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sharing: Panic on the streets of London

"Violence is rarely mindless. The politics of a burning building, a smashed-in shop or a young man shot by police may be obscured even to those who lit the rags or fired the gun, but the politics are there." -- penny red
[this was first shared with me, by my friend carmen...from pennyred.blogspot.com]

Tuesday, 9 August 2011
Panic on the streets of London.

I'm huddled in the front room with some shell-shocked friends, watching my city burn. The BBC is interchanging footage of blazing cars and running street battles in Hackney, of police horses lining up in Lewisham, of roiling infernos that were once shops and houses in Croydon and in Peckham. Last night, Enfield, Walthamstow, Brixton and Wood Green were looted; there have been hundreds of arrests and dozens of serious injuries, and it will be a miracle if nobody dies tonight. This is the third consecutive night of rioting in London, and the disorder has now spread to Leeds, Liverpool, Bristol and Birmingham. Politicians and police officers who only hours ago were making stony-faced statements about criminality are now simply begging the young people of Britain's inner cities to go home. Britain is a tinderbox, and on Friday, somebody lit a match. How the hell did this happen? And what are we going to do now?

In the scramble to comprehend the riots, every single commentator has opened with a ritual condemnation of the violence, as if it were in any doubt that arson, muggings and lootings are ugly occurrences. That much should be obvious to anyone who is watching Croydon burn down on the BBC right now. David Lammy, MP for Tottenham, called the disorder 'mindless, mindless'. Nick Clegg denounced it as 'needless, opportunistic theft and violence'. Speaking from his Tuscan holiday villa, Prime Minister David Cameron - who has finally decided to return home to take charge - declared simply that the social unrest searing through the poorest boroughs in the country was "utterly unacceptable." The violence on the streets is being dismissed as 'pure criminality,' as the work of a 'violent minority', as 'opportunism.' This is madly insufficient. It is no way to talk about viral civil unrest. Angry young people with nothing to do and little to lose are turning on their own communities, and they cannot be stopped, and they know it. Tonight, in one of the greatest cities in the world, society is ripping itself apart.

Violence is rarely mindless. The politics of a burning building, a smashed-in shop or a young man shot by police may be obscured even to those who lit the rags or fired the gun, but the politics are there. Unquestionably there is far, far more to these riots than the death of Mark Duggan, whose shooting sparked off the unrest on Saturday, when two police cars were set alight after a five-hour vigil at Tottenham police station. A peaceful protest over the death of a man at police hands, in a community where locals have been given every reason to mistrust the forces of law and order, is one sort of political statement. Raiding shops for technology and trainers that cost ten times as much as the benefits you're no longer entitled to is another. A co-ordinated, viral wave of civil unrest across the poorest boroughs of Britain, with young people coming from across the capital and the country to battle the police, is another.

Months of conjecture will follow these riots. Already, the internet is teeming with racist vitriol and wild speculation. The truth is that very few people know why this is happening. They don't know, because they were not watching these communities. Nobody has been watching Tottenham since the television cameras drifted away after the Broadwater Farm riots of 1985. Most of the people who will be writing, speaking and pontificating about the disorder this weekend have absolutely no idea what it is like to grow up in a community where there are no jobs, no space to live or move, and the police are on the streets stopping-and-searching you as you come home from school. The people who do will be waking up this week in the sure and certain knowledge that after decades of being ignored and marginalised and harassed by the police, after months of seeing any conceivable hope of a better future confiscated, they are finally on the news. In one NBC report, a young man in Tottenham was asked if rioting really achieved anything:

"Yes," said the young man. "You wouldn't be talking to me now if we didn't riot, would you?"

"Two months ago we marched to Scotland Yard, more than 2,000 of us, all blacks, and it was peaceful and calm and you know what? Not a word in the press. Last night a bit of rioting and looting and look around you."

