Tonight, again, London is burning. Watching the news, the flames roaring up into the night sky, I find myself tearful and distraught. There is something so violent and destructive about these fires, so pointless about the needless looting. There are repeated questions about why there are many children involved, and where their parents are.
The first night of riots raised important debate about police relationships in communities, racial tensions, unemployment levels and deprived (I must interject here – relatively deprived) inner-London areas. From there onwards things have spiralled into apparently wanton violence and anarchy. There are many questions to be asked, and the best we can hope for is that somehow something positive may yet come of it. My heart is raging against the waste, destruction and greed, while my head is asking what my mother would have made of it all. She tended to look at the world from multiple perspectives, rather than choosing the obvious or safe conclusions. She might point out that people always have motivations for their actions, however difficult they may be to understand or unpick. The youth looting on the streets are not as stupid as we would like to believe, because it is an easier story for us to accept. I make no claims to understand this myself, but I try to stretch my mind past my own experiences to boredom and dissatisfaction, the rush of adrenaline and feeling part of a mob, and anger at the world and media constantly talking of the current ‘lost” generation with high University fees, limited job prospects, soaring costs of living and growing unemployment. To reach beyond the rationale of my well-educated, middle class, comfortably employed, white identity to stand in another’s shoes, instead of allowing myself the easy road of righteous indignation.
I do not believe that trying to understand another’s viewpoint or motivations means that we have to necessarily absolve them of responsibility. Quite the contrary, I think it is important for people to be held to account for the consequences of their actions. It is not helpful, however, to judge without first seeking to understand, because without uncovering the root causes we cannot hope to forge a better future.