August 17, 2011

So They're Rioting Now?

I would have liked to write the article last week, but I just got back from holiday. I appreciate a lot’s been said already, but I really want to state my piece on this. Also, what I’m about to say below, my experiences and opinions, I’ve not read from a book. Nor is this based on, or aspiring to be, high-brow sociological or anthropological comment. This is my own first hand experience, and my own opinions and solutions, in my own language. I have no political alliance or agenda (I’m not the anarchist saying “Hurrah it’s started!”, the racist saying “It’s them!”, the socialist blaming societal inequality, or the government-hater filled with glee at them ‘getting a bit back’.). I’ve lived on the council estates, drank in the pubs, talked to the families, and heard the crime stories. I’ve mixed with, and been part of, both as a youngster, and as a teacher and adult, the types of people and events I’m talking about. I’ve experienced it first hand, both from inside, and outside, as will many of you.

Who Are These Rioters?

There’s a term in England that I’m going to use throughout this article: ‘Feral Youth’. Not all youth are feral, merely a minority. Feral means, roughly, ‘was once domesticated, but is now wild’. Feral cats are the most common example. Allow me to give you an explanation and a few examples of the feral youth in Britain, because if you don’t live there, I imagine it would be quite hard to grasp just how bad this section of our society really is.

Feral youth are, ostensibly and unsurprisingly, young. They could be as young as 11 or 12, or as old as 30 or more. They behave very badly, they lack, generally, any form of decency, are, generally, rude, jobless-and-not-looking, they refuse education both at school level and beyond, they are aggressive, drugs and alcohol are usually ‘around’, there may be low, and often higher, levels of criminality, for example; stealing bikes, burglary, vandalism etc. If you walk by them in the street, you are likely to be abused. If you address their behaviour, it is very likely you will be set upon. Don’t believe me? Just click this link which is a Google search for “kicked to death”. Note that it is ‘kicked’, not stabbed, beaten, punched. Feral youth want no part of accepted society. In my opinion, feral youth are the biggest problem in UK society bar none. I have been accused of having an ‘ism’ about this section of society. I do. Let’s call it feral-youthism.

Why Did They Riot?

People are blaming the rioting, and the underlying attitudes of these feral youths, on things like; global recessions, politicians fiddling their expenses, the current austerity measures, police spending cuts, and myriad recent events. I cannot agree with this in any way. In my experience, this particular section of humanity (I use the word loosely) stretches back to the late, and prosperous, ‘90s. Since before the global recession, or any other downturn of the ilk, so let’s stop blaming that right now. These exact types of behaviour are not new – and I’m not talking about that historically long relationship between crime and poverty, I’m talking about the “kick-to-deathers”, the ambulance brickers, the “you can’t walk past them without abuse” types. The feral youth. Their history is short, I would say 15 years at the most. Anyone who is now saying the last four years have brought about this section of society, and their related behaviour, is woefully off-the-mark. They rioted because they are badly behaved little shits with bad attitudes who, to quote the deputy mayor of London “fancied a new pair of trainers”. Other than in the first riot, there were no politics or protest, just a notion of ‘let’s fuck things up and grab some stuff’, or as some have called it simply ‘shoplifting with violence’. There were, as far as I can ascertain, no public/council buildings attacked, no placards, no agenda, no desire for change, nothing. Just mindless looting of desirable retail outlets. That tells its own story as to the motives of these little shits. There wasn’t one, other than destruction and robbery.

So We Know Who They Are. How Do We Deal With Them?

Let’s not confuse or combine two issues. There are, undoubtedly, genuine problems with society in general like, say, the police, the government, and inequality. But for once, let’s actually blame the people responsible for these riots rather than ‘the wider social issue’. Assuming that if we fixed the police, government and inequality then that would solve the problem is absolute pie-in-the-sky because these rioters, and ferals in general, have no political motive whatsoever. These wider social issues are problems, sure, but I’m focusing on the one problem here – feral youth. They are their own problem, and, as I’ve stated, the biggest ill in society in the UK in my opinion.

