Lessons from the attack on asylum seeker Reker Ahmed

By - Wednesday 12th April, 2017

Strident condemnation doesn’t explain how the horrific attack on Reker Ahmed was possible

Photo by Liz Sheppard-Jones, used with permission

On Friday 31st March, Reker Ahmed, a seventeen year old Kurdish-Iranian unaccompanied minor seeking refuge in the UK, was set upon by a group of up to thirty people between fifteen and twenty-five years of age. The attack happened on Croydon’s Shrublands estate. Reker was lucky to survive the attack but suffered a fractured spine, a blood clot on the brain and a fractured eye socket. He will carry the scars for life.

Croydon is shocked. Communities across Croydon condemn the attack. This is a centre of social enterprise – so many individuals struggle each day to make society better from the grassroots up, often foregoing a decent income themselves because they want to make our community work better. Croydon is also a centre of faiths where many are actively involved in collective worship and reflection each week. Each community works individually to run small initiatives and collectively across Croydon to support wider scale initiatives to protect the most vulnerable.

Croydon is a place of diversity and yet of enormous social cohesion. It is a town which believes that through hard work anything is possible. It’s a crazy mishmash of community efforts to do something, anything, to make a town work despite so much government failure – and amazingly, this grassroots cultural revolution has yielded the fastest growing economy in the UK, including our own Tech City, along with artistic initiatives peeking out from every crack and cranny.

Croydon is also a town that woke up in so many ways after the 2011 riots and said “never again”.

Photo by Katie Rose, used with permission.

On social media there is no appetite for understanding why up to thirty people would behave in such a disgusting manner as to attack a young person waiting at a bus stop. There is only condemnation. The politicians are calling it a ‘cowardly and despicable attack’ – which it is, but that is neither an answer nor a solution.

No doubt over the coming weeks we will get a better picture of these attackers: what level of education they have, what jobs they did or schools they attended, where they live and what they were doing on the Shrublands estate that evening. Did they come along individually or were they a gang of friends?

The word that is most commonly used for such a group as this is ‘feral’– meaning wild and uncultivated. What does that mean?

  • People who cannot empathise with the needs and pain of another human
  • People who operate in a gang without being able to think critically for themselves
  • People who cannot control their behaviour and who are impulsive
  • People who are amoral, who will feed their own gratification for excitement, with no thought of the cost to others

Photo by Liz Sheppard-Jones, used with permission.

Despite the desire to condemn, when faced with such behaviour we have to ask critically: how could this happen? How could people end up like this? How can we make changes to our society such that in the long term this behaviour does not happen?

A good starting point to understanding is Tom Gash’s book, Criminal: The Truth About Why People Do Bad Things. In it, Gash calls for more critical evidence-based thinking and fewer populist short-term strategies which might win votes by promising to be ‘tough on crime,’ but the prove both costly and actually, pretty ineffective.

Gash’s book throws up a useful piece of evidence as to the age at which which people are most aggressive. The answer is: at two years of age. From then on, children’s aggression declines steadily. As children develop, their aggression declines: ergo, those that do not develop fully are more likely to have difficulty regulating their behaviour. As a child learns to control its skills, and its ability to express itself fully develops, it will become less frustrated, rely less on touch, and become more able to verbally negotiate changes to its environment.

This is why development and aggression are closely related. Millions of tiny skills are used together in order to do complex higher level skills. Small gaps can make it difficult to learn or behave calmly.

We cannot be there to watch and control feral behaviour for all of the people in the community all of the time. We have to ensure that all of our children and adults can manage their own behaviour once they have passed the age of criminal responsibility. Ensuring that all of our population is able to access good developmental support must become a priority for our nation.

Charlotte Davies works in the field of childhood learning and development.

Charlotte Davies

Charlotte Davies

I am an Educational Consultant, Director of Fit 2 Learn CIC, Fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts. My teaching experience has covered Economics and Business Education including Enterprise; I have worked as a senior teacher. I now work to identify the root causes of educational under-achievement.

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  • http://idioplatform.com/ Jonny Rose

    This is very good. Solutions > platitudes.

  • Cathy de Veras

    There you go, insulting the underprivileged again. Lack of education/opportunities = violence? The victim also lacks privilege and education, that’s why he came to the UK, is he feral too?

    • Charlotte Davies

      We have to find good, long-term solutions. It is nothing to do with privilege, it is to do with child development. All societies should work to prevent social unrest – part of that prevention is not leaving people to get into a state of poor development in the first place. The UK has no checks for basic development in motor skills, sound processing and binocular vision – we all need full access to our full range of senses to make good judgements. Every person locked up in a prison is costing the rest of us a fortune; for no other reason: consider how you want your taxes spent and consider whether it might not be a better investment ensuring that every child can be really well developed.

      • Cathy de Veras

        From a quick survey of my Facebook friends who are parents, the UK NHS does test kids for vision, hearing and motor skills. Also I don’t see how being disabled, with poor vision, hearing or motor skills connects with being racist thugs, or even how disadvantages in society do either. Perhaps you could explain how making outlandish excuses for thugs in society makes liberal twats like yourself so blinkered?

