Mark Duggan was shot and killed last week during an arrest that is currently under investigation. The details are murky at best. Some say he was a member of a gang and involved with running drugs. Others say he was a normal, stand-up guy; a father, a fiancé, a black man unfairly targeted by harsh police tactics. What started out as a peaceful protest over his death has given way to four nightmarish days of riots, looting, fires, violence, and death.
The scenes playing out on televisions, computers, and mobile devices around the world look like they should be coming from war-torn, third-world countries – certainly not from one of the world’s most developed countries that has been an international leader for generations. These riots, unlike the protests we saw and are continuing to see in the Near East and North Africa, do not seem to center around a cohesive political statement with leaders who can speak to the demands of the people. They seem to be a rag-tag army of aimless and pathetic youths who have taken advantage of a tragic death to give way to the vilest of actions. Decent people near and far can only watch, open-mouthed, at the malevolent behavior of these young people, at their wanton destruction of private and public property, at their enjoyment of their own anarchy.
So who’s to blame?
Are the parents of these children to blame for not teaching them respect for authority and other people? For not locking them in the house and exercising their parental rights? For not instilling in them self-control and patriotism and good old-fashioned manners?
Is the government to blame for not addressing the needs of a generation who is facing a bleak present with very little hope for the future? For cutting funding for youth clubs and other programs that were established to keep young people off the streets and out of trouble? For policies that aren’t creating jobs and that are leading our young people to depend on handouts? For allowing ‘stop-and-search’ tactics that could seem to target young people and minority groups?
Is social media to blame for making it easy for people to mobilize and outwit the law? For creating a venue that young people have historically been using to bully others and incite hate and rage and violence?
Are the young people themselves to blame for their own moral failings? For thinking they can act with impunity? For taking what they want with blatant disregard for others?
There is no simple and obvious place to lay the blame. When something like this happens it exposes cracks that exist throughout a society. And there is no simple solution; rather, there must be comprehensive reform – for individuals, for families, and for society as a whole. The consequences touch everyone. Young people will end up in jail, property owners will face clean-up and rebuilding costs they can little afford in these economically troubled times, community leaders and politicians will have to reevaluate the policies that allowed a situation like this to reach a breaking point. Everyone will pay for this.