Laying the Blame

By Andy Munro.

My stomach turned as I listened to BBC Radio 5 Live and to some self-righteous do-gooder focusing on blaming the police for the Tottenham riots et al. Of course, every organisation has bad apples but the mindless guy being interviewed should pop over to Pakistan or Zimbabwe if he wants to encounter brutality or bribery on a substantial scale.

That, of course, is not to condone any wrongdoing but the police are only human and faced with mindless thuggery, they’re not going to be faultless in either their strategies or all the actions of individuals. Personally I think they do a very good job, hindered though they are by diminishing resources and paperwork.

During the eighties I was in Handsworth with a government Inner City Taskforce, at a time when the area was still literally smoking a few days after the riots. It is true that, at the time, there was a lot of mistrust and misunderstanding between the police and sections of the community and the importance of bobbies on the beat cannot be emphasised too strongly in terms of good community relations.

However, when the riot started, certain businesses were targeted. For example, those with valuable goods and particularly Asian owned shops were at risk. The white-owned dry cleaners was one of the few shops left unscathed on the Lozells Road. Much of the rioting and looting was down to a combination of jealousness and greed and therein lies the heart of the problem then, and even more so now.

Riots tend to feature young people in the main, and usually contain a combination of a hard core of criminals and a far greater number of hangers on – young people who go through a high energy phase, looking for a cause and needing an outlet. With little prospect of a job, bombarded with materialism, devoid of spiritualism and no real legal diversionary activities due to funding cuts, it’s a tinderbox situation.

My plea to central and local government is that, on no account should you be cutting resources for youth projects and workers nor job placement schemes. Ideally the bureaucracy which prevents people from easily volunteering should also be loosened.

One final point is that I’ve been involved in regeneration for over 35 years and you can spend squillions but if you can’t provide adequate support for young people then the place that you’re trying to regenerate will never be a nice place in which to live work or play.