Wednesday, 10 August 2011

A few thoughts.

A few thoughts have occurred to me over the last 24 or so hours. I’ve decided to lump them all into one place.
Spot the difference
There was a young man from Tottenham on the radio earlier. He had a style of speech which would have had Daily Wail readers reaching for the cornflour blue notepaper and calligraphy pen, but he made some very interesting points.
He was perfectly explicit in his opposition to the idiots doing the looting and burning, and unlike some media commentators made no attempt to excuse the actions of the morons at large. However, he did draw some fascinating parallels about the relationship between the ‘great and good’ of our society and the so-called rioters.
I’ll not try to paraphrase his words, nor to replicate his style, but argument went something like this:
‘The answer is simple, because it is wrong, but when you get past that, why should these people not go and do what they’ve been doing? What are the examples that they have been set?
The bankers have ruined the country and have not been held accountable, they have stolen billions of pounds from us and give themselves enormous bonuses from what they have taken. They’ve looted the country and got away with it. They’ve had their hands in the till.
The journalists have shocked and sickened the nation, they have violated people and destroyed their livelihoods, left them bereft. It isn’t just the phone hacking, but the constant untruths and innuendo that all the media peddles, and they get paid handsomely for it, while being courted by the rich and famous. A few token heads on poles will mollify the masses and things will carry on pretty much as before. They’ve profited from the wilful and spiteful destruction of people.
The politicians have lied to us since free, open elections have existed. They’ve had their hands in the till, and have made up their own rules to allow them to do so, it goes far beyond those prosecuted. What is the difference between a kid smashing a shop window and taking a £500 TV and a politician taking your wages before you’ve even got them and buying a £500 TV with it before turning round and proclaiming ‘I’m entitled’ ?’
At this point the example of people being punched and beaten in the street was being made. His response (same caveat as before);
‘Yes, and politicians, against the will of the people send our planes to bomb and our soldiers to shoot people, and when we say we don’t want it, they go and do it anyway, and then send us the bill. They act like children screaming and shouting at each other, in their own way getting in each other’s faces, they destroy everybody’s lives and businesses. They too act like the law doesn’t apply to them and then can do what they want, and they get away with it.’
The man was at pains to point out that all of these, looting and destroying included, was wrong, and all of them need to be stamped out and punished. I see where he is coming from, the looters may be more graphic, but is there such a big difference between the lot of them, the damage they do and misery they cause?
Taking the law into your own hands.
The next thought is about the phenomenon of groups of people banding together to protect their families and property. I’ve heard the line a few times today ‘taking the law into your own hands’, well, here’s a shock, it is our law, the common law is owned by all of us, that’s why it is common, the statutes are made in our name, by people chosen by us for this purpose, they belong to us as well. Once you make the law the sole concern of a group of arbitrarily selected ‘appropriate’ people, lawlessness is the only outcome.
The riots have been a prime example of this. The same line has been trotted out by the police that it is best left to them. Yet the common law is clear, and goes back almost 800 years; it is not only permissible, yet would seem to be our duty to apprehend criminals, whether one is a constable or not. You can be prosecuted for refusing to assist.
The police cannot be everywhere at once, unless you hold the above to be true, and accept the seventh Peelian Principle:
Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent upon every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.
So, in the absence of uniformed members of the public nominated as police officers, what are people supposed to do? Silently stand aside and let their businesses be looted and houses burned? No, people banding together to protect their property and lives is an honourable duty, and a truer mark of civilisation and functioning society than a welfare state and cohesion outreach diversity officers could ever be.
I’ve heard the word vigilante trotted out by the BBC this afternoon. The definition is quite enlightening as it would seem to refer to two states which have subtle but important differences:
1. a member of a vigilance committee.
2. any person who takes the law into his or her own hands, as by avenging a crime.
Now, in the first instance we have a group of people who are being vigilant, keeping watch over someone or something. In the second instance we have someone who is looking to mete out some form of justice.
There’s a whole world of difference between keeping watch over your property and going out with the intent to seek out potential rioters and do them over. So let’s drop this idea that people joining forces to ensure the peace is not breached in their street are somehow doing something not entirely permissible, shall we? This is not a case of ‘oh they really shouldn’t be doing that, but desperate times, etc.’
While we’re on the subject, I also think it shows how far the police and public have become estranged in recent years. I attribute no blame to the front line officers, I can only imagine that they are immensely frustrated with the scene that has played itself out in front of them. It is precisely because of situations like this that the vast majority of officers join the police. Despite all the criticism the police come in for, from me included, I know that an overwhelming number of them join because they want to make a difference. However, their management, station environment, bureaucracy and social-workeresque environment do them a disservice. These incidents have demonstrated a huge disconnect and lack of public confidence in a police force that they feel no longer serves them. Good people will avoid the police in general because they simply do not trust them. I don’t know what the answer is, but sometimes I think people want a little bit more Gene Hunt, even if he wasn’t perfect.
