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Misdiagnosis & Treatment

Burnt pos box that was facing the fire at Reeves Corner during the Croydon Riots
(cc)2011 Laura Anne Chamberlain, on Flickr, some rights reserved

If you live in, or come from, the UK, the last week has been pretty harrowing with rioting and looting spreading from London out to other cities like Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, Nottingham and Bristol. I found myself glued to the BBC News channel, Twitter and Facebook until after 2am in the morning on the worst night, unable to stop watching as the armies of disillusioned idiots trashed their communities in an orgy of disorder and destruction.

The Police were slow in responding and putting enough people on the street to contain and deal with the problem, but worked damn hard to resolve the issue. I've seen multiple messages from people who have relatives and loved ones who were pulling 20 hour shifts while they tried to get a grip. Generally, the provinces seemed to get control faster than the Met did in London, but perhaps that's because they were forewarned and had far less media focus.

The politicians made up for their failure to realise the significance of the events with their macho posturing when they returned from holiday, and tried to shift the blame away to the police. They also tried to claim that the successful shift in tactics was driven by them, rather than the police, a position that they have subsequently had to backtrack from. Now they've moved into a combination of moral pontification and hanging judge-like behaviour as they want to be seen to 'be doing something'. This is quite repellent, as many of the individuals preaching would have been to have considered as committing fraud had they handled their expenses in the way that they did in organisations outside Parliament.

I find the focus on increasing police powers to deal with such events disturbing, especially as the trouble was controlled using no additional powers but rather by providing the manpower and focus that was needed. Social media was being blamed, especially Twitter and Blackberry Messenger. Strange, as most of the traffic I was seeing was condemning the violence. It's a medium of communication, rather than a cause, and there are other routes that could be used such as SMS, email or private BBS if people wanted to bypass these methods. Interestingly, ordinary people using Twitter were very visible in coordinating the community in clean up operations.

We seem to be forgetting that 20% of under-24s[1] are unemployed and many others forced to stay in education – which has been made more expensive over the last few years – as there is no route into gainful employment in the current economic climate. We have a situation were we are creating a generation with little hope; perhaps even a generation who cannot see a way to equal, let alone match their parent's standards of living. It's a European-wide problem [2] which will no doubt haunt us.

None of this excuses the chaos we saw earlier in the week, not at all, but it does say that perhaps our political masters need to be thinking how they address the underlying disease at the same time as they deal with the symptoms. They may also want to reconsider the wisdom of the way that they are making cuts to some of the services that deal with these areas.

The courts are making examples of those caught, with magistrates regularly sending convicted individuals to the Crown Court for sentencing. This, I feel, is right. However, I'd rather be seeing a combination of custodial and community service in the punishment meted out, rather than just custodial. This gives a chance to the individuals to pay back the damage they have caused to the communities that suffered as a result of their actions.

It's an awful mess, and I worry that the temptation to deal with it in a knee-jerk manner will result in the underlying problem not being resolved and returning to haunt us again. Fundamentally, I don't think new powers are needed but rather a better resolution of underlying issues and flash points. Not a good week, for anyone.

[1] http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/jul/22/youth-employment-rate-lowest
[2] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/jobs/8564500/Interactive-graphic-Youth-unemployment-in-Europe.html