Archive for August, 2011

London Riots: Feeling Sick

August 9, 2011

The riots are currently in the minds of all Londoners. It’s left me with mixed emotions and more than a few questions which I’ll quickly share here.

I live in Holloway. It’s not a glamorous area but I’m rather fond of it. It’s certainly one of the poorer areas in the borough of Islington.

I’ve seen my high street change in the ten years I’ve lived here. The shopping centre has gone from a fairly useful area where you could, at a push buy last minute presents, to somewhere that only provides the core products of our consumerist culture: mobile phones and trainers. I think this is a shame.

These shops haven’t been looted yet. But who knows…

Speaking of looting: Some people have pointed to the wide spread presence of looting as proof that this is not protest, it is criminality. I’m not so sure. A lot of what I see in youth culture today shows an unhealthy preoccupation with brands. People define themselves not by what they do, but what they like. In those circumstances it’s unsurprising that a shallow youth culture that can only express itself with the acquisition of branded goods would steal the brands they like. If they’ve acquired those goods in a style they feel approximates an LA gangster, then all the better (I think they’d be fooling themselves in this regard).

So I look at Holloway in light of these riots. I see my local high street is full of products aimed at young people yet the local youth have no money (or credit) to buy them with. Looting seems kind of inevitable.

I can’t lie. I have always resented the invasion of the the trainer and mobile phone shops into my local area. I have felt that invasion exposes the lie of capitalism: you do not get more choice, just more of the same. So when I see trainer shops get raided on TV I experience some Schadenfreude. I know: I suck. It’s not the “right” way to feel but I can’t help it.

And then there are the Police.

Let’s go over recent events that led us to this unhappy situation. A man was shot in Tottenham. This may have been because the police bodged an armed operation. The man’s death is protested in Tottenham. The protest turns into a riot. This may have been because the police got heavy-handed with a young girl. This prompts looting in Wood Green. Which prompts looting and rioting in other parts of London over successive nights. The police find it hard to cope because they are under-resourced. In short it’s possible the police made some terrible mistakes that had major outcomes.

Some police have been keen to point out that proposing cuts to the police force in the current climate is insanity. They tell us they need more resources, not fewer.

I have sympathy with this view. Who wouldn’t?

But in the back of my mind is this other thought.

This is the same police force that kept very cosy relations with the tabloid press. Gave them the heads-up on the forthcoming arrests of celebrities. Turned the other way when voicemail hacking was endemic. And what did the Police get in return for this? Stories that helped their case. Whenever they wanted more funding or there was talk of cuts they could rely on their mates in the press to put a good word out there for them. And very often it worked.

I can’t help but feel resentful. I shouldn’t feel this way but I start to see the whole thing as some kind of scuzzy protection racket: “‘ello, ‘ello, ‘ello. Nice city you got here, be a shame if something ‘appened to it. How ’bout you leave a few million on that table over there and I’ll see it get’s looked after.”

Am I sick for thinking these things? Or is this a sick country that makes such thoughts possible in the minds of reasonable people?

Just one final thing.

I’m old enough to remember the Brixton riots although I was only eight at the time. My most enduring memory was a simple one.

I didn’t live in Brixton. I lived in Kilburn. Kilburn was quite a few miles away and on the other side of the river. Unlike Brixton it was predominately white but, like Brixton, predominately working class.

After the riots, almost overnight, every shop on Kilburn High Road had big metal shutters. We don’t even think of this now – of course shops have shutters. And yet it wasn’t always so. Without noticing, our high streets changed.

What will happen to our city after this week? Will more shutters go up? Will “security” change the face of our city?