Let the punishment fit the crime.
And now for the controversial bit. A number of adults who are directing and facilitating the actions of the looters aside, the majority of people involved in these disturbances have been minors or young adults. I’m not sure that prison and/or youth detention is the solution.
In the majority of cases, this isn’t going to be a case of an individual making a foolish decision in an otherwise fairly blameless life – in those instances prison can be an answer, I think the problem here is that we have individuals who are completely dysfunctional, in themselves, their families (such as they may be) and their environments. They are not being taught how to be people in the home, by equally dysfunctional parents/siblings/carers and school is not the place for these lessons to be taught, that is an institution for an academic education, there should be no place for citizenship classes in school.
Re-offending rates show that youth detention and/or supervision is not working. However, there is a kernel of a good idea at play, it frustratingly is prevented from germinating, though, because the thing is, locking them up will prevent them from acting like a clot on the streets for a while, but we can’t lock them up indefinitely. Taking them out under ‘supervision’ for this, that and the other seems like a reward, many would say it is, although it is true to say that valuable life lessons can be learned from the activities they are taking part in. Can. Under the right circumstances.
Unfortunately the youth supervision system is not the right circumstances. I truly believe for some of these kids can be helped, but in the first stage it would not pretty. Channel 4 ran a series a while ago called ‘Bad Lad’s Army’, and I was quite taken with it. The premise of the show was simple, take a load of ‘bad’ 20 somethings and give them some good old 1950′s style National Service. It was entertaining TV, especially with the tantrums in the early weeks, but much more often than not the young men found that the experience had a profound effect upon them, it taught them the importance of self reliance, teamwork, compassion, justice and more important than anything else, self respect.
I’m not for a moment suggesting we bring back National Service, it ain’t going to happen for a whole number of reasons. Nor am I suggesting that people be conscripted as some sort of punishment, I don’t see why the army should be lumbered with them and they don’t have the resources.
However, I think there is a definite advantage to be had in drawing up a programme along the lines of the show. I’m not talking about the short, sharp shock of yesteryear, but a programme run by former army instructors, designated as prison officers, on a closed site where youngsters (let’s say from 14 to 23) have the cockiness metaphorically knocked out of them and then, more importantly, are showed something that these kids have never been shown in their lives; they can achieve where their whole life, partly through their own faults, partly through the fault of their parents, and partly through the fault of a broken system has shown them to be nothing but failures. They can rely on themselves and their peers where their whole life has been a litany of neglect and broken promises. They can learn, they do have a brain, there is something they can be good at, when their whole lives they’ve been told they are stupid and useless. They can do something right, and be congratulated and thanked, something they’ve probably never heard in their lives.
The workers who run the current supervision schemes have little or no sanction. The people running this scheme would have to be given pretty far ranging powers, powers including control and restraint, however if it is one thing I’ve seen demonstrated by the personnel running the ‘bad lad’s army’ is their drive to turn these kids around and the deep conviction that these kids/lads can be good and can contribute. It would provide very useful employment to those leaving the forces and, if successful, would save the State (so, us) a small fortune in ongoing benefits payments.
It would not be a timed course, there would be no home release, there would be no visits until a certain point in the course had been passed. The course would last until the youngster had displayed a change in attitude and attained a certain level of performance.
It could change and save lives.
I’m not naive enough to suggest it would suit everybody, although I see no reason to discriminate on the basis of gender (although I would prefer the centres were single sex), it would be wasted if the newly graduated youngster was to go straight back into a home with abusive/neglectful parents, it would be inappropriate for younger children. It would not teach the youngsters to kill, but it would teach them weapons respect. It would take them abseiling, canoeing, climbing and all the other stuff that the supervision orders take the youths out to do, but that would only be once the foundation had been laid, and as part of a properly constructed programme with teeth and sanction that would teach them real life lessons that they’ve been denied – at the moment the programme tells them ‘mis-behave and get a fun day out’, this programme would still provide a fun day out, probably many fun days out, but there would be a lot of work to do to earn it, a concept alien to many of them. The carrot is fine, but there must be a stick, not to aimlessly beat them with to say ‘bad kid’, but a stick to prod and guide.
People that have earned respect from themselves will respect others.
Oh, the hand-wringers would be aghast at the idea, but sorry, hand-wringers, we’ve followed your approach for the last twenty years, look what it has got us.
I really do think it would be worth a try. There’s no point beating these youngsters down (again, metaphorically) unless we help them up afterwards.
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