We've been offered: greed, gangs, the recession, unemployment, bad parenting, cultural disintegration, harsh policing, lax policing, slack sentencing, attitudes, social norms, the media scandal, the banking scandal, the expenses scandal, government cuts, professional incompetence, social contagion, opportunism, backlash.
We've seen the argument swerve dangerously (usually in the same programme) from individual responsibility to state responsibility - depending on which political party you are supporting.
Finally the arguments ended the week in a horrible intellectual heap of ridiculousness at the doors of David Starkey.
I offer my own brief observations with some understanding that a week on we have all pretty much had enough of the analysis and political point scoring. So I am sticking to some person thoughts from my own experience... and reflecting on things that have been helpful this week.
A great many young people involved in the riot activities in the last week will have been 'known to the authorities'. It is unusual to go from a stay-at-home teenager to looting in one step. If the are 'known' at all, they will have been on the system of several agencies, possibly including youth offending, social services, the police, education teams, employment schemes. Having worked for a short period in a Youth Offending Team (YOT) I can assure you of the tightness of these processes in steering a young person through a system. There is hardly a crack through which any small degree of anti-social behaviour can slip through. There are endless rounds of meetings they must attend. If they miss meetings they are back in court for further measures. They are sent on courses, their parents are counselled, they go on restorative justice programmes, they do 'community service'.... Seriously, there is very little not deployed to reform and shape a young person's behaviour to a more pro-social way of living.
The government has made cuts to Youth Offending Teams - and probably this is one of the many reasons why the violence erupted... but the professional practice of YOTs will not have altered much with the change in government.
But my own experience of YOTs work, as valuable and important as it is, is that it does not compensate for what a caring community could do for young people. Most kids with ASBOs are shunned by the community in which they live, the families are shunned and likely to schools exclude those children. I wrote about these experiences in more detail in this post on Protective Factors, Systems Thinking and People Power.
The main point here being that communities can do for young people that no amount of services can do for them. These services cannot give them a feeling of belonging, a feeling of importance, a sense that their talents and contributions to society are valued and valuable. These services cannot help them build relationships with helpful adults, build their own social capital and empower them ultimately into economic independence and civic participation and contribution. There are things that only communities can do for each other.
The citizen-led clean-ups that happened across the effected areas in the days that followed the riots, lifted our spirits and gave us back a bit of hope that society hadn't quite unravelled in the way much of the press seemed happy to promote. But they are much more important than simply extending hope. They were statements of ownership across those neighbourhoods. They were statements about the strong feelings of anger that local residents had towards the violence and the destruction of neighbourhoods.
And the Local Authority clean-up squads couldn't send that sort of message.... and instinctively these local folk knew that the message was as important as the clearn-up and the message could not be delivered by the local authority.
I wrote recently about a programme in Chicago called CeaseFire designed by an expert in the spread of infectious diseases called Gary Slutkin who has used the power of community outrage as part of a detailed strategy which has reduced violence by 45% - 75%. Every time there is violence the community demonstrate against the violence. Note: They don't march against the authorities to stop the violence, they march against the violent behaviours from their own community members. They express a collective rejection of these behaviours. As Slutkin says ‘for these communities violence is simply normal – we work to make it unusual’.
The Peace Rallies which have started to emerge this weekend are further really powerful examples of how citizens see this need to make social expressions of peace.
And this is essentially what these clean-ups have done, with the addition of showing pride on where these residents live. And perhaps all rolled up that is why we have found them so heartening, and why more than likely they have contributed to the riots reducing.
Now all we need to figure out is how to make young people get more of their sense of community from the clean-ups teams and less from their gangs - and thankfully that small detail is very much in our hands.
[For a more detailed and academic exploration of encouraging autonomy in young people I wrote this RSA article in 2008 following my own research.]
Pic: Notice board in Peckham where people posted messages of peace and tolerance.