Monday, August 15, 2011
(From The Telegraph) Burning building during the recent London riots - Photo: PA
Observer column|Jean Lowrie-Chin | MON 15 Aug 11
We don’t have to wonder why we were riveted by the US Congress stand-off on the raising of their debt ceiling and the riots in England. These two countries are important to small states like Jamaica, with a deeply dependent economy and our assimilated diaspora. Thus, we have been warned that any threat of a US recession will affect two golden lifelines – tourism and remittances.
A 68-year-old man, Richard Mannington Bowes of Ealing, West London died on Thursday after he was attacked while trying to put out a fire set by thugs. As we looked at a CCTV image of the suspected attacker on the BBC website, we prayed, ‘Please Lord do NOT make him be a Jamaican’. It is a comfort that relatives of Mark Duggan, whose killing by police triggered the rioting, have asked for calm, saying that they regretted the damage to the property of innocent people. Duggan’s relatives, some with Jamaican roots, and friends had been staging a peaceful demonstration when the mayhem started.
When we were children, we would sing in rounds, “London’s burning! Fire, fire! And we have no water.” It was ironical that in the face of a burning London, Prime Minister James Cameron announced that the police would be using water cannons … with 24 hours notice. So now a lot of blame is being heaped on the Police -- looks like they are everyone’s favourite scapegoat everywhere. They were treading on eggshells, as one more police killing could have become an even more dangerous flashpoint. So there were these sturdy youth, well dressed, taking over the streets of London. One of the boys arrested was 11 years old. Two teenage girls were interviewed at 5am after a night of drinking looted wine. One of the semi-drunk losers said she was doing it to “teach the rich a lesson.”
The Independent newspaper described the riots as “a Katrina moment” (thanks for sharing Rob Mullally). It noted, “Just as the US government failed to shore up the levees above the city of New Orleans when it had a chance, successive British administrations have failed to repair the social levees that ought to protect our society from this kind of aggression. At the weekend, those levees burst, and we have been witnessing the ugly results.”
“This disturbing phenomenon has to be understood as a conflagration of aggression from a socially and economically excluded underclass,” opined the writer. “A disaffected criminal fringe, made up of people who feel they have no stake in society, has decided to exert itself on the streets. Alienated young men and women, some of them barely more than children, have taken this as an opportunity to steal, riot, burn and to generally kick against authority.”
Sounds familiar? Year after year, decade after decade, our sociologists warn us about the grinding poverty in which fatherless children are raised. Yes, colleague Mark Wignall, many are exposed to sex too soon, but it cannot only be the desire to buy a girl a makeover that sends our youngsters into crime. It is the misplaced machismo of the absent father who boasts that he “got” a child, much like a supermarket free sample. It is the tragic ignorance of the impoverished mother who has baby after baby, hoping that this time, the father may just stay and look after her expanding family.
In Jamaica, you can detect this poverty from the appearance of the victims but in the welfare state of Britain, these lost youth are well looked after physically by an efficient health system and clothed by an unemployment ‘dole’ that is higher than the minimum wage. In many of Jamaica’s ‘better’ high schools, there are at-risk students similar to the rioters, their spirits stunted by careless parenting and a surfeit of gadgets.
We have been warned by Minister responsible for information Darryl Vaz that in view of the economic challenges including those from US belt-tightening, Cabinet will have to explore budget cuts. Hopefully, this will be seen in the tone and lifestyle of our politicians on both sides of the House. We are hearing the campaigning and join with Bishop Herro Blair to demand an apology from politicians who have been associated with gunmen. With the US’ credit rating downgraded and old England not feeling so jolly, we have to be ever vigilant and scrupulous if we want to attract any of the scarce benefits from our beleaguered benefactors.
Jamaica needs a strong JLP and a strong PNP, both mature enough to know that in a democracy, the winner gets to govern and the loser gets the winner to govern more carefully. We heard some encouraging sounds from both sides last week. Opposition Finance spokesman Peter Phillips was critical but cautious in his press briefing. Technology spokesman Phillip Paulwell commented positively on the appointment by Industry and Commerce Minister Christopher Tufton of ICT visionary Patrick Casserly as ambassador/special envoy. Agriculture Minister Robert Montague seems to have hit the ground running and we respect the independent thinking of Energy Minister Clive Mullings.
We have to give special kudos to Education Minister Andrew Holness for insisting on the improvement of our failing schools. Success can only come from strong performance as our finer teachers and principals have demonstrated over the years. They are result oriented and courageously insist on excellence. We simply cannot afford to graduate any more illiterates and disaffected youth. Let the mobs of London be a warning to us. Let us ensure that when we open our data centres we will have qualified and responsible personnel who will wow North America to bring even more well-needed jobs to Jamaica.