March 02, 2004 | Peter

Kids, Mobs and Violence

Recently we here in the west have been treated to some exciting TV footage of rioting kids battling the thin blue line (as the talkback jocks like to call it) on hot summer nights. First there was the bloody running battle involving the cops and some hundreds of kids on Australia Day, then a few weeks ago there was a riot down at the Scarborough beach, and this long weekend there were two incidents in consecutive nights, one in the hills and one at the beach (nice dispersal, that). Cops have been going down like ninepins under barrages of flying objects.
The TV showed cops, male and female, some in riot gear, taking on kids, male and female, some as young as 12, who were throwing anything at hand and jeering at the sometimes helpless cops.
Although the police eventually got the upper hand, these events indicate some very disturbing realities about contemporary life in Oz. And although it is kids involved in the WA riots, the parallels with the Redfern riots should be clear.
The fact is that we just do not have enough police to contain serious outbreaks of mob violence, and we will never have unless spending priorities of governments were to greatly change – with say, two or three times as much being spent on police. In modern society we rely on a general acceptance of ideas like public order, and not actual police force, to curtail mass violence. But increasingly, it seems, the kids just won’t go along with this.
The riots in Perth were not caused by any one thing (unlike the riot in Redfern), they just occurred when enough kids were gathered together with nothing much to do. In the latest cases it was party gatecrashing that led to the incidents. An appearance by the police is not necessary to start the violence. There is always the simmering hostility of young males to kick it off, often directed at each other. And of even more concern, it seems that when enough kids congregate, they tend to directly confront community authority, and in particular the police, with aggressive behaviour.
There are a number of worrying trends behind this development. First, the moral authority of the police is rock bottom as far as the kids are concerned. Maybe it is because they have seen too much obvious corruption (how many Royal Commissions have we had into police forces lately?) or the apparently arbitrary way youth in particular are dealt with by the legal system. Or maybe it is because they increasingly question the social values behind police authority. After all, the main message they get from business, the media, sports, religion and politics is ‘get in and get your share, no matter what’. Lie, cheat, do whatever it takes, but get yours. Public morality definitely comes a poor second to personal opportunism these days, and when you are part of a crowd you can get away with whole lot more.
Another factor is drugs, and especially alcohol. There is a culture of binge drinking and drug taking in our kids that no one wants to seriously consider – the implications of this self-destructive behaviour are just too confronting. It is bad enough when we consider the long-term effects of these various potent psychotropic substances on young brains. Of more immediate concern is the behavoural effect when these kids drink or use drugs to get wiped out, and then lack enough personal control to modify extreme behaviour. Some of the drugs, like speed, positively generate hyper-activity and some imbue the user with near super-human strength, for a short while at least. All these things are conducive to reckless and violent behaviour.
This tendency to mob violence should be addressed at the roots. Sure, reforming the police forces to make them less corrupt and more genuinely authoritative is a good idea. But most importantly these kids, like the Aborigines in Redfern, need hope that life can be meaningful, and they need to be shown that you can have fun without getting off your face. They need to be brought in from their isolation and made a valuable part of the community.
An acceptance of community values depends on a belief that one can share in the benefits of community life. It is a worrying fact that more and more kids, like the inhabitants of Redfern, do not feel this engagement with the community and community values. The police cannot keep order by themselves when crowds gather – the individuals in those crowds must each embody the ideals of the community and discipline themselves. So we’d better come up with some genuine and inclusive values before we have real trouble on our hands.

Posted by Peter at 7:26 pm | Comments (1) |
Filed under: Uncategorized

1 Comment

  1. use lethal force.

    Comment by enough — March 9, 2004 @ 12:47 pm

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