Speak out your words
Article written by: Richard Weafer
Reflections on the riots by young people of Birmingham
During that fateful week in early August, life for some of us changed forever. Wherever you were you could not help but be affected by what you saw, the communities in which we live bore witness to scenes of looting and arson of unprecedented levels, scenes we thought we would never see in Britain, it seemed to be almost disaster movie stuff.
It was only when anxious friends and relatives from abroad rang to find out if we were OK did it finally hit home just how serious these riots were being reported by the rest of the world. It was only after the dust had settled and the fires put out did we start to question how and why this had happened. For those of us that spend our lives working and living in these communities it was a real setback.
In response to the August riots, URBRUM commissioned several focus groups across diverse communities within the West Midlands area. After all, these are the next generations of politicians and professionals that will one day take charge of our communities; so let’s hear what young people had to say…
QUESTION: WHAT DO YOU THINK WAS THE CAUSE OF THE RIOTS?
Voice 1 [female] ‘I think that a lot of young people got involved because they hadn’t got nothing so they are not going to lose nothing’
Voice 2 ‘I spoke to a couple of youths from Nottingham and they said the reason why they kicked off was because their neighbours in London did it. Then because London did it and then Birmingham did it shortly afterwards they thought well why can’t we do it… so they did see it as an opportunity… I think that is what started the whole thing’
Voice 3 [female] ‘I think the media coverage about the rioting made people take that step further to go rioting in shops. There were people that were angry and were encouraging people to do it. People saw it as an opportunity. Also people had Blackberry’s and Facebook sending out messages’
Voice 4 ‘The build up to these riots was about a lot of issues that had accumulated. I would say that most people that were from these areas weren’t really surprised when they saw what was taking place in the sense that most people had been saying that if things don’t change something like that was going to happen’
Voice 6 [female] ‘Did anyone see…some people robbed a bottle of water, I was thinking why were you so desperate to rob that £3.20 bottle of water?’
QUESTION: SO YOU GUYS STRONGLY DISAGREE WITH THE FACT THAT IT WAS CRIMINALITY, SO WHAT DO YOU THINK WERE THE CAUSES?
Voice 1 ‘If the police never shot that man then it wouldn’t have started… the people in Birmingham and Manchester would never have had any reason to do it’
Voice 2 ‘It started off as a protest and then it moved to people being greedy… people who don’t have jobs and struggle, it was like a cry for help. There were so many questions that weren’t answered, like why wasn’t the police officer taken into custody, why was that guy shot anyway?’
QUESTION: DURING THE PROTEST DID YOU JOIN IN?
Voice 2 ‘No I never…if it has got nothing to do with me then I stay out of it. If I were to feel more strongly about it, say if the policeman had shot more people then maybe I would have been more upset’
QUESTION: YOU ARE SAYING THAT YOU WOULD HAVE JOINED IN IF IT WAS MORE IMPORTANT TO YOU?
Voice 2 ‘Yeah, though I wouldn’t do petrol bombing and mashing up shops’
Voice 1 ‘Burning people’s houses and killing people they are proper criminals… the others that were just getting stuff are not so bad’
QUESTION: HOW DO YOU THINK PEOPLE SHOULD BE PUNISHED?
Voice 2 ‘Whatever happened to pen and paper… what ever happened to education? People should have wrote a letter saying why this was wrong’
Voice 1 ‘I think that the people that were rioting might not have been that smart. If you had sense then you wouldn’t really be getting into that stuff’
Voice 2 ‘Why so young… apparently they found a child that was 8 years old, what would he be doing out that late?…my mom’s friend was saying that when they were 8 years old they were battling with them to get to sleep! She would not of let them go out and play on the street…but why would you leave your kids at risk?…Then they ended up blaming everyone else yet they were to blame!’
Voice 3 [female] ‘I think that if they messed up the shops and they created all that mess then they should clean it up themselves’
QUESTION: DOES EVERYONE AGREE WITH THE LAST STATEMENT?
