Youth educator defends London rioters: “It’s their pain speaking”
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The soul searching as to why people started fires, destroyed property, looted stores, and generally caused chaos in the UK has begun.
The soul searching as to why people started fires, destroyed property, looted stores, and generally caused chaos in the UK has begun. Over the four days of severe rioting, four people lost their lives.
Some British commentators are blaming social inequalities, while others have accused the rioting youth of simply being opportunists.
The government, for its part, appears to be siding with the latter camp: “There is no excuse for violence. There is no excuse for looters. There is no excuse for thuggery on our streets,” the UK’s Home Secretary Theresa May said in a speech.
Some of those who work closely with London’s youth, however, don’t agree – our Observer sympathises with the rioters' anger, saying many young people have few prospects and therefore little to lose.
Do you have a different point of view? Share it in the comments section at the bottom of the page.
Jay Kast listening to a young boy's song lyrics. Courtesy of Jay Kast.
“A few years ago, I would have been out there rioting with them. It’s their pain speaking.”
Jay Kast is a recording artist and a youth worker living in Newham, east London. He’s been on the streets observing many of London’s riots and has spoken to numerous rioters in his community.
I was brought up on the streets of east London. I’m on the side of the culture that I come from. I feel the same anger as these rioters do. A few years ago, I would have been out there rioting with them. It’s their pain speaking.
Mark Duggan’s death shocked everyone. A lot of people taking part in the riots have told me, ‘I saw the boy’s face on TV, and I identified so deeply with him – that could have been me. I have nothing going for me anyway, so I might as well go out on the streets.’
Duggan’s family says he was on the straight and narrow. So people in the community think, ‘even when we’re trying to do better, the police could still stop us.’ And that’s true.
Until recently, I worked full-time educating youth with the help of government grants. We had programs to help them write lyrics, make their own music, organize musical events. But in the last year all the programs have been shut down; there’s no more funding. With budget cuts, the youth sector is no longer a priority. That was a slap in the face to all the youth. So they just went back out onto the streets, went back to having no hope.
“Duggan’s death was the last straw, but these riots are based on years of tension”
I believe that 50 percent of the youth are still focused on furthering themselves, still trying to find jobs. But the other half, well, it’s not that they don’t want to, but they don’t understand how to. They feel disconnected from their communities, and the last thing they want to do is get a job inside these communities.
It is true that they’re hurting their own communities by rioting, but in their mind their community doesn’t do anything for them. Duggan’s death was the last straw, but these riots are based on years of tension, ever since the 1985 Brixton riots (link). There’s the frustration of not being where they want to be, frustration of seeing their family members going to jail, frustration toward the police in their communities. Gangs from different parts of London, who on a normal day would be fighting, have put their drama aside and joined forces. The enemy isn’t the people running the restaurant or the sport shop; that’s unfortunately just what they’re using to annoy the authorities.
“They don’t know how to explain themselves; that’s why they’re rioting in the first place”
When I see camera crews coming into the area, the rioters yell and shout. They don’t know how to explain themselves; that’s why they’re rioting in the first place. I know what they want to say, but they’re saying all the wrong things.
The anger is still here. It’s not going to just disappear. But I don’t think there’s much the government can do now – they’ve let it go too far. It’s like when you’re hungry, once you’ve gotten past the hunger pains, no matter what food you’re given you don’t want to eat anymore."