There's been far too much pontificating on the riots already, largely by people who don't live in the affected areas and didn't experience what was going on (like me) and I'm reluctant to join in. But following the response to my facebook status this morning, I thought I'd offer a reflection on how I'm feeling and pass on a comment or two that I've found really helpful as I've tried to process how I'm feeling.
I feel sad and pretty helpless. I feel for those who've lost their businesses and homes. I feel for the police officers bearing the brunt of an inchoate anger. I feel for those who've been left fearful in their communities. The stock response when something like this happens is to find someone to blame. In this situation it's easy: the rioters are to blame for mindless criminality for which there's no excuse. Yes and no.
In one news report, a young man in Tottenham was asked if rioting really achieved anything:
"Yes," he replied. "You wouldn't be talking to me now if we didn't riot, would you?" He went on:
"Two months ago we marched to Scotland Yard, more than 2,000 of us, all blacks, and it was peaceful and calm and you know what? Not a word in the press. Last night a bit of rioting and looting and look around you." (you'll find it here - along with some helpful reflections on events).
He has a point. And his point is not that rioting is a good thing. His point is that he comes from a community that is invisible to us, disregarded by us, not part of the big society that we all feel a sense of belonging to.
In today's Independent, Camila Batmanghelidjh, founder of Kid's Company and long-time champion of neglected communities, offers this insight: 'Young, intelligent citizens of the ghetto seek an explanation for why they are at the receiving end of bleak Britain, condemned to a darkness where their humanity is not even valued enough to be helped'. And she backs it up with stories of families at breaking point, receiving little or no help, being made to feel that they are just a problem with nothing to contribute to society and so having no stake in society. Her piece is well worth reading (it's here)
There is a need for a good tough policing response to this disorder; those who have committed crimes - and that's what they are - need to be brought to book. But what then? Will these young people, the vast majority of whom have no qualifications, come from challenging backgrounds, face a future devoid of opportunity, just fade back into invisibility (after they've served time) until the next long hot summer?
Jesus told his disciples that stumbling blocks will come our way but woe to those who put a stumbling block in the way of any of these little ones (Luke 17:1-2). To whom is he referring? Surely to those who have been the subject of his stories from 14:1 onwards - the poor, the neglected, those on the edge, invisible to the god-fearing community of his day, and yet very visible and very loved by God.
So, I think if we are followers of Jesus, we have a part to play in raising the visibility of the unseen communities in our country and working to show that they matter to us because they matter to God. This means that we will resource and run good quality youth work - and press our local authorities to join us in that (by reversing cuts to provision if necessary). For baptists in London, it means asking why our association has no regional minister responsible for youth work in post to enable churches to rise to this challenge. It means that we will dedicate resources to helping those who struggle to make ends meet, cope as parents, achieve at school through projects (which is just a short-hand for motivated, mobilised and managed individuals) offering to get alongside those in need of help. Again we will do this with all sorts of people of good will, including local authorities who need to be pressed to take their responsibilities to the poor seriously.
And first of all, it means listening to those who are rarely heard, hearing what their lives are like, what struggle they face and, most importantly, what they have to offer as a contribution to making the kind of society we all want to live in.
What we've had enough of is hand-wringing and finger pointing. We're all to blame. But much more importantly we can all play a part of making things better. I think it's what Jesus would do. What do you think?
Right on Simon - Thank you. Cheered me up so much amidst all the completely sterotypical references. This as always is an issue for us all - we are all involved.
Thanks Simon, very helpful insights, as ever. One of the issues we’ve been exploring of late is education, and we plan to open an Education Centre soon with The Lighthouse Group, opening up our church to work with young people on the verge of permanent exclusion. The issues here in Birmingham were brought home for me on Monday morning, with a story in the Birmingham Mail, which reported that last year in the West Midlands 150 pupils were sent home from school for bad behaviour every day. 20,000 were suspended, and nearly 600 permanently excluded. If young people are going to have any prospect of fulfilling their potential and making it out of home situations which are often so hopeless, then education has to be the answer.
What’s been depressing, however, is the various conversations about funding I’ve had with the likes of the police and other local agencies. Each time the message is the same – pots of money which were available a year ago are shrinking or have disappeared because of the cuts.
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