Sunday, August 14, 2011

Reflections on recent riots

This was sent to me by a member of Alyth, a Reform synagogue in Finchley.

This week we have all been watching the unfolding horror of rioting and looting in London and the UK. Fortunately the Borough of Barnet, in which Alyth is situated has not fallen victim to the worst of this violence but many Alyth members will of course still be deeply concerned with what is happening. Some have been active in aiding local clean up efforts.

Back in June of this year Levi Hall, an ex-offender who was imprisoned in Brixton prison for firearms offences came to give a powerful shiur and sermon. Levi is now an expert counselor for current offenders helping them to change the destructive pattern of their lives while they are in prison. Rabbi Mark Goldsmith got to know Levi through his work with the Concord Prison Trust.

Levi Hall lives in Kennington, South London, where he is helping to set up a local branch of Clink – the restaurant run by prisoners and ex-prisoners as a way towards rehabilitation and building skills for employment. He is also a leader of the Brixton Black Families Forum, working with families to help their children find a positive future and to avoid gang culture and criminality. We asked Levi to write our Alyth Thought for the Week this week – giving us his perspective on the awful situation from a centre of the trouble. He wrote this powerful and complex piece in which he expresses his heartfelt fears and experiences.

Hungry Souls:

The times have changed and so have the needs of a young soul. We have forgotten that for every progress made a community loses something and is always pushed to be better than the year before. When I came to speak to you at Alyth I explained that we needed your family structure demonstrated to my black community for them to see how you cope with life challenges.

I start with the view of a twelve year old in my community in Kennington. He sees: “My mum and dad work hard. They are always tired but haven’t achieved enough for me to have the best. So I look at this and say I’ll do better and give them something back. My school in the area I go to isn’t the best but I’ll try my best. As I go through the system of education I begin to realize my best results would not allow me to have the best in life and for me to take care of mum and dad.”

“I am now in my early teens and examining the reasons things are the way they are in my community and how come all the other races have come over here and got their act together, done well, moved on. But no, not my community. Then I started to look at the reasons behind such a sad state of affairs. I have always known that there was racism and that accounts for some of the difficulties we face. But we are our own destructive factor - “the self-destruction of black civilization” the seeds were planted since slavery. But why, oh why, do we still water it?”

To the stagnation of our future generations a hunger has grown, on several different levels. Level one: for the basic human right to be equal with the normal way of life. Level two: to have the same opportunity as any other community -good schools, high levels of education which at the end could see job prospects and opportunities achievable. Level three: I look around for role models and they show me a picture that doesn’t lead me to belief in any system of support. When the footballers make it they (not all) get as far away from my community as possible buying houses in nice areas letting me know that where I live is not the place to be.

I see the other role models of the street soldiers, the gangsters, “going to get mine or die trying”.

The unfolding story of how to control certain parts of communities by boroughs and red tape and cuts in spending leaves a slow boiling anger that, because of where you were born and the colour of your skin, that the kind of life you are going to have is this. So the game is moved up a level: what can I do, sell a few bits make some money and buy that quality of life now - why do all that long thing of studying, working etc.?

Game on, the system teaches us the numbers game. The more we are the easier it is to make things happen for us, so we got together to earn, but having no moral guide as to how the game is played we started to implode robbing and killing each other. The system just manages the situation rather than solving the underlying problems. The forces that come into contact everyday with these elements of raw fury are scared and don’t quite understand but have the job of keeping order. They will come up against someone with a gun because that’s the norm these days. This fear by the police and lack of fear by the streets to use whatever to achieve their needs and wants of the moment is over-powering. So frustration mixed with ego along with pride of the police will cause them to do what happened. Of course they are human so they make mistakes! But people just needed an excuse to do the rest.

If you are in the game “getting mine or die trying” then death could and will happen, not because it was the police who pulled the trigger. If it was one of our own it would have had the same result. People are really feeling pressure. The old ways of doing things are over. Different paths need developing. A good future needs to be made clear and achievable for belief to return to the system and for us to gain control of our lives again. After all the journey is not a long one before it’s over. The hungry will be fed and the strong will prey on the weak. Things will change only when real talk begins and real outcomes are achieved.

Blessed be…..

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