O Rose thou art sick.
The invisible worm,
That flies in the night
In the howling storm:
Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.
‘The Sick Rose’ William Blake
There have been many descriptions of and excuses made for the rioters and looters who are currently rampaging through various areas of London and other parts of the UK. They are supposedly the disenfranchised, marginalised, poverty-stricken youth who were driven to destroy the homes and livelihoods of others because of their treatment by or lack of support from the community/Government, and therefore we should all share the blame and feel sorry for them.
I don’t buy this. This kind of behaviour is not caused by boredom, feeling unwanted or not part of society. All young people feel like that, it’s part of growing up. Neither is it caused by poverty. Are these people starving? Are they stealing food? No, they’re stealing plasma television sets and designer clothes. Are they homeless? No, but the people whose homes they burnt down are.
Poverty does not cause crime. Single parent families do not cause crime. My mother was widowed while she was pregnant with me, the result of which was that I grew up poor as part of a single parent family. And when I say poor, I don’t mean last year’s trainers poor, I mean cold poor, hungry poor, make do and mend second-hand clothes poor.
No one was rich at my primary school. Some were slightly better or worse off than others, but we were all more or less in the same boat. Some kids grew up to become decent people, some didn’t, and whether they did or not had no bearing on their family’s structure or income.
I remember one boy in particular who was in my class from the age of five to ten. He was difficult. The teachers rightly regarded him as a problem child and kept a close eye on him, but it was much more than that. I’m not sure that adults can fully appreciate just how ‘bad’ a five-year-old child can be, but we children knew.
To us, this boy was like an adult gangster. We lived in fear of him. If one of us had something he wanted, you simply handed it over. Sometimes he would kick you under the desk or push you down stairs just for the hell of it, knowing full well you’d never tell on him. He frequently used physical violence against teachers who tried to discipline him. While they probably just saw it as a baby tantrum, to us it was a demonstration of his power. He had broken the last taboo and attacked an adult.
This all sounds pretty minor, I’m sure, but when you’re a small child and one of your peers tells you they will kill you if you don’t do as they say, it really feels as if your life is in danger. Especially when you know that adults have failed to protect you thus far.
I’d like to be able to report that he turned his life around and made something of himself. He didn’t. Barely into his twenties, he got life imprisonment for his part in an armed robbery.
Maybe he was ‘let down by society’, but so were many of us, and not all of us chose to vent our rage on innocents.
When I remember him I don’t see a child, I just see a person. A cruel, nasty, empty person. A person sick to the core, an invisible worm where the heart should be.
And that’s what I see when I look at the rioters: worms eating away at other people’s enterprise.
My town is cordoned off, windows are smashed yards from my front door and there are bloodstains on the pavement outside the church.
This behaviour is not caused by disadvantage, but by greed and a lack of empathy. Someone has something they want, so they either take it, or destroy it.
We owe them no sympathy. Save that for those whose lives they have scarred.