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Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Riots, social responsibility and public duty

It's been a bad few nights here in the UK.

Last week, a young black man was shot dead by police in London, after apparently pointing a gun at officers but not firing it himself. While the investigations around Mark Duggan's death continue, there was a peaceful protest about his killing last week which turned violent as the evening wore on. Since then, violent rioters have been on the streets of several London boroughs, and copycat riots have been instigated in Manchester, Birmingham, Salford and several other smaller cities.

These other outbursts have nothing to do with Mark Duggan's death. The young people involved in them are intent only on causing as much damage to property as possible and in looting anything electrical that they can easily carry away. They are not making a point, they are simply stealing and destroying property.

Some of the businesses in London that have been destroyed by fire over the weekend had survived two World Wars. They came through the Blitz, and yet the actions of a few yobs have done what Hitler couldn't.

But the same spirit that Londoners showed during the Blitz is alive and kicking. Local residents started clean up operations, using social media to encourage others with the hashtag #riotcleanup. This is what Britain is really about, not the young violent anti-social criminals with hoods drawn over their faces and petrol bombs in their hands.

One thing that stuck out for me in the news coverage last night, was a piece about posters and leaflets that have started to appear in London and elsewhere, intimidating people into not informing the police if they recognise anyone in the CCTV footage of the riots. This is a fundamental difference I think between those in the US, and society here in the UK (and I suspect much of Europe).

In the US, it's called "snitching" and is frowned upon by many. Americans appear to feel that they should not help the police to do their jobs - which may stem from the way that the police operate in the US, and how policemen and women are also the prosecutors in criminal cases.

In the UK, the police do not prosecute, they maintain order and collect evidence. Prosecutions are handled by the Crown Prosecution Service, which acts as a safety valve for society by insisting on a minimum level of evidence to be provided by police before a prosecution is taken any further.

Many people think that us Brits have little national identity and are almost embarrassed to take pride in our country. We get behind out sportsmen and women, even though we loose more than we win, but that's usually about as far as it goes. But there has been a heartening show of defiance and anger at what the rioting youths have done over the past few nights, and the reclaiming of the streets by clean up teams is important not only for those directly involved, but also for the rest of the country to see.

Now the newspapers are also encouraging people to inform the police with names and other information of anyone caught on the CCTV footage taking part in the riots. It is our public duty to help the police in this matter, because these rioters have attacked every one of us that works, pays our bills, pays insurance and buys goods in the high streets across Britian. They have attacked our sense of safety in our own homes, and everyone knows an Englishman's home is his castle.

Their actions will cause insurance premiums to increase. Their actions will cause goods to rise in price. Thier actions have taken people's homes and businesses, not just a few mobile phones and flat screen TVs.

I was brought up with a very simple set of rules by my parents, and one of them was "if it doesn't belong to you, then you don't touch it without permission". We have absolutely no right to take anything that is not ours. I have been the victim of theft more than once, and my blood boils when I think about what I would do to the criminals if I ever found out who they were. How dare they take something that not only does not belong to them, but things that I have had to work damned hard to pay for or achieve! My pagan ancestors would have removed at least a finger for each incident of theft, and to be honest, I'm not against that kind of swift and visible punishment myself.

But the majority of Brits aren't like that. So what do we do with these kids who think they can take what's not theirs and run away laughing? My suggestion is simple. Make them rebuild what they have destroyed. Put them in orange jumpsuits, and make them work all their spare time on reparing windows, rebuilding homes and business premises and cleaning up the glass and burnt offerings that now cover the streets, and let everyone in the community see who they are. Don't hide them away in Young Offender institutions, or give them fines that they will never pay (or will pay with the proceeds of more crime). Take their time, make them use it constructively, and give them skills at the same time that may help them earn their way out of the relative poverty they feel they are condemned to right now.

But to do that, we need to identify who they are.

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