Thursday, August 11, 2011

Sneakers and flat screen tvs - the real reasons behind the looting in England

I have been heartsick in recent days as I watched the live events unfold on US television showing scenes of burning buildings, cars, people of all ages and ethnicities in anarchy.

It so happened that I was scheduled to come to London on a much-needed vacation and to reconnect with family after a 9 year hiatus due to financial constraints. It had been suggested by some that I postpone the trip or perhaps not come at all. Ironically, the IOC is in London, safely esconced in high priced hotels, I am sure as they finalise plans for the 2012 London Summer Olympics.

When the deal was made to bring the games to London, according to my sources, promises were made that jobs would be made available to the disenfranchised and longterm unemployed youth - read - blacks and other minorities - unfortunately, this has not happened - rather the jobs have gone to newer immigrants predominantly of the caucasian persuasion. Coupled with the austere cuts in social programs, benefits in unemployment, etc, London's youth was sitting on a veritable powder keg which was lurking in the shadows, waiting for any minor event to set it aflame.

That opportunity presented itself in the unfortunate police altercation with Mark Duggan, a 29 year old black man who was armed with a blank weapon that had been altered to carry five loaded bullets. Preliminary reports indicate that he did not shoot at the police.

I am reminded of the violence that followed the brutal police beating of Rodney King in California years ago. In Duggan's case, there was unfortunately no-one present to record what transpired leading up to his being shot and ultimately killed.

As I began my journey to London, my neighbor on the plane asked me whether I thought I would be safe and what my take was on the situation. I responded that when a people has no hope, no jobs and no future, it takes little to set them off. My neighbor indicated that he felt this was merely an excuse for louts to be louts. I then reminded my neighbor that we on that flight were all priveleged with jobs and going on holidays or returning from same.

These youth are not rioting because they want a flat screen tv or the newest sneakers per se, though England is following fast on the heels of America and becoming very materialistic. They riot because they have lost hope and have no dignity - they live in fear of authority for whom they have no respect, they are mistreated often by police officers and are routinely stopped while walking on the street minding their own business in a way that the ACLU and Reverend Al Sharpton would find offensive in America.

There has been a breakdown in the family unit - these children and youth came from fractured homes in many cases, growing up in housing projects where violence and drug dealing is a way of life.

We need community leaders to rally around and Prime Minister Cameron needs to heed their words of caution and wisdom - they work in the trenches and know of the malcontent that plagues their lives - they know what changes need to be made to create opportunities for these disenfranchised youth. It is not enough to punish the offendors - rather, they should be made to rebuild that which they have destroyed, rebuilding buildings for no pay, cleaning up the rubbish they have left strewn in the streets, learning job skills and finally, giving them opportunities when they are finished serving out their sentences. This is a call for faith and community based organisations to address the needs of this struggling underclass who have no jobs, no hope and certainly no future.

There are clearly no simple solutions for this quagmire of a situation - suffice it to say - this has been a wake up call for Britain. With the Olympic games less than a year away, they should thank their lucky stars that the IOC is too far ahead in their planning to pull the games and seek alternative venues to showcase athletes at their finest.

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