Eavesdropping from among the onlookers, I looked around. A dozen TV crews and newspaper reporters interviewing the young men everywhere '''

There are communities all over the country that nobody paid attention to unless there had recently been a riot or a murdered child. Well, they're paying attention now.

Tonight in London, social order and the rule of law have broken down entirely. The city has been brought to a standstill; it is not safe to go out onto the streets, and where I am in Holloway, the violence is coming closer. As I write, the looting and arson attacks have spread to at least fifty different areas across the UK, including dozens in London, and communities are now turning on each other, with the Guardian reporting on rival gangs forming battle lines. It has become clear to the disenfranchised young people of Britain, who feel that they have no stake in society and nothing to lose, that they can do what they like tonight, and the police are utterly unable to stop them. That is what riots are all about.

Riots are about power, and they are about catharsis. They are not about poor parenting, or youth services being cut, or any of the other snap explanations that media pundits have been trotting out: structural inequalities, as a friend of mine remarked today, are not solved by a few pool tables. People riot because it makes them feel powerful, even if only for a night. People riot because they have spent their whole lives being told that they are good for nothing, and they realise that together they can do anything - literally, anything at all. People to whom respect has never been shown riot because they feel they have little reason to show respect themselves, and it spreads like fire on a warm summer night. And now people have lost their homes, and the country is tearing itself apart.

Noone expected this. The so-called leaders who have taken three solid days to return from their foreign holidays to a country in flames did not anticipate this. The people running Britain had absolutely no clue how desperate things had become. They thought that after thirty years of soaring inequality, in the middle of a recession, they could take away the last little things that gave people hope, the benefits, the jobs, the possibility of higher education, the support structures, and nothing would happen. They were wrong. And now my city is burning, and it will continue to burn until we stop the blanket condemnations and blind conjecture and try to understand just what has brought viral civil unrest to Britain. Let me give you a hint: it ain't Twitter.

I'm stuck in the house, now, with rioting going on just down the road in Chalk Farm. Ealing and Clapham and Dalston are being trashed. Journalists are being mugged and beaten in the streets, and the riot cops are in retreat where they have appeared at all. Police stations are being set alight all over the country. This morning, as the smoke begins to clear, those of us who can sleep will wake up to a country in chaos. We will wake up to fear, and to racism, and to condemnation on left and right, none of which will stop this happening again, as the prospect of a second stock market clash teeters terrifyingly at the bottom of the news reports. Now is the time when we make our choices. Now is the time when we decide whether to descend into hate, or to put prejudice aside and work together. Now is the time when we decide what sort of country it is that we want to live in. Follow the #riotcleanup hashtag on Twitter. And take care of one another.

homepage: homepage: http://pennyred.blogspot.com/2011/08/panic-on-streets-of-london.html?spref=fb


Powerful 09.Aug.2011 13:03

Den Mark, Vancouver

Tomorrow some of us plan to protest at our congressional offices in Vancouver. Because we will be orderly, we will be invisible. Obama praised the people in Tahrir Square, but i asked his office exactly which public square in THIS country could be taken over for even half of one day, & of course i was ignored, because it is fact that NO public square in this country could be taken over without attack by riot cops, not even in our supposedly progressive Paific Northwest.

We are not free, & we had better understand that, & we had better do something about it.

Very good points 09.Aug.2011 18:28

invisble me

There are excellent points you make in this piece; I'm tired of what I hear from the BBC and the rest of the media.
'People riot because it makes them feel powerful, if only for one night' is spot on. I only wish it would catch fire here and we would join them....

right 10.Aug.2011 17:45

Clyde

" I only wish it would catch fire here and we would join them...."

Yeah I"m pretty sure you'd change your tune once something of yours got looted/burned/destroyed.

