Response to the riots: Abandoning our collective future?

Dan Silver from One North West speaks out on the riots and criminal justice, 23rd Aug 2011.

Dan Silver, One north West

David Cameron’s speech upon the recall of Parliament in the wake of the optimistically-named ‘August Riots’ was accompanied by a ticker along the bottom of the news channel: An eleven year old girl had now been arrested for involvement in the looting. At the same time, our Prime Minister was menacingly telling all involved that: ‘we are coming for you’.

This threatening language, against some of our young people that David Cameron once wanted to hug, is mirrored by a sense of anger throughout the psyche of country, shown by a recent YouGov poll, which showed that eighty one percent of people think that the sentences are either about right, or too soft. This includes a 23-year-old college student who, despite having no criminal record, was jailed for six months on Thursday for stealing a £3.50 case of bottled water.

This is surely a time for political leadership that considers our collective future. Disproportionate sentences simply will not bring long-term solutions.

David Cameron recently said that: ‘I think in life sometimes it’s right to give someone a second chance’. If Andy Coulson deserves a second chance, then why not our young people?

Surely policy that does not abandon our young people, which considers restorative justice and community sentences, would serve our communities better. By handing out draconian sentences that further alienates sections of our society (and may even yet be expensively overturned in the court of appeals), we are missing an opportunity to listen to the voices of young people and risk leaving the issues to fester. Furthermore, how will evicting whole families from council housing bring long-term solutions?

No one would wish to condone looting, burning and attacks on the police, nor ignore personal responsibility. However, it is also the case that by focussing on the easy targets, the so-called ‘feral youths,’ and dismissing the riots as ‘criminality pure and simple,’ the Government’s reaction avoids the harder questions. These harder questions include the role and culpability of generations of government policy, discrimination throughout society and the issue of poverty that blights people’s lives.

To understand is not to excuse, despite what some politicians and commentators that are intent on stifling debate would have us believe.

There are no easy answers, but we need to listen to our young people. As one young person in our recent Voice of the North project eloquently declared: ‘We should be able to go to Government to express our feelings because at the end of the day, we are the ones living in the situation’.

Our partnership in the Voice of the North project brings together organisations working for and with young people in the North of England and our NW BME Policy Forum involves BME voluntary and community sector organisations across all equality strands and from both rural and urban areas. Through these collective approaches, One North West campaigns for greater equality and social justice within Government policy and works to ensure that Northern voices are heard within the decision making process. Recent events have made this more important than ever.

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Photo by Anton Belitskiy from Pexels