I’ve woken up to unbelievable scenes of chaos in London, and some really worrying Facebook status updates from friends. Rebecca wrote:
800m north: people being stabbed, assaulted, buildings looted. A mile to the east: buildings being looted and burnt, youths attacking people. 9 miles south: Croydon is being burned to the ground. Terrible footage.
The scene is being repeated in several boroughs across London, many of which are home to my friends and ex-colleagues. Scary times.
The police are struggling to cope with it and the fire service can’t even reach the burning buildings half the time. And the Police Commissioner is having to resort to the bleeding obvious and appeal to parents to call their children home, as the rioters and looters are accompanied by large crowds of onlookers. The whole thing seems to be largely driven by people using social media to find out where the dramas are taking place. I suspect that the request for some parents to take responsibility for their children has come fifteen or twenty years too late.
The trouble started in Tottenham over the weekend, when people gathered to protest the fatal shooting by police of a local man (who was either a gangster or an innocent family man, depending on who you ask). However, I suspect that this issue has very little to with most of tonight’s trouble and much more to do with opportunistic halfwits wanting to set aside the rules of law in order to score a free widescreen TV from a looted shop.
I’ve got to say (and Tristan will vouch for this) that I’ve predicted some social meltdown in London for a very long time. It is the most wonderful city, but it’s a place where incredibly poor council estates are developed across the road from multi-million pound properties, where poverty and affluence live cheek by jowl. Experts are blaming social exclusion:
“Many of the people involved are likely to have been from low-income, high-unemployment estates, and many, if not most, do not have much of a legitimate future,” said criminologist and youth culture expert Professor John Pitts.
Unlike most people, some of those looting had no stake in conformity, he said. “Those things that normally constrain people are not there. Much of this was opportunism but in the middle of it there is a social question to be asked about young people with nothing to lose.”
This makes me sad and angry. I know firsthand that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people and organisations in these boroughs, endlessly working with young people to ensure that they can have a positive future. A teenager at school in Hackney is likely to have had access to multiple opportunities for support – I know this because I know the people that devote their lives to helping. When I see scenes like this I can’t help but wonder whether we’re all wasting our time and whether military conscription or something would be a more fruitful option for the nation’s youth. And I hate that I’m thinking like that. How many good kids in these boroughs will lose the opportunity to build a sound future, because the world will write them off as lawless halfwits by virtue of their upbringing?
London is an amazing, awesome place. I have built my adult life there and I am so grateful for being able to do so. I just can’t imagine the mentality of people who would destroy their own neighbourhoods and the livelihoods of their own neighbours. I know that, by writing that, I’m incorrectly attributing qualities of foresight, good sense and empathy to these people. This Hackney resident has the right idea (and balls of steel); she berated the looters for using this situation as an excuse to ruin their own city.
Anyway, my friends in London are calling for water cannons, rubber bullets and army intervention. I can’t say that I blame them. I hope that things are sorted out soon and that, in the meantime, my friends stay safe. And I really hope that my friend Ruth doesn’t go into labour tonight – I don’t want her to have to make a dash to the hospital in Lewisham this evening!