Like many I have been horrified and saddened by the rioting on these shores. As it escalated, I feared that we might see loss of life and that happened.
Yesterday parliament was recalled to debate this situation and the resulting growth of confidence is not immense. Yesterday was probably the day these riots took another life, for it was shortly after midnight that the Metropolitan Police tweeted this:
A murder investigation has been launched following the death of Richard Bowes who was assaulted during the violent disorder in Ealing.
68 year old Mr Bowes was trying to put out a fire. He was beaten and had head injuries. It was reported that someone said to a bystander something along the lines of ‘There’s one of your lot over there and he’s injured.’ The reports also said that his legs were so close to the flames they were on fire or about to go on fire; that those who assisted him had to break through lines of 100+ of these threatening thugs to get to him. Once beaten, he was robbed of his wallet so it took the police some time to identify him and trace his relatives. And now he is dead. For doing the right thing and getting in the way. In the way of what? For some – with no regard for human life – to experience a crime spree of pure violence and a bit of looting.
At the other end of the scale Malaysian student Ashraf Rossli, 20, survived his attack and after surgery was able to make a statement to the media yesterday. He too was robbed after he’d been stunned by his attack. He has said ‘Britain is great’ and he plans to stay to continue his studies.
Three young men were mown down and killed in Birmingham in a deliberate hit and run attack. The father of one of them has become a hero of the hour for his dignified, measured and calm response.
And that is exactly what we need right now: a calm and measured response with the focus on restoration of law and order. Sadly, in parliament yesterday and in society in general knee-jerk reactions and their sound-bites appear with the speed that violence erupted on our streets.
Where some have been quick to label all this as down to a generation of disaffected and dispossessed youth, the first to appear in court have not borne out this conclusion. Some appear to be actually reasonably well off; some more so.
There are cries of (and a petition for) ‘take away their homes and benefits’, where those who have even less and have shown a propensity to crime are more likely to pursue just that. This is a vicious circle and what about reparation? Reparation is never obviously present in our justice system.
Where the Metropolitan Police has started issuing images for identification and hopes for public assistance, the main stream media can ‘offer more’ images of culprits and some are taking to Facebook to do the same. But how can anyone be sure that those images are in fact of perpetrators? They could be bystanders or innocents caught up in the mêlée. The police are out there doing their job and importantly, gathering evidence. Let us rely on them to ensure that these people are properly identified, that justice is done and that vigilantism does not create more victims.
I believe, and hope, that David Cameron’s suggestion of taking down social media networks should we ever experience this again is one of those knee-jerk generalised hypotheses as yet unexplored on a pragmatic basis. They may have been used as a tool for some to orchestrate the deplorable actions we have seen, but they have also been a support and source of information to the innocent majority during these troubles. We create tools but how we use them is up to the holder. Ropes were not invented just to strangle and hang people. Did anyone imagine that when superglue was invented that this would be used as a weapon to immobilise people and cause near loss of eyes? This is more about understanding how and why a person uses the tool and not the tool itself.
This is time for the gathering of evidence of many things before a proper understanding can be achieved. Before anyone can even suggest actions and changes. When that time comes that calm, rational, considered and measured debate can take place. This also needs to be in context. For many of those in parliament it was not so long ago that their approach to expenses was exposed as greedy, dubious, immoral and even fraudulent. We still have banks making huge losses, with many experiencing redundancies and yet some bankers remain on ridiculously high salaries and collecting bonuses. We need a return of the sense of decent values at every level and the right role models and not just a condemnation of criminality in a conveniently pre-determined and labelled group. Above all, we need to understand what’s happened and however ugly and uncomfortable it is, deal with it; but after we are as sure as we can be that we have made the right choices because we are better equipped after learning from fact.