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The roots of UK violence are alive and growing in the US among Latino, black and impoverished youth

LatinaLista — The sad and violent images of England under attack shouldn’t just shock us but should signal a warning.

Though police, politicians and the average citizen label the looters as “thugs” and claim they are acting, not out of a particular protest, but to commit crime for crime’s sake, are blind to the real causes of the violence.

london-riots-007.jpgFor example, these “thugs” aren’t “average citizens.” They’re young people who have been marginalized in the greater British society.

Riots in multicultural areas such as Hackney in London, above, have led to questions about racial tensions.
Photograph: Kerim Okten/EPA

One British resident, Clasford Stirling, a veteran youth worker cited “poverty, unemployment, failings of the education system, police harassment, among other triggers” for the violence.

“Parents are losing their jobs; that overspills into the family – they can’t buy them this or that.” For their children “there is a reality to poverty. There are no jobs, they have nothing. What have they got to lose? Some didn’t even bother covering their faces. They’re not trying to rob the banks, they’re going to Currys, they’re stealing trainers, they’re that poor that they’re risking going to jail for a flatscreen television.

Yet, not all the “thugs” are deadbeat youth. Some are college students and others professionals with jobs, even if they are low-paying, and some are just plain unemployed. What they do have in common is that they all feel marginalized by British society and feel the only way they can get their fair share of what other Britons enjoy is to steal it.

It’s not such a foreign perspective.

The violence in England could so easily be replicated in the US among a demographic that shares the most characteristics with the young British looters. It’s a demographic that has the most young people, has the largest rate of poverty, school drop-outs, underpaid workers and been made to feel marginalized in a society that mandates its law enforcement to focus specifically on them.

No surprise I’m talking about the Latino, and specifically undocumented immigrant community. If our congressional politicians were smart, they would understand that what is happening in the United Kingdom is a crystal ball of a probable scenario waiting to explode in the U.S., especially as some politicians work to create a bigger wealth divide in the country.

Measures can be taken now to prevent frustration levels from reaching their boiling points as has happened in the UK. Thankfully, some politicians do see the writing on the wall and have taken the initiative to do something on their own.

For instance, the recent announcement by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to create a special program, the Young Men’s Initiative, to help young Latino and African American men rise above what they consider a readymade destiny of poverty and hopelessness.

The three-year project is designed to offer young men of color job training and placement, mentorships, fatherhood classes and pathways from incarceration to civic life.

But it doesn’t stop there. The mayor, educators and community workers know that this demographic is missing out on one particular class in their schools. It’s a class that can change the direction of the lives of these young men and young Latinas and blacks in a second — it’s sex education.

New York City public schools will teach mandatory sex education classes to all middle- and high school students, part of a citywide initiative to help reduce teenage pregnancies, officials said on Wednesday.

The required classes, the first mandated sex education in nearly two decades, will be taught to children as young as 11 years old and tackle such topics as the proper use of condoms and ways to resist unwelcome sexual advances.

Public schools will be required to teach a semester of sex education to sixth or seventh grade classes and again to ninth and tenth graders, Chancellor Dennis Walcott said in a letter announcing the plans.

It’s a plan that needs to be repeated throughout the country in public schools. The delusional belief that children will wait to have sex has harmed the educational success of young Latinos and blacks, and it’s evident in the statistics.

Statistics show that most young Latinas and Latinos drop out of school once a partner gets pregnant. They rarely return to school, let alone receive a college diploma. We have only to look at Texas as a prime example.

Refusing to allow medically accurate sex education to be taught in the public schools — where the majority of students are students-of-color — the state prefers to emphasize abstinence. This emphasis, while it makes good PR for a prayer-rally-leading governor running for President, has done nothing from keeping Texas from attaining the title of most drop-outs and most teens from not just having one baby but multiple births before they’re out of their teenage years.

Most teen parents are doomed to a life of poverty. Poverty breeds frustration. Frustration breeds violence. It’s a cycle that is peaking in the United States.

Instead of cutting social programs, that only redirects more money into the accounts of the already wealthy, it’s time to maintain or create programs that address these very real frustrations that are building up within our local communities.

Otherwise, what’s happening in the UK, won’t stay in the UK.

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