembering that ‘death and life are in the power of the tongue’ (Proverbs 18:21). Many of them, failed by the education system have had their fair share of ‘you can’t’, ‘you never will’, and ‘you won’t achieve’. But there is a potential in them that they are unaware of. If only they knew that the life they have chosen is not the only option. ‘For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ (Jeremiah 29:11).
As Christians, there is an amazing opportunity to demonstrate God’s love here. While the devastation caused by these young people is detestable, at the very root of this issue are hearts that have yet to collide with God’s grace. This does not mean excusing what they do but remembering that ‘all have sinned; and fall short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23 NLT). We know that ‘God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners’ (Romans 5:8). With this in mind it is a grace perspective that is required to permeate our attitude towards recent events. At a time when everyone has an opinion, our contribution to the debate ought to be centered on an attitude of grace. More than ever we need to be united in prayer at this time that a peaceful situation will follow soon.
Watching the scenes unfold on the news is one thing, but to witness the streets you’ve walked past for years smashed to pieces is very surreal. The harsh reality is that people have lost their homes and livelihoods have been destroyed. With this in mind, here in the UK we are reminded of how fortunate we are, compared to those who actually wake up to war-torn countries on a daily basis. A time like this causes us to consider things in perspective. Subconsciously or not, these young people are communicating something very clear through the havoc they are wreaking: that they won’t be ignored. David Cameron admitted that the focus had been taken off dealing with. The riots should be an alarm bell for the other issues in society that need to be dealt with. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learnt in that we cannot afford to leave any part of our society forgotten and that the root cause of any problem should always be the primary focus.