I predict a riot: should we not have seen this coming?

“There’ll be riots, man.” Then twice more, and with a resigned shake of the head, as if he could envisage no other possible outcome to the government’s recent decision to withdraw a staggering 75% of Haringey’s Youth Service funding (without a proper Youth Council consultation), “there’ll be riots.”

Chavez Campbell, the teenager interviewed last weekend in conjunction with The Guardian’s article about the Haringey cuts, will never make a more chillingly prophetic statement. Only a week later, rioting broke out in the same borough in response to the fatal shooting of Mark Duggan, who was well-known within the community. Predictably, the right-wing press hammered home Duggan’s criminal past, linking him to Jamaican gangs and various other unsavoury characters. On the left, the spotlight was on the shameful actions of the looters, who capitalised on Duggan’s death to furnish their own living rooms.

But what has the rioting got to do with public service cuts? The answer is: everything. If you take away the services on which people’s livelihoods depend, then their only options are submission or protest. History has taught us that violent protest often requires a catalyst event, but is rarely a direct or proportionate reaction to that event: the Tottenham riots were as much a response to the shooting of Mark Duggan as the 1965 LA riots were to the Rodney King incident or the 2005 riots in France to the deaths of two teenagers fleeing police. While there was initial outrage, in each case there were smouldering social problems of dire proportions.

Think of it this way: if you secretly pump toxic gas into a room full of people, they die a slow, agonising death, oblivious to their impending doom. Throw in a grenade, and all hell breaks loose. The killing of Mark Duggan had an incendiary effect on a disaffected community whose anger had been brewing for years. This was not revenge for the death of one man, this was revenge for what certain factions of the community saw as the sustained, systematic suppression of an entire generation.

The wanton violence of the last few days was abhorrent and completely unjustified, but one of the lessons must be that if we deny young people opportunities to prosper, they will simply prosper by illegal means. Removing 75% of funding for a much-needed service in one of London’s most deprived boroughs and without a consultation smacks of ignorance at best and abandonment at worst. Whitehall ministers’ justification for the cuts is that youth services are classed as ‘discretionary’, that is to say they are not bound by law to provide them and that cutting them will do less damage to the economic recovery than cutting those classed as ‘critical’. The shopkeepers, homeowners, car owners, community leaders and emergency services personnel who were all affected in some way by the London riots and those in Birmingham, Liverpool, Bristol and Nottingham may beg to differ.

So much for the ConDem government’s early intervention policy. Is it any wonder people are angry?


1 Response to “I predict a riot: should we not have seen this coming?”

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