        • Charlotte Davies

          Binocular vision = the ability to use both eyes together to send effective messages to the brain, the standard eye test only checks one eye at a time. Sound processing = the ability to make sense of the sounds that you hear; some people can hear perfectly well, but they struggle to make sense of what they are hearing – no-one checks this, or even advises parents how to develop this skill in their children. Motor skills = the conscious control of limbs such that left and right are well coordinated; that all the muscles and limbs are correctly aligned; good core strength etc – no-one is checking every child develops these skills properly. PE teachers in the UK are trained in Sports not in the physical development goals of children. As long as children are broadly standing no-one checks any further.
          If you want to meet and spend time looking at how poor child development restricts a person’s ability to function in society you might find that interesting. I am sure the Citizen could arrange an introduction.

          • Cathy de Veras

            I can understand how undiagnosed defects can contribute to somebody’s potential achievements in life but not how it turns them into racist thugs who ask random people at a bus stop where they are from, and then beat the crap out of them. Racism is learned, and I don’t think any of the suspects had any trouble running away afterwards. Ask the police, most of the suspects were arrested several days later, most likely after witnesses came forward.

          • Charlotte Davies

            Humans are tribal, they have a very strong preference to be part of a group and are frightened of being outside the group. You have to have good development to break out of that “group think” – if the dominant members of a group attack a person then the rest will tend to follow. Human behaviour in groups is not good – look at the rise of Hitler, he was an expert at manipulating this mob behaviour.
            Our mob attacked mindlessly as part of the group; they did not think ahead of the consequences; afterwards it dawned on them that there were consequences – so they ran away….pretty infantile behaviour. Children should grow out of this kind of behaviour because they are (a) well nurtured (b) develop a good integrated sensory system, they can understand the world in perspective. The Wave Trust, based in Croydon, has done extensive research on the causes of violent behaviour http://www.wavetrust.org/our-work/the-evidence/6-messages-about-violence . Last night Wave Trust launched a campaign in Croydon to reduce child abuse by 70% by 2030 – this is the kind of practical step that we all ought to engage in. Let’s give all our children the chance to develop fully and check that that is happening, not just leave it to chance.

      • Cathy de Veras

        Oh and by the way you’ve also insulted Reker Ahmed, underprivileged people, AND disabled people in your article. Well done!

  • Cathy de Veras

    This from a good friend who is a parent but did not want to register with this website.

    “Despite the desire to condemn, when faced with such behaviour we have to ask critically: how could this happen? How could people end up like this?”

    OK all well and good, but it misses the point that ‘normal’, ‘good’, people can be like this – and worse – if the circumstances are right, and if they are given permission. It is part of what it means to be human; see Marina Abramovic’s ‘Rhythm 0’ for what ‘normal’, ‘good’, developmentally sound people will do when given permission, or to someone perceived as powerless.

    You only have to look at history to see that many ordinary, ‘normal’, ‘good’, developmentally sound people will rape, murder, and torture other human beings, given the right conditions. The conditions often consist of seeing their victims as both a threat and ‘not people like us’ – “in fact not really people at all. Animals really, vermin to be exterminated.” They will, of course, still consider themselves as normal and good, and will justify their behaviour. See, for example, the whole historical issue of the treatment of Native Americans, and contemporary newspaper articles on wiping out ‘the savages’. Or the Sand Creek Massacre for example. No doubt all God-fearing people who thought that they were on the side of right; in fact if
    I recall, the leader of the Sand Creek Massacre was a pastor. You get it in Russian pogroms, the Holocaust, Rwanda, and so on, ad infinitum.

    In a way, they’re right; they’re the normal human beings. It’s the misfits and rebels who are less likely to do something like that, the ones that the normal people see as abnormal.

    In this case, folks like this have been given permission. Not in so many words, but our politicians – including those in Government – and media have been going on endlessly about who is a threat to the ‘British Way of Life’. Are we surprised that some act upon their words? So they’ll have justified their actions, laughed about it afterwards, and told jokes.

    “Gash’s book throws up a useful piece of evidence as to the age at which people are most aggressive. The answer is: at two years of age. From then on, children’s aggression declines steadily.”

    Does it? I remember as a kid that aggression increased steadily through primary school, and then got serious at grammar school. Maybe current teaching methods have just submerged the aggression, and there it lies, without an outlet, until someone feels that they have a ‘justification’ and a suitable scapegoat in front of them.

    “We have to ensure that all of our children and adults can manage their own behaviour once they have passed the age of criminal responsibility.”

    These folks were no doubt “managing their behaviour”. It’s just that some people manage theirs differently from your expectations. It isn’t necessarily anything to do with developmental abnormalities or lack of privilege. From my own personal experience I’ve known well-paid, suited, privileged people urinating on sleeping homeless people, or kicking them, and one gentleman in an expensive suit bottle a homeless woman who refused to prostitute herself. There’s worse I’ve come across; as one homeless person put it to me, ‘normal’ people were a potential danger. Powerless people, you see, get the rough end of the stick, as in Abramovic’s ‘Rhythym 0′. At the other extreme, you get the casual lack of empathy – if not outright hostility – for anyone not like themselves shown by various politicians and newspapers. It’s an attitude currently colouring British politics.

    In a perfect world every child with developmental problems would be identified, and the vulnerable, and those with mental health problems would have access to adequate mental health facilities. This would reduce the prison population by at least 50%. However, in that perfect world there would still be attacks like this, because you’ve misdiagnosed the source of the problem.