Friday, August 12, 2011

The following is a letter I received from a UK friend just today. It's his attempts to come to grips and try to understand what went on there the past week. I'm reprinting it - with his permission - for the simple fact that it's an interesting view on the riots from someone who was closer to the action than he wished to be. Read on, and please note that I'm not publishing any comments to this entry.


"Let it be clear there are some very obvious reasons behind what happened in London this week starting. The 'animal' behaviour only occurred after the window of opportunity had arisen, after an uncommon crack appeared in society, allowing such deplorable behaviour.

But how this come to be is very very complex and I think everyone here, after slowly recovering from the shock/trauma of the whole scenario are starting to ask this very question. I will make some simple points which I hope will put into perspective and the reality of what occurred in London this week.

* the economic crisis here is on an enormous level, the results have been not to punish those responsible (the bankers) but to make cuts across society, most to low income family's and the less economically viable communities. The most transparent results of this being the shutting down of libraries, community centre's and more importantly in this matter, youth centres.

* Another fatality of these economic cut backs has been education with state schooling being at a deplorable level. There is no concrete foundation in place to educate children on any significant level, it's a social factory, a token gesture with little substance.

* With regards to education we also had Parliament raise the fee's substantially for tertiary education late last year (from £10,000 to £50,000 in some cases) resulting in young people's prospects of a higher education being wiped out overnight. Resulting in little chance of many of the youth rising above the lower economic class in which they currently reside, ie: no future.

* The enemy this week was the not the 'state' per se, it was the police. There are many plausible reasons for this. After 9/11 they passed a 'stop and search' policy to allow police to stop and search anyone on the street who looked suspicious, of course for a number of years the police enacted this law to the muslim community but as this 'threat' (that has now come to light was completely exaggerated on every level) has started to fade away, the police started to use this law on black people, young black people in particular. Any black person in this country has no doubt been stopped by police and searched, when walking home, when walking in the park, anywhere, anytime of at least an average of 4 times. Very few white people have been.

* When the student fee's were raised there was mass demonstrations in oct/nov last year, I am sure you heard about these. What happened here when the people went out to express their concern for the drastic rise in fees? Up to 50,000 students (and teachers and general public) were 'kettled' (this is when the police corner the protesters in a single area and put up cages around the outside, effectively imprisoning the protesters) this was in winter and the result was that all these people were trapped up to 7-8 hours, they had to burn their school books to stay warm, they had no access to food and water, they had to urinate and defecate in amongst each other and if they attempted to leave they were beaten by police batons. Does this sound like a democratic society ?

* Recently, with the Murdoch scandal, the head of police here and the deputy head of police had to quit as the controversy heightened. Why? As it became apparent that the police had accepted bribes from journalists who were committing illegal activity (the hacking of phones of the general public including a missing teenager who it turned out had been murdered). So imagine being a young person - being hassled by the police on a regular basis and seeing this blatant corruption play out before you. It's ok for them to endorse illegal activity when it suits them (accepting bribes) and on the flip intimidate an entire community who are by and large innocent of any wrongdoing

* The 'stop and search' policy reached it's apex last Thursday when they pulled over a black man in Tottenham under this pretence, this time it resulted in him being shot in the chest by police, he was killed instantly. The police claimed he had pulled out a gun and fired at them. Indeed, 2 shots were fired. On Tuesday it came out that both bullets were from a single police gun.

The riots here rose out of a protest against this incident in Tottenham on Saturday night.

Having (understandably) complete distrust in politicians and policy, the police (zero role models, very few black people in any position of power in this country) and with little chance of an economically stable future what position does this put one in?

The result and actions as a consequence of all this was as misguided as it was frightening. I cannot express how out of control it was here.

On Sat I was out with friends and at midnight I got a text about a riot in Tottenham, about a mile from where I live. My response was, 'what is it now?' as London is a crazy city, but never like this. Another friend called me an hour later and told me to take care getting home. I was fine and assumed, like everyone it was an isolated incident rising out from the protest.

On Sunday night the looting began and caused concern for all here who saw this as gang mentality meets wayward consumeristic tendencies. People were surprised and shocked that it had continued and started to spread to different boroughs and areas, but even after this no one expected what was to come.

On Monday I caught up with a friend around 4pm to go see an exhibition of science fiction literature at the State Library. I was telling my friend that I was concerned about the 'social unrest'. She was more calm than me and was optimistic everything would settle down. As time went on and the day shifted into the evening you could feel something big / terrible was going to happen, it was really strange - the air became thick and claustrophobic. Around 5:30 I got the bus home, I was meant to get my bike from my friends flat and ride home but I told her I was not comfortable doing that and I just wanted to get home. Around this time I heard of riots in Hackney which is the area where I live. I followed this on twitter (all one has in these moments despite it's incredible failings of anybody being able to say anything, there was a lot of hysteria, rumours, mis-truths on twitter all night, it was incredibly frustrating trying to sift for fact and I gave up on this at about 11pm despite it being the only way to get real-time information).

