Another day for you and me in paradise-Raoul Moat?
It was a sunny summer afternoon. My wife and I had been for a drive in the beautiful Derbyshire countryside with the kids and were driving back into the Council Estate where I was parish priest. As we drove down the road, we became aware of a large and growing crowd of people, men, women and children, gathering outside a house a few yards from the Vicarage. ‘A street party?’ we thought. The noise of shouting and swearing grew louder and more aggressive until the occupant of the house, a young man, was dragged into the street. He managed to escape and ran down the road. We never saw him again, and the house remained full of his furniture and belongings until boarded up and then rented on to someone new. We never found out exactly why he was ‘evicted’. There were dark stories about ‘children’ and such, but despite my probings I never fully knew the truth. His story was not an isolated one, and I witnessed on many occasions, over may years and in several different places, how those who live in the more deprived and desperate areas of our land would take the law into their own hands and dish out rough justice. One evening, around midnight, one of the four drug dealers whose house I could see from my Vicarage window was treated to said justice as he was beaten senseless with golf clubs in the road outside my house. He had broken the code you see, perhaps failed to pay his suppliers- who knows? The police would not be called: punishment was meted out by ‘his own’. The code was silence about such things because you wouldn’t want your windows to have a brick through them and you certainly could not live with being called an informer, not because of the social stigma, but because it meant real social exclusion and possibly violence. In certain parts of our country, people live with a constant frisson of fear and cope with it by constructing a parallel jurisdiction and homespun justice.
It is right for David Cameron to express shock and dismay about those who seem to be now hero worshipping Raoul Moat: he was a murderer and extremely violent, some of which was taken out on a woman. It contradicts every decent bone in our bodies to think that flowers of sympathy and solidarity might be laid at his door and at the place he met his squalid death. And yet, ordinary people like you and me are laying these flowers and are seeing some good in this man and are mourning his death. Is this to be passed off as the amoral actions of unthinking and dreadful people worthy only of contempt, or is there something else we might see in all this as appalled as we are?
I think we, especially those of us lucky enough to live in comparatively crime-free and affluent areas surrounded by benign and friendly neighbours, are often completely unaware of the reality of the lives of those who have been marginalised by society with no hope of work, little prospect of bettering themselves and surrounded by social, psychological and financial problems. Their lives are largely hidden because, even now, the vast majority of people who live on our sink estates, regardless of their personal circumstances, are good decent people wishing to live in peace. It is they who daily cope with the dysfunction of those who have been badly damaged by marginalisation and take it out on those around them. To get by, they construct parallel lives to the rest of us with their own black market, their own codes of conduct, their own system of beliefs and, sadly, their own way of dealing with those who offend them. Raoul Moat was just one such, and the flowers at his door and his place of death were not so much signs of distress for his life, more they were signs to a society that cares not about the welfare, flourishing and future of significant minority of its citizens that the decency and mores of the majority were coming hard up against the closed ranks of the dispossessed and the alternative order they have had to create for themselves.