Maybe when the smoke clears away I‘ll feel different. Once the glass is swept up, the CCTV footage examined and the political points scored.
I’m writing this in East London. For the last six hours, I’ve been listening to sirens screaming off in different directions, and been watching facebook updates list the places near my home that are being looted. Barking. Stratford. East Ham. Canning Town. Green Street.
Earlier today me and a friend talked about the Tottenham riots on Saturday night, totally unaware of what would happen later today.
“You don’t like it,” he said, “it’s not nice to see. But it is inevitable. If someone in the community is killed, after all that’s been going on, this kind of thing is going to happen.”
I agreed. I still do. Tottenham needed answers after Mark Duggan was shot dead on the street. They got nothing but a line of riot police who allegedly beat up a 17 year old girl. Without condoning or condemning, there are very few other outcomes imaginable in that situation.
But then the events of tonight came along. I watched the news for a little while, turning it over in my mind. Was this it? After the university fee raise, EMA disappearing, cut after cut to public services, and a stream of deaths in police custody, was this the uprising, the fight back?
It didn’t feel like it. Something was wrong. The BBM messages published on the Guardian’s live blog that supposedly kicked off all the trouble didn’t talk about the police, or the government, or revolution. In essence, they just said come and get free stuff.
Then my sister saw a group of youths on Green Street run pass a Tesco’s and attack a public library. The penny dropped. This wasn’t a revolution. This was a very capitalist riot.
Frustration builds up when you’re young, and you look at the rest of your life and see nothing but scratching around at the bottom of the economy, achieving and amounting to very little. Especially when you’ve had an image of wealth and fame pushed at you for most of your life, but never really been given the tools to get it.
Frustration builds up when the police discriminate, search and insult you on the street and you can’t do or say anything about it. When someone dies, it creates a horribly volatile situation where all of that frustration becomes a powder keg ready to go up.
But the attitude of the rioters is why should I obey the rules anymore? Why care about anyone else? Push that attitude further, and you get a mugger, a rapist.
In the Middle East this year uprisings happened with the desire to build a better country after years of oppression. Even in the UK in the 1980s, riots happened with the purpose of fighting back against a lack of police accountability. In London 2011, it happened to get a new pair of trainers and a plasma screen TV.
Having lived in London all my life, I’d stick up for our young people all day. London youth are generally incredibly creative, driven, full of humour. This year they’ve also started getting political, pushing the protest movement forward.
But this? This is just greed, self-obsession, a desire for a moment of madness. Watching it unfold was nothing short of heartbreaking.
While Newham, my home, and statistically the third most deprived place in the UK, was being smashed apart and set on fire, someone I know was in the financial district where everything was calm and peaceful, just another Monday night.
And after tonight, what might happen? Harsher policing, communities pulled apart, a lack of trust between people who live in the same place.
I’m used to what the government are prepared to do my community. I’m familiar with what the police are capable of. I never guessed what the people from the community could do.
Maybe once everything is cleared away I’ll feel different. But tonight it looks hopeless.
For a heartfelt speech by an Afro-Caribbean woman about the futility of the rioting, looting and destruction click this link