Today I was invited onto Sky News to discuss with Metropolitan Police Federation Vice-chair, John Tully, David Cameron's speech outlining his response to the past week.
It has been 7 days since dissent and disorder burned through Britain and made many of our poor communities poorer yet despite the large amount of ink and sound dedicated to public discussion on the riots the discourse has become centered on one issue, gangs.
David Cameron and his public relations team have been robust in their public declaration of 'all out war against gangs' and diligent to ensure it dominates the next stage of the story. However, the focus on 'gangs' merely misleads a study of the very seed of last week's events.
The ontology of gangs in Britain is complex and their tradition and severity differ to that of the US but this is not to undermine their significance. They are growing and can be cancerous to many spaces in Britain's urban spaces from Glasgow to Brixton. Many of the practitioners who have been working to tackle this increasing epidemic have needed resources for years. The youth project I co-founded was set up to tackle the fall out of this, postal code rivalry.
However, John Tully conceded that those currently being convicted are not gang members. This is not a gang issue. Many of them were first offenders such as the student sentenced for 6 months for stealing a bottle of water, who unlike our politicians, was not given the opportunity of paying back their loot rather than face prosecution. I fear such a double standard is detrimental to the core principle of the rule of law.
The presence of some gangs has been an easy place of focus for a government unwilling to consider themselves and the need for reform of our failing state.
The riots were an act of mass civil disobedience against a state and its institutions that have been severely undermined by corruption cases across parliament, the city, the police and the media with little to no retribution. Governments govern by consent and not by fear and this consent is built on legitimacy. If this moral legitimacy is lost the way our state and society works also fails.
Our institutions need reform because right now they are not trusted. Since 1998 there have been over 333 deaths in police custody and not one charge. Despite the press being misinformed of Duggan shooting at the police first (again an issue of indiscretion inside the police force) this report was believed by few in Tottenham hence the later struggle. Three MPs may have been imprisoned casualties of the expenses scandal but they were the exception and not the rule and the city of London were under scrutiny but avoided the axe of reform. The collusion between parts of the media and the police in the phone hacking scandal has further damaged our democracy works by undermining the very institutions with the mandate to make it work.
With our institutions having been disgraced, Cameron's call for private accountability will prove to be little more than rhetoric until our public institutions are reformed to become more accountable and reengage with their purposes; to promote and preserve trust and justice. Cameron's assertion that it is gangs or even single mothers who require intervention appears naïve. If Cameron is looking for reform the first place to start is with institutions, institutions, institutions.
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