Rioting

Posted on August 9, 2011

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Nick Davies, in his account of the horrors of the inner-city, Dark Heart: The Shocking Truth About Hidden Britain, recounts the demise of the Leeds area of Hyde Park through the eyes of local resident, Jean Ashford. The Park area, just north of the heart of the city – with its rows of bright shops, student population, community feel, all that buzz – falls prey to some invisible disease. That disease is the same one spreading throughout London, into its third night, tonight – “criminality.”

What began in Tottenham on Saturday night, initially, after the death of Mark Duggan by Metropolitan Police bullets, has grown and grown. Boroughs across London have now fallen into violence; Enfield, Walthamstow, Hackney, Lewisham, Croydon, Clapham, Lavender Hill, Brixton; even Islington and Oxford Circus; and now Birmingham. The events have been given many names already; “disturbances”, “rioting”, “protests”. But the word from the police and the politicians again and again is “criminality”.

“Sheer criminality”, said Theresa May. That, and nothing more.

Busting shops, looting, lobbing bricks, braining journalists, and all the rest, is criminal but The Establishment’s desperate move to distance itself from the last few days’ events should not be heeded. I’m not the first to say this (and I won’t be the last) but there are reasons why all this is happening. Shocker! There are reasons why all this is happening! 

In Dark Heart, Davies is writing about the “Hyde Park Gang” (youths terrorising the population of Hyde Park) when he says:

It was as plain as the pain on their faces that they were not the origin of the problem. They were part of the result of whatever had happened, victims just as much as Jean Ashford and the others of whatever had happened to Hyde Park.

And what had happened?

The answer – like so much else in Hyde Park – turned out to be hidden […]. The people of Hyde Park held the clues to the disaster that had overcome them. Like fragments of shrapnel embedded in flesh, their stories were the vivid clues to some past explosion […]. Taken on its own, each story amounted to nothing more than an isolated individual incident […] But taken together, they began to form a pattern, all of them pointing to one common source.

These stories were of solvent abuse, alcoholism, insufficient Social Security, dole money and domestics, youth prostitution, violent and suspicious police, scared residents, gangs and arson. I only quoted Dark Heart because I read it this morning, but the stories of Hyde Park are much the same as those now being lived out in the burning boroughs of the capital.

Many people have dismissed everything today as “mindless violence”. On the face of it, yes, and by no means am I condoning it. A cameraman was bottled this afternoon, families in Tottenham (and elsewhere) have lost their homes, businesses and shopkeepers have lose their livelihoods. It’s disgusting, tense and terrifying. But, there are reasons why all this is happening.

What Heseltine calls Loach’s “communist claptrap” is thinking that informs the roots of today’s events. The Thatcherite economic project that was taken up with such enthusiasm by the present Con-Dem Tory coalition is to blame. Cuts to youth club and social services, front-line services in underprivileged areas which so rarely get the attention of our mainstream press or politicians, cause the rage that drives rioting. Martin Luther King said: “A riot is the language of the unheard.” Today they have broken silence.

Today’s riots represent “criminality” in each piece of broken glass, stolen good and vandalised public transport. Criminal damage is punishable by law, and as Theresa May reminds us, those committing it will face the consequences of their actions. (Well, we’ll see.)

But the most enduring damage today is that done to our own society. The more our press and politicians try and marginalise young people, the worse it will get. This will be a turning-point in this generation, but we should try and avoid it being an irrevocable one.

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