Cleaning up broken glass is one thing. But what about the psychological mess?
Watching people in the audience on BBC Question Time last night - turning on each other to snarl and shout - I wondered if we need something like the extraordinary Moral Re-Armament movement (now called Initiatives of Change). MRA brought about a stunningly rapid reconciliation between France and Germany after world war two (and also, as it happens, directly inspired the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous) by the simplest means imaginable: they just got people talking to each other.
I know this works, because I had the privilege to meet the (victim) Will Riley and (offender) Peter Woolf, and to see for myself how they were reconciled by restorative justice. I strongly believe that something similar could help after this week’s riots.
As an individual, I can’t make offenders talk to victims, or police talk to MPs. But when I read Martin Kettle in today’s Guardian suggesting that we must listen to the rioters if we’re to understand them, I thought: that’s what I’ll do. I’ll write to one of them. I’ll try to give them a bit of encouragement, at a difficult time. If a correspondence develops, great. If not, nothing lost.
Of course, I would also write to other individuals directly involved in, or affected by, the rioting and looting.
I took advice on how to write the letters, which you can read below. If you think this seems like a good idea, you could try doing something similar yourself. If I’ve made a hash of it, please let me know how I could do better.
First, I wrote to Tariq Jahan, who lost his son Haroon in Birmingham.
Then I wrote to my local police, who were (I assume) called to get involved in the trouble down the hill in Camden.
Then I wrote to my local MP, encouraging him to do his very best.
Finally (for now) I wrote to one of the people involved in the looting. The first to come up in court, Alexis Bailey, got a lot of media attention because he was older than most others, at 31, and had a job as a classroom assistant in a primary school.
I told the inspiring Dan Thompson what I was doing. Dan’s been coordinating a lot of the #riotcleanup this week, and urged me also to write a letter to somebody who got out there with a broom.
I will try to do that soon.