Voice 1 ‘They should clean it up. If they don’t then the shop keeper is going to end up paying someone else to clean it’
Voice 4 ‘Some courts are making parents pay the fines. I think this is going to create more problems. Instead of fines they should make them do community service’
Voice 5 ‘I think if you can’t go to prison or face another sentence then you should do some community work… you have to have some sort of punishment, you can’t just be let off completely’
QUESTION: DO YOU THINK THERE SHOULD BE NO PUNISHMENT AND THAT MAYBE PEOPLE SHOULD FEEL SORRY FOR THE PEOPLE THAT WERE INVOLVED AND MAYBE HAVE DISCUSSIONS ABOUT IT INSTEAD?
Voice 5 ‘They clearly knew what they were doing at that age… they can make their own decisions… I think they should face punishment; they shouldn’t be just let off because they understood what they were doing. If they understand that to go out of your house to go to a shop and kick it in then you should understand what the punishments are going to be’
Voice 1 ‘I agree; If you are going to break into the shops and kick doors down you should not think that you are going to get away with it… there should be something in your head that says what are going to be the consequences to this, will I go to jail, will I have to do community service’
QUESTION: DOES ANYONE DISAGREE? DOES ANYONE THINK THAT MAYBE THEY SHOULD GET LET OFF?
Voice 4 [female] ‘There was a young boy that went to trial and he started crying his eyes out, he said he was really sorry and that he didn’t mean it. The Court then let him off… afterwards he was like, well can I have my phone back? Some people just pretend to be sorry but aren’t really genuinely sorry’
QUESTION: IS IT THE GOVERNMENT’S RESPONSIBILITY TO MAKE CHANGES WITHIN COMMUNITIES OR SHOULD COMMUNITIES INTERVENE?
Voice 5 ‘I think it’s the Government’s responsibility’
Voice 2 ’So that communities can work they need to help each other first… they need to listen to the children and teenagers. If there are no centres for them to go to around here then they are going to be bored hanging around the streets… when people complain about this they need tothink, well hang on, what can we do to make it better and stop the children hanging around the streets?’
Voice 6 ‘It is interesting that the nation as a whole was surprised by it but when you speak to some people who are strong members in their communities they said that they knew something was going to happen’
Voice 4 [female] ‘If they knew this was going to happen then they should have tried to prevent it from happening because look what happened, everything got trashed and now they are complaining’
QUESTION: HOW MANY OF YOU FEEL THAT THE COMMUNITY DOES LISTEN TO YOU? DO YOU FEEL THAT YOUR VOICE IS HEARD IN THE COMMUNITY?
Voice 5 ‘They probably think that all of the kids are the same, annoying and make problems so they just by-pass the idea of certain things like a community centre or park…elderly people are probably intimated by the teenagers’
QUESTION: ARE YOU SAYING IT IS THE COMMUNITY’S RESPONSIBILITY TO LISTEN BUT THAT YOU FEEL THAT THE COMMUNITY IS NOT LISTENING TO YOUNG PEOPLE?
Voice 4 [female] ‘There are not many places we can go and talk to adults and show our faces’
QUESTION: WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU WOULD BE DOING IF YOU WEREN’T HERE DURING THE SUMMER?
Voice 2 ‘I would go to my youth centre but that place is facing closure as well. If there is nowhere else to go you will be bored, stuck in the house or hanging around with friends’
Voice 4 [female] ‘I would try and find stuff to do to keep me occupied because otherwise you could end up getting in trouble’
Voice 1 ‘If there are no youth centres, we’d play football on the streets then we’d hit cars and windows etc; we could then get into trouble’
QUESTION: DO YOU THINK ANYTHING GOOD CAN COME FROM WHAT HAS JUST HAPPENED AND IF SO WHAT DO YOU THINK THAT IS?
Voice 1 ‘Now it has happened, people might have less anger and it probably won’t happen again as the people won’t want to go jail again’
Voice 2 ‘Me and my friends could just be standing on the streets with our hoods up and we could get arrested for having our hoods up and that would be bad’
Voice 4 [female] ‘We were walking with our hoods up and got told by a police man to take our hoods down!’
This entry was posted in Stephen Lewis and tagged arson, diverse communities, early august, fires, focus groups, generations, hadn, media coverage, neighbours, nottingham, politicians, reflections, relatives, rest of the world, riots, setback, unprecedented levels, voice 3, west midlands area, witness. Bookmark the permalink.