Wednesday, 10 August 2011

An open letter to the Telegraph

Dear Sir or Madam,

In the light of the current situation in the UK with riots and looting it is understandable that people have strong opinions on the cause of the riots and of what measures need to be undertaken to prevent further problems. Included on the letters page of the 10th August edition of your newspaper was a letter from retired Colonel David Whitaker, which read 'Sir - if the police were not racists before, they have every reason to be so now.'

Strong opinions are natural, and over the last few days I have seen many with which I disagree and more than a couple which I abhorred. However the letter published within your pages was the first I felt the need to write about.

The gentleman's letter, whilst short, contains several assumptions which are dangerous within a society such as the United Kingdom. Perhaps the most dangerous assumption is the assumption that the problems that have arisen are as the sole result of ethnic minorities and their actions. The letter also assumes criminality on behalf of members of a race, a fundamentally dangerous opinion to hold.

I do not know what the gentleman has formed his opinions on. News coverage has clearly shown the perpetrators involved in the riots to be of all races.

The man shot in the events leading up to the riots was black, that's true. It is also probably true that many of the original protesters whose protest was broken up were black. They lashed out as a result of frustration and anger, an understandable reaction considering that a friend or a family member had been killed. The colour of their skin has nothing to do with that reaction. A general sense of frustration, not only with the police but with perceived ostracism from society was the trigger. What would the police being racist towards the black community achieve beyond further feelings of alienation from society? It would be inflammatory and counter-productive. The end result would be further riots. More damage. In the end it would be a destructive cycle. Attempts must be taken to engage communities, not alienate them. The only way to end such riots is to engage the disaffected through positive policing and discourse with the community.

Events following the first night, however, have nothing to do with the black community. They are entirely to do with an underclass of all races seeing an opportunity to cash in. That the underclass in itself exists is a bad reflection on society, although the underclass also demonstrates no intention to better itself, seemingly content to exist without the morality of most members of society. It's the fault of society, but also of their parents. Earlier I mentioned people being disengaged with society, and somewhere down the line this has happened to many of the families of those involved, resulting in the loss of a moral compass, largely through irresponsible parenting. Somehow that underclass needs to be re-engaged and re-initiated into society as a whole. To characterise this issue as a problem in the ethnic minority communities ignores the deeper problems.

On the same letters page, I saw many letters and comments which ignored the deeper issues at hand. Whether that's down to the politics of the paper or not is known only to yourself and your colleagues. Another suggestion on the letters page was to criminalise the wearing of hoodies - another comment which ignored the millions of people, young and old, who wear them without causing problems. I am a qualified barrister, a published writer, a man with no criminal convictions and a man who doesn't engage in criminal activities, and yet I regularly wear a hoodie. Does merely wearing a hoodie place me in cahoots with looters and rioters?

There was, however, one telling comment: one gentleman noted that bookshops were apparently immune from looting. The ignorance of the looters is apparent, because they don't seem to have a grasp on reality and what their actions really mean, and what they are. However, it also seems that ignorance is on both sides of the debate.

That your newspaper published the offending letter is surprising. The Telegraph is known for high standards of journalism, even if the politics are not something I agree with. It's also understood that the letters are not the opinions of the paper. However more care needs to be taken when selecting letters for publication, especially when the ideas contained within them are potentially dangerous.

Peter Wilson

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