What is to be done with the rioters and looters? Many are asking this question, and I fear that the answers are being reached too quickly, without due consideration. The courts are handing out sentences at an astonishing rate – the Guardian reports that ’56 defendants of the 80 who have already been sentenced by magistrates were given immediate prison terms. This 70% rate of imprisonment compares with a “normal” rate of just 2% in magistrates courts.’ There is talk of cessation of benefits and eviction. Theresa May recently told the police that, in future, they need not worry about taking stronger measures on the basis of individual judgement – she will never ‘damn you if you do.’ While I don’t believe that the police in Britain are about to descend upon us all with batons aloft, such a statement makes me twinge.
It isn’t just because I’m a simpering lefty that the idea of retributive punishment worries me; nor do I find such vague assertions as May’s troublesome merely because I’m an English graduate. The idea that stopping benefit payments to those caught and evicting them from their homes serves justice is absolutely ridiculous. It is plainly not a just punishment. And such vague statements as May’s are dangerous, in that their consequences are too often not considered at all – just as the consequences of draconian punishments are not being considered. One of the fundamental tenets of our justice system is (in theory, if not in practice) that it is rehabilitative, not retributive. Indeed, it is the basic principle behind the very idea of justice. A just punishment does not serve to further seperate the offender from the rehabilitation that he or she needs, and that society demands.
Recent reports suggest that 90% of those involved in looting come from that section of society that has almost nothing to begin with. A few stupid, flashy purchases like an expensve phone, or overpriced name-brand clothes do not neccesarily mean that somebody living on a council estate lives like a prince at the expense of the taxpayer – it only shows that the person in question is extremely bad at spending money wisely. While there are indeed a good many people who are taking liberties with the welfare state, there are far more who are simply so far removed from sensible values that they consider getting ‘next level phone’ and £30 boxers with some dickhead’s name on the waistband to be the most important part of their lives. This is unquestionably due (at least in part) to the ridiculous obsession that modern societies have with overt status symbol – as if true respect can be bought, not earned.
Writing plainly, there are a lot of prats in Britain, and they were out in full force during those stupid days of looting. If one person is a prat, then it may not be the fault of society. When so many of people, numbering thousands upon thousands (not just the looters; there are prats all over the bloody place) are a bunch of prats, then certainly the general society must shoulder some of the blame. We must assess the society and culture which allowed such misplaced values to arise on such a mass scale.I use the word ‘prats’ not completely pejoratively – rather, I hope that it serves as a far more sympathetic alternative to ‘cunts’, which I feel is the first epithet that springs to many minds when we consider recent events.
‘Cunts’ would be an expression chosen out of rage, and would serve only to express my anger – not to assess the situation with any objectivity. Prat may still be a subjective noun, but it is still, I feel, a fair (if perhaps a trifle vitriolic) choice. The greatest portion of society, I feel, would agree that a small amount of anger is understandable – but would also concur that the angry hand of justice must not strike out of rage,and nor can justice enraged speak. The hand must hold the scales in balance, and the words of true justice exist only with this balance in mind.
When society is aggrieved, then the offenders must be punished if justice is to be served. It is not justice, however, if we seek blood. If our society is injured, then it does us no benefit if we inflict deeper wounds through rash words and deeds. Sometimes the surgeon needs a needle and thread, not the scalpel.