In London’s east End, our Truce 20/20 youth project aims to give young people the skills to handle and defuse conflict in their own communities. Here the project organisers reflect on the riots there.
It is a hard time for young people however you cut it: unemployment, rising costs in post secondary school education, and cuts to spending on services targeting the needs of young people. And now we have the easy tendency to malign youth in the wake of the recent rioting here in Newham and across London.
We believe in young people and have heard some of their sensible voices, now and then, in the interviews on news services. We are reminded that the majority of young people are not rampaging in the streets. Also we have seen enough of their positive energy being channelled through volunteering in schools and the wider community, through agencies like ours, to have faith in them.
Someone commented on the riots, saying “It was mindless criminality, full stop!” There has been opportunist violence and criminality on the streets, which we all agree is unacceptable: but it would be far too simplistic to sum up the recent situation in those terms. The drivers are much more complex than simple ‘thuggery’, opportunist vandalism and looting.
More than effective police action and being tough on those who are arrested for their actions, we need to look at the underlying dynamics, which over decades have contributed to deprivation in our urban areas, made viable employment an alien experience, eroded the values of respect and neighbourliness, and nurtured a culture of despair for many.
At Conflict and Change and Peace Direct, we believe in the potential of young people, adults and communities to rise and be far more than they are currently. For this to happen they need the support, understanding and compassion of others and, above all, a refusal to leap to hasty and simplistic conclusions, which take us no further toward effective strategies that address the real issues.
Klaudia Brezna, Truce 20/20.
Chris McDermott, Conflict and Change.