In the Media

Post-riots we must change our approach to youth crime

PUBLISHED September 26, 2011

The violent outpouring seen on the streets of England during the riots was a cry for love, says Caspar Walsh If the young are not initiated into the tribe they will burn down the village just to feel its warmth. I've lost count the times I've used this proverb in my work. I find myself endlessly quoting it to funders, employers and if I'm feeling brave, students. When I saw streets, shops and homes on fire across England last month, I spotted a familiar, righteous anger rising inside me and it was directed squarely at the rioters. This is my default response. When something goes bad I immediately look for someone to blame. Why wouldn't I? We live in a culture of blame. It's always someone else's fault. I saw the streets of the country I live in on fire, shops being looted, buildings destroyed and horrifically, people were dying. I stood, slack-jawed in a pub in Suffolk, staring at the massive plasma TV with the rolling news coverage revealing nationwide destruction. What struck me while I stood there watching this horror unfold was the heavy-hearted recognition of youth 'burning villages' ? or more accurately the towns and cities of England. I immediately asked myself, what is really going on here? There is a poignant quote from AS Neil, the radical educator and founder of my old school Summerhill : "Any act of violence or aggression from a child is a request for love." I was a violent child. I set fire to a lot of stuff, smashed up property and was often aggressive and abusive. I didn't know it then but it is crystal clear now, knowing the full history of my hopelessly dysfunctional family, that my violence was all about my need for love. There is no black and white answer to the cause of the recent English riots. Sure, some of those involved were opportunistic and unbelievably, randomly destructive. They destroyed their own communities with frightening speed. But is that it? Is it really that clear cut? They did it because they could; because they were bored and wanted a new TV? What I saw behind these riots, beyond the ugly, greedy, destructive force tearing through the country, was violence in search of love. This will be hard for some people to stomach. I do not in any way condone or excuse any of the violence, destruction or death. I believe in some cases prison is the only answer to some of the crimes committed. But much of the sentencing being handed out is over the top and seriously misses the point. The majority of perpetrators need to be forced to face up to their actions, brought back into the communities, made to fix what is broken and engage in a restorative dialogue with the whole of their community. The perpetrators and victims both need to be heard and understood. What part have each of us played in this? The riots are not the fault of parents, police, teachers, communities. It is the responsibility of each and every one us to take a look at ourselves, and ask ourselves what can we do to help rebuild the broken communities across this country? These communities were, in truth, in many ways broken long before they were set fire to by individuals in search of love from a society so often afraid to face up to its part in this kind of tragedy. An African tribe deals with youth crime in an extraordinary way . When a young person has broken a tribe law, the tribe gathers and lifts the perpetrator up above their heads and tells them of all the good things they have done in their life. Instead of heaping shame and anger on an already angry, hurting individual, they remind them of their innate goodness. What an amazing thing it would be to see something as wise and far thinking as this happen in communities across this country. ? Caspar Walsh is an author and journalist and founder of the UK charity Write to Freedom. Communities Youth justice Young people UK riots Caspar Walsh © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds