Well, the title of this post speaks for itself. I don't know if you're wondering about why I'm ashamed to be British at the moment but, given that this post is going to be an explanation of why, then I'm going to assume you are.
I'm not ashamed of the rioting, as damaging for our reputation as that was, because it was crime committed by a vanishingly small percentage of the population and I would say that the response to the riots (such as the brilliant #riotcleanup) by the people of this country as a whole has been something to be proud of.
No, I'm ashamed by the way the "rioters" are being treated. Now, there are those rioters who've committed serious crimes, theft, property damage and who have terrorised people. They've got no sympathy from me and I'm certainly not going to excuse what they did.
But, reading the newspapers yesterday I was appalled. At the moment the rioters are being put through fast-tracked courts. The cells at the courts are full. Any account of the situation at the courts at the moment will tell you that its virtually chaos. Lawyers don't even know if their clients have arrived and suspects are often brought before magistrates without even having a chance to discuss their defence with their lawyer first. I remember seeing a quote saying that "due process has to be done". Well I'm sure that due process is being done but with fast track cases like these where defendants have almost no time to prepare their defence this is not justice. And justice is what our courts should be trying to deliver. So that's the first reason I'm ashamed.
The second reason I'm ashamed is because of the sentences being handed out. Now, there are those defendants who definitely deserve stiff punishments. I'm thinking of the female university student who'd finished her second year of university, achieved straight As in her A levels and who was found with thousands of pounds worth of stolen electrical goods in her car. She has no excuse for her actions and I hope she gets a stiff prison sentence for it. And there's the girl who was "excited about going to participate in a riot", who smashed up shops as part of a gang of youths, who threw stones at police and who smirked in court when asked, twice, by her father, to apologise for her actions. These kind of people deserve punishment for what they've done.
But you get the other cases where utterly stupid sentences are handed out. You've got the 15 year old GCSE student facing a criminal conviction for stealing 15 packets of wine gums and 21 Yorkie bars from a smashed up shop. What are his prospects going to be like now? He certainly won't be able to get a decent job. He might be utterly ashamed of a one-off moment of stupidity but he'll be paying for it for the rest of his life. He'll never be able to get a well paying job. In all probability he'll never be able to turn his life around now. He might never have been likely to become seriously involved in crime before but I guarantee you that once he's got a criminal record that chance will shoot up.
And there's the college student one year through a two year electrical engineering course. He was on his way home from visiting his girlfriend when he saw a smashed up Lidl and stole a £3.50 pack of bottled water. He'd never been involved in crime before, he came from a good family and he told the court that he had “got caught up in the moment” and was “incredibly ashamed”. So here's a young man who made a serious mistake and deeply regrets it. He's never done anything like this before so you'd think, okay, give him a stiff community sentence cleaning up the damage he's done to teach him a lesson and then let him get on with his life.
But nope. The magistrate sentenced him to six months. The magistrate's idea of leniency was that, because of his "good" background, the young man wouldn't be sent on to the Crown Court which could give him a much longer sentence. Now, a six month sentence means that he won't be able to finish his course at college. Any future employers will just see "six months in prison for rioting" on his record and won't touch him with a barge pole. His entire future is now, in all probability, ruined. What kind of chances will he have when he gets out of prison? And while he's in prison he'll be surrounded by hardened criminals. In all probability, when he gets out he'll find that the easiest path is to turn to crime. And, thanks to his stay in prison, he'll have the skills for committing crime as well.
A lot of these sentences are just making things worse. They are based purely on a knee-jerk vengeance mentality that will pass down harsh punishments in the short term and fuel even more crime in the long term. And then you get the morons calling for all the rioters to lose any benefits they receive and be evicted from their homes. If parliament is stupid enough to actually make that happen then what do you think the outcome will be? Do you really think that the kind of people who participated in property damage and stealing, now finding themselves without a home and without a means to feed themselves will say "fair cop, this is my own fault and I deserve this"?
Of course not. In all probability they'll turn to crime as the only way to support themselves. Either that or work in the black economy. Either way, it'll just make things worse for them, their neighbours and our society as a whole.
This utterly short sighted reactionary response to the riots is probably the most stupid thing I've ever seen. By all means lets punish the rioters but let's do so proportionately and lets use the opportunity to try and make as many of them productive members of society as possible.
But we won't. We'll just make the situation worse through baying for blood.
David Cameron's right to say that some parts of society are not just broken but sick. But I doubt the sick parts of society are the parts he thought they were.