Update: 20/9/11 The shop that no rioter wanted to loot...
As Singaporeans celebrate National Day I am in London fuming at the mindlessness that has wreaked havoc across London and different cities across the UK.
One black man in Tottenham gets killed by police. People in Tottenham demonstrate. So far so good. Then the riot began.
Looting. Thieving on a grand scale. Brand-name trainers, brand-name clothes, mobile phones, plasma TVs, alcohol, cigarettes. They came, they saw, they looted.
I did not hear of a book shop being looted. Either (1) the looters were not interested in books, or (2) there were no book shops in the area. No book shops in Tottenham? Is it because there is no demand there?
People "working on the street level" came on radio to tell us how these looters suffer "poverty and deprivation". They have no prospects for a job. They have given up. They have nothing to lose.
Other commentators noted how in previous riots, people were angry. They had a reason to be. But what is the point of burning those shops they have looted? Why thrash the community they live in?
One reason for this is simply these looters are not of the same community. We learn that the use of social network and BlackBerries mean crowds have gone from one location to another to pillage. One report says that in an upmarket part of London, looters were shouting, "You are rich. We are poor."
Because these looters are not locals, they have no qualms about torching the place.
Let's dissect some of these issues, beginning with jobs.
These people cannot find jobs. This is a problem. What is the root cause of this problem? These people do not have the skills to do the jobs available. If you cannot read and add up, who is going to employ you?
Labouring jobs. Cleaning jobs. Social caring jobs. There must be a few. Employers are crying out for workers. East Europeans, Africans and Filipinos are coming in droves to do these jobs. Ergo, there ARE jobs. Why are these people not taking up these jobs?
Too much hard work. Why work 35 hours a week at minimum wage when you can get unemployment, housing and council tax benefits for doing nowt? Better still, add a few babies, and the child benefits pile up.
In my voluntary work I learn of how people fail to hold down jobs because they "don't like rules". What sort of rules? "Uhm, being on time, for example."
There are hundreds of schemes and organizations helping people like that into jobs. They could get themselves re-trained/re-educated for next-to-nothing if they are on benefit. Do they?
What about their poverty and deprivation? They used BlackBerries to co-ordinate these attacks, remember? Deprived?
Someone noted how one man was putting his loot in a souped-up car. Deprived?
How many Singaporeans would love to live a life where you need not worry about rent while doing nothing and still get £68 of spending money every week?
OK, £68 is not a lot after you have paid for the utilities and food. But clearly this amount is not enough to cover cigarettes, alcohol, nights out, brand-name goods, etc. So it is a bad deal.
People could save up £1 here and £2 there. Or simply save on a pack of 20 cigarettes costing £4.50. Buy some sugar (55p/500g), coconut (78p/250g) and milk (89p/1140ml) and turn it into coconut candy, say. This way £3 could be turned into £5 and £5 into £9 or whatever.
There are schemes to help people on benefits start their own business. But no, they would rather wait for the ideal job which pays them lots of money, a car, etc for doing nothing.
There could be a myriad reasons for the shameless criminality we witnessed. The core of it, I think, is a poverty of the spirit. This often leads to drug and mental health issues and they often cause a downward spiral even in the most robust of personalities and families.
Another issue is that of race. It is politically incorrect to state what is obvious to many, so no one says it.
We see CCTV pictures of looters wanted by the police. Most of these are black African/West Indian. We see the people coming with brooms and brushes to clean up the streets of Clapham. They are mainly white with a few blacks wanting (and rightly so) to make a statement.
Over in Birmingham we saw TV pictures of shopowners taking the police to task. These are of "Asian" Indian, Punjabi, Turkish and other immigrant stock. They are the "shop-owning" class. The looters were also mainly black African/West Indian.
Despite being much earlier migrants here than the Chinese and the Asians (ie Indians) expelled from Uganda, Kenya, etc, the West Indian groups do not seem to have taken advantage of the state funded school system as well as the others.
There appears to be cultural reasons. I have seen clients on my "street level" voluntary work with staggering amounts of debt. They have borrowed not to buy food, but clothes and shoes, alcohol and entertainment they do not need. These are the very items that the looters were going after.
The politicians and police were saying to parents, "Do you know where your children are? Keep them at home," etc. The truth is, many of these marauding young people have no parents to tell them right from wrong. Or perhaps they have never learned to respect their parents.
One West Indian colleague explained that there is still this acceptance of single motherhood as a result of their days of slavery. Generations have grown up without fathers and the cycle repeats.
Previously mothers in the West Indies worked hard to put food on the table, and admonished their children to do well in school so that they do not end up cleaning and labouring like she was. The effect of this was many first generation West Indian immigrants in the UK have done well in education and have moved on professionally.
But the acceptance of single motherhood has never gone away. Except that now mothers need not slave to put food on the table. All young people now see are mothers on benefits with no incentives to return to work. Girls grow up and have babies instead of finishing school. Boys grow up and father babies to up their street cred.
Up north is a different picture. There appears to be a few more white faces in the pictures released by police so far.
No, I cannot express my anger and frustration enough in words. Suffice it to say the looting has little to do with poverty and deprivation. It was an excuse to run riot, to thieve and to cause arson.
PS: Hours after this post I read this.