I don’t usually like to get involved with issues of the day, but given the messages and whatnot I’ve had in the last 24 hours I thought I’d break that rule and put together a synopsis of how I’m feeling about what’s going on in London at the moment.
For starters, so far I’m ok. The place I’m living at the moment is about a mile from the Debenhams store that got smashed up last night (approx 20 mins’ walk). Last night my eyes were glued to Twitter, trying to see what the latest news was and simultaneously trying not to get caught up in the hysterical rumour mill or the twin cavalcades of idiocy – people trying to make topical jokes, and people making self-satisfied pronouncements on what sparked all this off.
Last night, despite a fairly extensive smash & grab operation by a couple of hundred rioters both at Clapham Junction and in the not too distant Walworth Road area, buses were still running down the main road as normal, and I got my bus home from central London as usual. Not a lot of sleep took place because I couldn’t tear my eyes off Twitter, but also because of the buzz of helicopters above.
What is taking place in various small pockets of London at the moment is opportunistic selfish looting. I’m hesitant to call it “riots”, because my understanding is that a riot is a broadly targeted act of mob aggression – whereas this appears to be guerilla spot looting by pockets of idiots concerned with getting free stuff and revelling in the anarchy. It’s certainly not a protest, and whilst the protest on Sunday appears to have acted as some sort of “spark” kicking this all off, there’s no connection between people demanding answers from the police for shooting a known gangster as part of a long-term gun crime operation, and the current animalistic thievery taking place.
It’s quite a confusing time – there are a lot of people with a lot of different opinions about what should be done, who is to blame, and what the source of all this is. I guess my thoughts are – bearing in mind that I’m not a psychologist or analyst of anything relevant, nor do I hold any great historical understanding of various cultural issues in the UK – that the looting is being perpetrated by bored kids who are feeling a taste of power. It’s a fairly limited type of power, and not in any way useful to anyone. The Metropolitan Police are being stretched beyond their capacity to control the situation – reinforced tonight by a further 10,000 officers from around the country – and many people seem to be calling for the Prime Minister to bring the army in. Equally, many analysts and people claiming to be intimate with the minutiae of the situation say that use of the army would be a bad idea, and counterproductive in the long term.
Personally I think it’s extremely bad that the violence and destruction has come this far. Ideally the police should have been empowered to shut down the first couple of copycat outbreaks using appropriate force & detainment, and sending a clear message that this sort of thing is not tolerated. I’m not talking about busting heads or anything, but hauling a couple of hundred of them away to face the music would make the next lot think twice about whether they would be able to get away with it. Of course the police are under plenty of pressure and scrutiny as it is, so they don’t want to operate in a manner that could be seen as heavy-handed. Trying to reason with a mob and show that you understand and are considerate to “their side” isn’t possible because the mob has no unified goal, so the only option is to regain control of the situation.
The longer it goes unchecked, it feels to me like more & more people will get drawn in & take positions. I was quite distressed to read of a threatening message being left on the Research In Motion website advising them not to cooperate in handing Blackberry Messaging data over to police on the grounds that it had privacy implications for those who weren’t involved.
So to sum up, whilst the closest I’ve been to anything yet is walking past a betting shop with a smashed-in front window on the way to the tube station this morning, I feel quite tense even though it’s pretty much business as usual in this part of the world. Other than the increased number of sirens zooming past the office.
(The other thing – which I’m finding it pretty hard to get out of my head although so far nobody seems to know where or when it was taken, is the footage of these jackals helping an injured boy to his feet, and then taking stuff out of his backpack. It’s so cowardly.)
Headline image from the Flickr stream of Irish4Adventure, Creative Commons licenced.