Yesterday I went to this talk at the new Central Saint Martin’s campus in King’s Cross. It’s actually really great interior architecture, despite a suspiciously flat Victorian exterior. The talk was hosted by Design Against Crime.
Considering the full title of the talk was ‘There’s a Riot Going On: Gang Crime, X Factor Generation and the Dark Side of Shopping’, I expected the conversation to be more consumerism-focused.
The talk started with Gavin Knight, whose field of expertise is gang culture. He told some shocking stories about how children as young as eight were sucked into gangs. He called the gangs the ‘X Factor Generation’ because they put videos of themselves rapping on YouTube, while in competition with other gangs across postcodes. I was moved almost to tears when he described how the young children that are involved are made to hide guns under their pillows because they wouldn’t be found out. The kids that are picked out by gangs are the bright ones. They groom them with new trainers and when they realise how much money they can make in drugs trading, they are seduced. A common factor with these children is that they don’t learn empathy at a young age, and combined with the gang culture of drug dealing, they don’t learn any other way to resolve problems apart from violence.
I have a young brother, and to think of him with a gun under his pillow is terrible. As a society we must come together on this. There are opportunities for mentoring young children, to give them one-on-one time to help them find their interests outside of the struggle for money against their deprivation. We need people to care enough to teach children who aren’t their own what empathy is. We can’t call ourselves a civilised society with this going on under our noses. Regardless of what the government do, we can take these situations into our own hands, and do our own bit. Time is more valuable than taxes in some situations. I plan to get involved with Chance UK.
They recognised that gang culture was only a part of why the riots happened. Ken Hollings quoted Noam Chomsky saying ‘when people have been exposed for decades to this sort of mush, this is what happens’. Chomsky was referring to people obsessed with flying saucers in a 1995 interview. Hollings was applying the idea to refer to the advertising bombardment we have been living through. He mentioned the 2007 IKEA opening in Tottenham where people broke down the doors to get in. I’d forgotten about that. He said that the whole area (parts of which were deprived) were flyered with notices of IKEA’s ‘knock down pricing’. He expressed outrage that the police didn’t expect a riot to happen.
We talked about why the riots happened in August when there have been other incidents of police shooting unjustly. Apart from the time being ripe – it was summer. The riots stopped when it started raining. Really it’s that simple. The shooting of Mark Duggan was a trigger but not the sole cause.
One of the best points made during the talk was by Suzanne Moore, a Guardian journalist. She asked hasn’t there been a proper inquiry into the riots. She believes it’s because not having an inquiry de-politicises the riots. There is no question in my mind that the riots were political, regardless of whether the rioters themselves could articulate the politics. I didn’t realise that the government were dismissing it as unpolitical. Doing that, Moore claimed, is trying to brush the whole thing under the carpet. The riots were an expression of problems that have been going on for a long time, and will continue to do so if we are not moved to action. I am not aware of what the government has done to change the situation for the rioters, apart from give them sometimes disproportionate prison sentences. Those sentences will mean that apart from looking bad on records, they will never be allowed to travel to the USA and a host of other unseen disadvantages.
I avoid ascribing to a particular party’s politics. Trying to help other people in our society and empathise with their plight ought to transcend whatever politics one has. It’s terrible that people were so violent, but it’s possible to begin to understand the reasons. With that beginning, we can try to make a change. Yes, I believe that people ought to work and contribute to earn – that’s the conservative dogma, right? – but if they don’t know how to do that, if they have no aspirations or constantly frustrated ones, how can we expect them to suddenly work hard?
In areas where the wealthy live near the poor, where there is a greater difference in status, there will be more frustrated aspiration. When people watch others live seemingly wonderful lives they will never be able to afford, it leads to low self worth and can descend to destructive lifestyles. As Moore said, government will not call this a ‘class riot’ but that is a big part of what it is. I believe that the best way to help the deprived is education and nourishment for the young so they can find what they like doing and encourage them to have the motivation to become good at it. The world of opportunity and positive future needs to be opened to them.
But hey. As a young middle class women, what do I know? I’ve talked to many people about it and thought about it a lot. The next step is designing for it. Even if I’m wrong, at least I’m enjoying the journey of trying to help others.