The fall out from last year’s riots is still being felt in some areas in the UK. There have also been some interesting studies that examined the causes of the unrest, most notably The Guardian’s Reading the Riots. Although some of the explanations rioters gave for their behaviour sound ‘rehearsed’, there can be little doubt that there are some genuine grievances in parts of the population about socio-economic inequalities and policing practices.
As recent data suggests black young people are 30 times more likely to be stopped and searched for police than their white fellow citizens. This represents a dramatic increase of about 300% in only two years (the comparable figure for 2009 in London is: black people were 10 times more likely to be stopped than white people).
The practice of stop and search is also questionable in terms of its overall effect on knife crime for which it was re-designed after a spate of fatal stabbings in London. Only 0.5% of all searches led to the prosecution of persons for the possession of a dangerous weapon. So some grievances in the black community about policing seem to be genuinely justified.
One interesting aspect of the available data however raises questions about any simplistic link between deprivation and rioting behaviour. The data suggests that around 46 percent of rioters were black, 42% were white and only about 7 percent were described as Asian. Whilst all current research indicates a strong link between poverty, lack of opportunities or employment and rioting, the ethnic composition hints at an additional underlying factor, such as the capacity for social control in families and communities.
We know from other research in the UK that black teenagers are more likely to grow up in single mother households than any other ethnic group. This may significantly reduce their access to sufficient social and economic resources to learn, develop skills and take up employment opportunities.
This is not to say that single mother households cannot serve as loving and caring environments which foster responsible social behaviour. Yet it may mean that social control is more likely to be exerted within functioning families where parenting tasks can be shared between several family members. Hence tackling the absence of fathers for many of our black teenagers must be a priority for the whole of society.
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