A Call to Reason
This from the excellent Steven Maclean on Dreaming Genius:
London is bracing itself for a fourth night of riots. Towns and cities all over the country are also now on alert as the unrest continues to spread. As it does, and with each day that passes, the narrative that this was just the actions of ‘thugs’ evaporates away. How wide spread must riots be before we admit they are symptomatic of a deeper injustice? How many ‘thugs’ must there be before we ask why our nation is overflowing with people inclined to this behaviour? And how much worse might things get?
Where I am in Walworth, south London, the Turkish supermarket across the road is at the centre of the shaken community. The owners have boarded up the front, but continue to allow people inside on a one-in-one-out basis. Outside, a queue of people eager to stock up ahead of returning home for the night discuss what has happened here. Nobody supports the rioters, but – unlike in the mainstream press – much of the talk is about what has led to this, and who, other than the rioters themselves, are to blame.
I ask one of the men who works in the shop if they are expecting more trouble tonight, “They’re coming,” he tells me. I wonder if he and his family who are working as well as guarding the store will stay when ‘they’ arrive? “I have no problem with them, they have no problem with us, It’s the sport shops and chain stores they’re after.”
This takes me by surprise. Shops all up and down Walworth Road have had the front windows smashed in and been looted. I infer from his comments that as an independent shop owner, he has some grievances with the chain stores that dominate the area; a Tesco Express a few doors away hasn’t risked opening today. I go inside with my girlfriend and buy some supplies for the evening ahead. People make eye contact more than usual, and there is a strange atmosphere of camaraderie. This, we really are all in together, even if our Prime-minister missed the first few days.
Earlier in the day I talked to a man called Nigel outside Kennington Park Job Centre who was on the way to see his probation officer. He told me he is “close to the streets,” but that he had “changed his ways.”
“One night, two, three, OK. People are frustrated, but my mum is out there working.” Nigel tells me.
When I asked him what he thought would happen tonight he looks worried, “I’ve heard things, man. If the police start with water cannons and shit they are gonna start bringing out shooters.”
“It has to stop now.” he says, before warning me things are kicking off again down the road in Brixton.
Later, on the way back home after leaving the Turkish supermarket, I see the kebab shop across the road from where I am staying is still open. I go in to ask if they plan to continue business into the night, “it depends what happens,”
“if they come, we just close it up,” he says pointing to the metal shutters. “The police have told us they are expecting more trouble. They told us yesterday it would start at five thirty, and it did, like clockwork,”
“but the police didn’t come until eight. They told us they [the rioters] would be here at five thirty, but they [the police] didn’t come here until eight. I don’t understand.”
Indeed, understanding the police has become difficult of late. These riots started – it’s worth remembering – after a Tottenham man was shot and killed by police. Protestors, then rioters and anyone seen as apologists for them have been criticised for responding to unfounded rumours. But as more is revealed, it seems it is the critics themselves who have been quick to swallow untruths fitting their agenda. First came news the bullet recovered from a police radio was police issue, and now we know the man shot dead, Mark Duggan, never fired a shot.
No thinking person would condone the theft, destruction or violence, but to condemn it without considering the factors which have caused it would be lazy, negligent and irresponsible. Of course, that is precisely what the government has, and will continue to do. My concern is that as with 9/11, these riots could be used to make ‘shock-doctrine’ style legislative changes to strip away further civil liberties. We’ll be told this is for our own good, and neo-liberals will cheer them along from their quasi-moral perches.