EACH WEEK we ask two writers with contrasting opinions to answer the question...
“They were criminal, criminal, criminal!" These were the words used by Margaret Thatcher to describe the 1981 Brixton rioters, in a speech virtually identical to the one delivered by David Cameron last August.
The response from government back in 1981 as in 2011 was to “saturate" the cities with police and hand out “exemplary” sentences, to ensure such horrors would never have to be endured again by the upright British population. Yet, riots happened again in 1985, 1990 and in 2011, showing the inefficacy of sheer repression - especially in the long term.
Rising unemployment, lack of housing, racial tensions and police brutality have traditionally been the ingredients of a social pressure cooker, but why does it explode? While economic hardship and injustice contribute to resentment towards authorities, several experts have pointed to the loss of hope as the main trigger.
In David Cameron's big society, single parents, youths from underprivileged backgrounds, the relatives of those who die in police custody have increasingly come to realise that there is no bailout package in store for them. These people, not only feel unrepresented within state institutions, but they feel under direct attack from a government that preys on citizens' resources and a police force that appears set to target certain communities. Driven out to the margins of society and abandoned there, many feel hopeless.
While the burning down of homes and shops was a travesty, these acts of vandalism became an excuse to once again disregard the voices of those at the bottom - in particular those who demanded answers for the killing of Mark Duggan.
For three days London burned to the ground. Then, the media portrayed white middle class people armed with brooms swiping all the ugliness under the carpet. Britain's issues were buried away, together with the rubble and broken glass.
So, of course another riot is inevitable and the notion that over policing and harsh sentences will act as a deterrent is naive at best and intentionally misguided at worst.
“Inevitable” is a strong word. It sounds like a prophecy, something that is predestined. Does this apply to the riots? No!
Firstly, the government, police and local authorities now know what to expect. Our media has made this a lot easier by a thorough analysis of what went wrong. The insight gained has been invaluable with views ranging from professional bodies to the peeved-off butcher down the street!
The meat of the matter is that the harsh sentences given out will deter the public from another riot. I wouldn’t dare steal considering that Shanola Smith, a model, was jailed for six months after nicking packs of chewing gum during the unrest in Croydon. That’s definitely left a bitter taste in my mouth.
Also, the red flames of the riots weren’t totally “out of the blue.” People like Chaves Campbell and Nims Obunge had stated that a riot would occur but it wasn’t taken seriously. Now when someone other than Kaiser Chief cries: “I predict a riot,” it won’t be ignored.
Even if a minority would want to cause trouble, they have seen the result: acclaimed heroes and communities getting together as proven by the viral “brooms in the air” picture. Even Tariq Jahan who lost his son, had changed the views of many when he appealed for calm not chaos.
Furthermore, the Government has realised the power of social media and are reviewing the issue. Perhaps social media will become even more “social” when security services become a part of our network and have easier access to our conversations – an option being discussed.
The Olympics may also reinforce the importance of repairing a broken Britain into a brilliant one. One thing is clear - another riot is not inevitable. When fatalities, violence and disorder have been your wake-up call, you’ll never press the snooze button again.
THE 'HEAD TO HEAD''COLUMN IS BY THE LONDON 360 REPORTERS
To find out more about what our reporters are up to go to www.communitychannel.org/london360
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