The full horror of this week's riots are there for all to see. The perpetrators are rightly being utterly condemned for a grotesque display of violence and nihilism that has wrecked lives and torn apart communities.
Some are also using the riots as an excuse to use some pretty damning language about whole communities. Commentators, warm and comfortable in central London, have been condemning "feral scum" - talking of whole communities rather than individuals. The always reliable Richard Littlejohn has condemned, a "wolfpack of feral inner-city waifs and strays." According to others, the riots have exposed a generation of "amoral, uneducated, welfare dependent, brutalised youngsters". Danny Kruger described the events as the "intifada of the underclass."
Whilst extreme words come easily after extreme events, people should be careful about attacking whole sections of society based on the actions of a tiny, thuggish, criminal minority. It isn't the columnists or politicians who will be most affected by the violence of the past few days. It's the people who live on the poorest estates who will suffer the most. Cleaning up the physical mess may take months. Clearing up the mess caused by broken trust and shattered societal bonds in already deprived communities will take far longer.
We should be quick to condemn the thugs and criminals who have caused all those damage. They should be punished severely. But we should never be forced into the gross simplification of condemning whole communities for the actions of a small minority. Broadbrush demonisation of the communities who have suffered most from these events is counterproductive, wrong and must be avoided.
Instead, politicians and journalists should be following the lead of Michael Heseltine after the Toxteth riots in 1981, who took several weeks away from his Ministerial office to spend time in Liverpool to understand the reasons for the alienation and dysfunction that led a tiny minority in Toxteth to wreck their own community. He then published a White Paper, called 'It Took A Riot', seeking to address the social problems that helped contribute to unrest. Today's generation of political leaders should follow his example.