Peter Olawaye of Leap discusses the relationship between young people and their communities
Last year as I watched the riots, I was in shock to see people destroying the streets of our country. I remember seeing local businesses shut early in fear of their buildings being robbed or damaged by looters. I heard people were setting fires to cars and buildings as well as people breaking into homes. Just before the riots reached my local area of Hackney, I was thinking about how worse it would get. When they actually came, mixed emotions arose from the eeriness within the streets of the borough. In one section you had people at war with the police, in another you had the destruction of local stores, while in some of the back roads (main roads were locked off by police) you had complete silence and fear.
Although there were several factors which lead to the riots, the ones which lead to the disturbances in Hackney revolved mostly around the hostility towards the police from young people. Although many appreciate the role of the police in our communities, a large amount of young people don’t like the methods used by some police officers to carry out their roles (e.g. during stop and search). The response from the police during the riots wasn’t the most encouraging thing to see and it didn’t make anyone at home watching the riots on TV feel safe at all. At times it came across as if their main priority was just to keep the rioters contained in a sectioned area and not actually attempt to stop any of the violence. However, in saying that, one can understand the difficulty of managing the entire situation (e.g. many riots taking place in different locations at the same time) and can easily empathise with the police on this occasion.
One year has passed and there doesn’t seem to be much improvement on the relationship between the young people and police. The changes caused by the cuts still seem to be depriving some of the residents in and around my local area. There are high unemployment rates, EMA has been slashed, student fees have risen causing a decline in university applicants and youth clubs are closing, so young people have less things to do. The cuts in the youth sector have also taken away a lot of the engagement that youth workers have spent years to build and develop with young people across the area which increases chances of young people (especially the hard to reach) living counter-productive lifestyles. On a slightly brighter note, there have been several organisations out there that have responded well and are doing amazing work to help make sure something like this doesn’t happen again.
As mentioned, there were several factors which lead to the riots, however in order to prevent further things like this happening again the country needs to stop blaming others and continue to all work together to make this country a better place for its citizens. The youth sector, the police, the government, young people, elder leaders in the community (worth noting at this point, it wasn’t just young people who were involved in the disturbances) and all others affected by the riots need to work together to tackle the problems we face in the UK.
I leave you with this; one whole year has passed and the frustration of waiting to hear what exactly is being done regarding the investigation into the murder of Mark Duggan continues. This is just one of countless examples of what makes this country so angry, when our questions are not answered or when our voices are not heard.
This blog was originally published on Leap's blog. Find out more about ResPublica/ NCVYS Commission on Youth here.