Jason Grant was brought up in New Cross. This is his view of why kids are rioting.
I grew up in New Cross in the 1980s. A place the young people have not destroyed because my area has nothing to smash. My old primary school caught fire over a year ago and has been sitting there without being repaired. It shows how people value the residents of New Cross.
Crime was high. The adults around me had no jobs. Though I never realised it at the time, the area was mixed with immigrants from all over the world. Our teachers tried to provide us with a safe place to play but going back home to no food made study very difficult.
As a teenager gangs ruled the streets. If you were not in a gang then you got robbed, beaten up and taken for an idiot. The situation was do or be done to. The adults were busy either working their menial jobs, in and out of prison, in and out of mental institutions, or getting high on drugs and alcohol. Young people grew up very fast in South London.
I managed to break the cycle of crime, poverty and disaffection through education. I met a teacher from Peru who encouraged me to pursue education. I have travelled all over the country and to most countries in Europe. I have worked for some of the best companies in the country and experienced how the other half live. But in south east London nothing much has changed.
Working in a pupil referral unit for young people who have been expelled from mainstream schooling, I asked what they wanted to be when they grew up. The main answer was: drug dealer. I was shocked. I pressed on to ask whether they would be importing drugs from Columbia or Afghanistan. They had never even heard of those countries and wanted to sell little bags around their area. It was how they saw their adults making money.
I suggested, at the time, they could work in the City, where people were making huge amounts of money. No one was challenging these young people, allowing them to see another side of life.
On Monday night I was in a pub in Islington. The crowd were all people who work in the media, discussing the riots from a voyeuristic standpoint: “Look at what those kids are doing, stealing plasma TVs”. I could have been in Australia that’s how far removed I was from the issues taking place in London that very night.
Afterwards I cycled to South London down through Islington, Angel, Farringdon, St Paul’s, London Bridge, the streets were empty without a hoodie in sight. As I came on to the Old Kent Road, there were literally hundreds of young people in tracksuits running around. On every corner people huddled, creating dark spaces. Young people had taken control without any person driving past stopping and telling them to go home.
There was a meeting of Muslim men probably leaving an end of fasting event. There were two cafes, one populated with Somalian people and the other with Algerian/Moroccan men. These groups of men were happy to catch up with each other without paying the kids any notice. There was not an officer in sight.
As I got to Lewisham centre, the police were doing their job; they had cordoned off the entire shopping centre and were not allowing people to pass through. I went on to Catford and again the police were protecting the shopping centre.
The kids are completely disturbed and there is no rational reason for the level of violence that they are dishing out. The problem is they are not rational. These are not educated young people who believe they can rule the world. These are the same young people who have seen their parents struggle and know that there is no future in front of them.
For too long, society has turned its nose up at the hoodies. We never wanted to hug them. We wanted to demonise them, exclude them from school, not employ them, lock them up, and then release them into the same situation to repeat.
I feel that the people who are employed to deal with these kids, should resign from their jobs and allow those of us who actually care about their future to change them. People can change. If we don’t believe in that then there really is a problem.
I know many youth engagement projects and hard working organisations that are struggling with funding and have to rely on volunteers to do the fire fighting. Whilst council leaders are on huge salaries and investment funds are not being spent well.
Are we going to sit up and pay attention now? Whilst we clean London streets, build our anger and ask ourselves why they are doing it, what will happen tonight and where will the future be?
When a violent tragedy happened in Norway the prime minister called for: “More democracy, more openness and more society”. For our young people the answer is: water cannons and rubber bullets.
Jason Grant is journalist and a graduate of Goldsmiths, and City university. For a longer version of this comment check his blog.