Many people seem to be saying it’s a complex issue. And I guess it is. But I do think getting tougher is the answer. We need to be stronger in the schools to begin with. Not more liberal – less liberal. I’m not advocating bringing back corporal punishment or rubber bullets, but we need to be stronger. I’ve taught in many schools, and the behaviour therein is absolutely shocking. Teachers are constantly sworn at, abused, kicked and punched, pushed down stairs, have things thrown at them, and defied in every possible way imaginable (a ‘you can’t tell me what to do’ attitude). And let me stress something very important here, EIGHTY PERCENT of pupils in schools are not like this. 80% of pupils in schools are fine, behaviour wise. It’s the 20% I’m talking about. I don’t want to hear any arguments about “the majority of kids being OK” because that’s a given. It’s the same with teenagers and young adults. The vast majority are fine. We’re talking here about the problem kids/youth/young adults.

Perhaps a ‘3/5/10 strikes and you’re out’ system in schools might work? Swearing at a teacher? 1 strike. Getting up and walking out of class? 1 strike. Punching a teacher? Strike out. Maximum number of strikes reached? Some form of agreed punishment - suspension, removed to special area of school, or similar. I would think twice about swearing at a teacher if I were a pupil with one strike left which would mean 10 days exclusion if I opened my mouth. This is only one tiny idea, but generally and certainly, start in the schools. Support the teachers, give them the powers to be able to discipline pupils. Let the pupils, and the parents and wider society in the area, know that we’re not taking that bullshit in the classroom any more. In my opinion that would be a good start. Schools still need to be a pleasant place to learn, and teachers would still need to be friendly, but, for example, like any decent household, there are, and there needs to be, rules that are followed, and an awareness that if they are not, there will be consequences.

The main problem with this section of society though, is attitude. They believe that everyone and everything in authority – teachers, policemen, ambulance drivers, firemen, nurses, everyone – is the enemy. Somehow, we need to convince them that we are all on the same side, batting for the same team. Attitude adjustment. I still believe in stronger punishments for this type of behaviour, but overall, lastingly, we need to change the attitude of these people – their rebellion should be, and has historically been, art, music, politics, not ‘you can’t tell me what to do’ and smashing old aged pensioners heads in.

What Will Happen?

Unfortunately, not fucking much will happen. The liberal types, you know the ones, they call you ‘racist’ if you suggest people from Wales are sheep fondlers (true story – a shop in Aberdeen was labelled as racist because they sold ABE [anyone but England] t-shirts during the World Cup. Who do think instigated that complaint? ‘Them’!), will be spouting all manner of long-winded political dross, boring everyone to death to the point where no one cares any more, and time will move on, and lawyers will make millions appealing for little Johnny Feral because they think his 18 month sentence for setting a bus on fire was too harsh and everyone who took part in the rioting will think it was worth it and would happily do it again.

What irks me as much as anything is it is always middle class ‘fluffy’ types who end up getting their way, yet they don’t have to live on Bilton Grange (where I lived) or Berkeley Street (where I lived) where you can’t walk down the street at night, where you can’t say anything to anyone vandalising old Mr Jones’ newly painted fence because you’ll get your head caved in. I may sound flippant, but I’m perfectly serious – nothing, or not nearly enough, will happen to these people, and it will carry on the same because the liberals think they are ‘doing a good thing’ but they’re just, at best, maintaining the status quo, and at worst, making it worse by, ironically, not acting appropriately, or strongly enough.

Attitude Reinvention

In the long term, there needs to be a serious attitude adjustment in that particular section of society. I’ve heard politicians speak of tough love, and I would say that’s just about right. We do care about you, we want you to have important, successful, creative, and above all, peaceful futures in OUR society, but we must let them know that we will not, and cannot, accept this type of feral behaviour any longer. And the only way to let them know that is strong punishment. We’ll be fluffy and caring after that, but only after. Cross the line, and you’ve got it coming. What happened last week was not some ‘kick against the government’, it was mere looting and chaos, not caused by some sense of disenfranchisement, but just feral youth being feral. It’s time to stop it.

Our society is riddled with faults and flaws, but it’s still one of the better ones in the world. I’d like it to stay that way, and get better. Whilst there are problems ‘above our heads’, the biggest problem is, in my opinion, and not to sound snobbish, ‘beneath our feet’. There are people out there, and I know because I’ve talked to them, who want their own little autonomous communities, with no police, and mob rule. Really. We can’t let this happen. We need to change their attitudes. We’re not the enemy. Teachers are not the enemy. Nurses, firemen (I won’t say the police!), ambulance drivers, are not the enemy. There needs to be more respect, because at the moment we as a society are smouldering from the inside out.

It won’t be easy building those bridges, it will take a long time, but if we do these two things – strong deterring punishments, and develop a more respectful caring, inclusive society afterwards - we’ll be at least heading in the right direction.