@ "blanket conjecture" etc . . . 11.Aug.2011 13:39

kristin angelique zero4cndct@aol.com

no two anarchists are alike - in my opinion - this is the root of anarchist philosophy, then from autonomy comes no gods no masters no slaves. . .this is a quick statement and so i won't come close to saying all that i could, or want too. . .

but i don't even know that the rioters consider themselves anarchists or that they are acting in the name of anarchy - i doubt any of here in america - or anywhere that's not there - has any real clue as to what is motivating these INDIVIDUALS . . .

yet to lump all anarchists together - to point to one who does something you don't like or comprehend and then point to all of us and say congratulations morons or whatever you said . . . makes you sound like a moron in my opinion - if i think like you, then i could go on to make all-inclusive statements like "everyone who disapproves of anarchists sounds like morons" and so on.

for example - how many individuals calling themselves christians or republicans or whatever they label themselves as - have committed crimes against humanity? well in my opinion i can think of many reasons to say that anyone identifying themselves as republicans are assholes - period - but maybe i would be wrong - maybe there is an exception to this rule somewhere . . . but many people around the world identify themselves as christians - people who devote most, possibly all, of their whole lives to helping others and truly and earnestly hope to make the world a better place - while some christians exclude and persecute others and hold back the world from evolving ethically - and some people who consider themselves christians are homicidal maniacs, child molesters, rapists . . . so if one christian commits any crime - arson, looting, murder and so on - does their faith/philosophical background extend to all christians?

i certainly don't think so. i didn't arise at this conclusion overnight - it took me years of experience and ensuing wisdom to realize that a lot of 'christians" have given christianity - even faith in god - any concept of god - a bad name - i had to overcome my own biases to understand that at the root of the best of what is christianity - a lot of christians are awesomely kind and generous and wonderful people - and that the elitists in that faith don't own the right to feeling spiritually guided or having faith in something awesome and outside yourself.

my grandfather - before his death - was a southern baptist minister - i didn't know him very well - my mother left the south when i was 5 - we visited my grandparents only a few times following our moving away - what i learned from his belief system is that he was a racist, sexist, homophobic pig - and as a representative of christian faith - he gave christianity a really bad rap . . . but i have gone on to know and learn from other christians that he did not represent them all.

do you get my drift?

i don't ascribe to any organized religion, especially i can't conceive of patriarchal religions ever speaking for me - but i have been able to see past the weaknesses in these belief systems to the greater good - the higher ethics - that all kind-hearted altruistic people share - and in this way - god for me - is the greatest good in the universe - and believing in this goodness fills me up spiritually and for me - this is my source of faith - but it has no name or clearly defined rules etc - just as long as it is about truth and love and compassion and so on - i find my faith in this and try to be the best person i can be etc . . . but i am totally simpatico with the best of anarchist philosophy - anarchists have been getting a bad rap for a long time - and sometimes certain individuals who commit bad acts do this to anarchy - but i think the greatest resistance comes from those in power - whether it's church or government - who resist and condemn because they don't want to give up their authority, their ruling power - more than a distrust in humans to make good choices when they think for and "govern"* themselves (for lack of a better word at the moment) - because even with "law and order" - church and state - etc - really bad shit happens - cops kill - priests rape - politicians pillage - bombs get dropped - killing civilians en masse and destroying entire countries in one fell swoop - etc...

i am writing this just off the top of my head - but this is what is on my mind at this moment.

anarchy and peace, kristin @


p.s. 11.Aug.2011 18:30

kristin @

i wish we could edit our posts - but i get that the confusion would probably be worse once others have commented...that said - sorry for the mistakes (i spell good!) and incredible run-on sentences . . .

i want to add this to the end of the paragraph in which i speak about "republicans" - just to be fair: [this by no means is meant to suggest that someone identifying themself as a democrat is necessarily awesome; there are frauds and phonies everywhere you look -- having said that, someone who is awesome, but says they are a republican, probably isn't a very good republican :o)]

so i had started the process of making my own blog - just two days ago - i created the account - but hadn't posted anything yet, well it occurred to me after i published this here - that this could be my very first blog - and so now it is - and therefore, i also want to express my gratitude for all the inspiration i was given here by all the friendly people! thankxs!