Tuesday, 9 August 2011

London's burning..London's burning...

Yesterday, I'm sitting in my living room frantically scanning the Evening Standard newspaper, reading alarming reports of rioting all over London, when I look up at the television screen and I'm confronted with live scenes of an arson attack on a building in Croydon, south London. And even though I can clearly read the caption on the screen my immediate thought is a numb, 'this can't be London.' I gawp at the television, desperately trying to wrap my head round how the death of one man - Mark Duggan whose shooting by police in Tottenham, sparked  off unrest on Saturday - has descended into a downward spiral of violence, destruction and looting. What started as a peaceful protest ended when after a five-hour vigil at Tottenham Police station, two police cars were set alight. In the time since, areas such as Hackney, Enfield, Dalston and Croydon have been hit by the uprising. Yesterday it stopped being a city-wide disturbance as it spread outside the capital to Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester, Liverpool etc.

A woman leaps for her life from a blazing building in Croydon
Last night I slipped into fitful, troubled sleep, minutes away from Camden Lock market which had become the latest place to be hit. This morning when I open my eyes they burn from inadequate sleep because I have been up most of the night listening to police sirens blare outside my bedroom window toward Camden Lock. I emerge from the house, and I'm shocked to see that even on my relatively quieter street, rubbish and recycling bins have been kicked/pushed angrily, spilling their contents onto the road. It's a harmless scene compared to those of chaos and anarchy London and the UK have seen so far.

Camden Lock last night
God, what is happening? This has long ceased to be about 'justice' for Mark Duggan, for what has his poor soul to do with 'yoofs' making away with stolens ipads and plasma televisions? The wave of violence has escalated to the point where no excuse or reason can justify it. A peaceful protest has descended into greed, thrill-seeking and aggression for the sheer adrenaline of it. The tone has changed from one of righteous anger to looting, not for a cause, but for the hell of it. We have all sought one another in person and across social networking boards, baffled, scared and livid at what is happening. So yes, I understand that there is anger and frustration in the system; yes there is significant tightening of belts to the point of suffocation; yes the implications are bleak for all, particularly the young and up and coming. This is nothing new, but it is by no means an excuse to plunge the nation into despair, and that is why I condemn the wanton acts of violence, arson and vandalism. Some people have the roughest lives. Their families live in the equivalent of a box. Their immediate environment is a world of feckless thuggery, smoking, drinking and under-age sex. But it doesn't mean they are out there lawlessly smashing windows, mugging vulnerable folk and making away with the loot, because smart is the man who refuses to be defined by his disadvantaged circumstances; who decides to give a damn about himself and his society; who chooses to learn hard and make something of his life. Let's face it, danger has a certain recklessness to it when perpetrators decide they have nothing to live for, or to lose. Sadly, this is what the disturbances have revealed: a frightening number of our young don't give a damn, and have proceeded to bite the hand that feeds them.

The police have, of course, borne the brunt of violent attacks, without resorting to it themselves (in most cases). Even though they are an easy 'hate' target by the rioters,we must remember that they too are victims, trying to be everywhere at once in order to respond to the destruction and challenges around us. Last night was one of the worst scenes of disorder in London for a generation. The London riots is not just a game. It is criminality, lawlessness and burglary.  Chief among the victims, however, are the ordinary residents whose neighbourhoods have been trashed, whose livelihoods have been comprised, whose shops have been looted and whose lives have taken a distinctly fearful wondering of which place will next be hit. Like most people, I have nothing but hard questions and no answers. I can only hope that in the wake of this, community after community will seriously tackle the causes of the situation.

While London is feeling despair today, there has been some hope. Neighbours, co-workers, and complete strangers have spent the day commiserating with one another, checking to see that people have kept safe in the midst of the upheaval. Some youngsters in Camden High Street carried signs advertising 'free hugs' to anyone who felt a need for one, and the capital is coming together to rebuild its communities, literally in the mass 'riot clean-up', and metaphorically as we prepare for another night, and a new chapter that seeks answers to the mob mentality that has swept through the city and across the country.


Etoile Oye said...

"The wave of violence has escalated to the point where no excuse or reason can justify it..." Couldn't have said it better, Dava. Glad you and yours are safe. Stay safe and let's hope all this ends soon...

Davida said...

Thanks much for your concern, Oye. Londoners are showing admirable solidarity. It's heartwarming to see.