I made it home ok and stayed indoors. I was on 'chat' with all of my friends all night whilst watching the live broadcast, you simply did not know where it was going to hit next. None of my friends were physically effected, in fact, very few people were considering what happened but the fear, anxiety and paranoia was at a level I have never felt in my life. The images were shocking, the part of East London where it occurred, Hackney, is an area I visit once a week at least. This is the area I have lived in ever since moving to London. I could not believe what I was seeing. On Monday it was not an option to go outside, I heard that my neighbourhood was safe as the Turkish community on one side and the Hasidic Jewish community on the other had lined the streets armed with baseball bats, this turned out to be true. This is an essential point to illustrate the level of what this situation turned into. It occurred all over this enormous city, Few borough's were without incident and the omnipresent nature of it was one of the most disturbing aspects. The police were outnumbered and unprepared, not an easy task by any means but they were also a disgraceful at dealing with the the situation (not violent by any means, rather, by simply not doing anything at all) this is after the warning signs were made very clear on the Saturday night.

The leader here David Cameron and the Mayor Boris Johnson were both on summer holidays at the time. There were requests made for them to return after Saturdays incident, they both choose not to. Neither returned until Tuesday morning, after the 'climax' of the entire event. Can you believe this ? Also, as I mentioned the head of police and deputy had both resigned 3 weeks ago over the Murdoch scandal so you had a guy who was quickly put in charge of the police following the Murdoch resignations handling the entire situation that was fast spiralling out of control. So we had complete lawlessness. No Prime Minister, No Mayor and an amateur head of the Police for 3 whole days. The police were outnumbered and ineffective, their tactics were incomprehensible. How can they beat the shit of a number of the 50,000 student protesters (including killing an non-protesting newspaper vendor who had his back to them) but not do anything to stop 200 kids running riot in one particular street? (keep in mind there were gangs of this size all over london) It was an uprising no doubt but please do not slot this easily into the leftist agenda, the reality is that most ALL of the victims were completely innocent people, 95% being small business owners on the lower class of the economic scale, they attacked the very communities in which they lived and raided the shops in which they frequent (mostly sports stores, mobile phone shops, off-licenses etc) it was not a premeditated attack on the state or any such romantic revolutionary notion.

On the monday night there were 6000 police officers for all of london. The riots were all over this enormous city and they were far outnumbered. When Cameron FINALLY returned to office he put a further 10,000 officers on the beat. But this was Tuesday and it was way too late. Why was this not done after Sat, after Sun? No one knows.

As I said all of this allowed a crack to open in society, a window whereby any kind of behaviour was allowed to exist. The results, no matter their genesis were awful for everyone, there is not doubt about that.

For 3 days there was the constant sound of helicopters and police sirens, it started to drive me crazy. It made it hard to sleep and even now 3 days after it subsided, if I hear a siren I get edgy as the sound reminds me of 'that' period, 'that' atmosphere. This will go and of course London is a city with frequent sirens but I am trying to express how insanely oppressive the environment was here. I can't imagine what it was like where the actual events were going on. I ran into one friend who lived on a street where a bus was set on fire and he said it was really the worst thing imaginable, absolute horror. But I am sure you have had plenty of coverage of this perspective over there along with very little opinion from the black community. Of course the initial irrational response of the public was punish the perpetrators as harsh as possible, but of there has to be a reason this all happens. The answer is simply not as clean cut as the various articles I have read in the media this week or opinions I have seen expressed on Facebook et al.

The actions themselves for the most part were not directed at individuals, it was against property and the police (this point remains defunct as there simply were not many around) - it was a confusion of anger and opportunity. All the shiny capitalist goods these people can rarely afford had suddenly become available at no cost, a corrupt government who demands people consume but does not give them the opportunity to earn decent wages may result in this distorted view of commerce as seen by the rampant looting that took place here.

As I said, I was safe and was away from the areas the majority of the action occurred in - Besides the helicopters and sirens, I heard explosions from petrol tankers exploding nearby. On the Tuesday evening I went out around 7pm and came back around 12:30pm, I went to the Turkish district, Dalston, to get a perspective outside of media images which I found irresponsible. The atmosphere was very intense all night, especially when 100's of Turkish men suddenly ran into their shops and left carrying baseball bats and similar weapons. There was a large police presence on Tuesday night but they let the Turkish maintain this area as they were doing a better job than them at protecting the community. The only incident was a gang of 6 very young kids who naively entered this area and were immediately chased by the locals, they all ran passed me, the children were like frightened animals, the Turkish like vicious dogs. This is what became of my neighbourhood, my community. Things were tense all night until a procession of 30 riot vans went down the street just after midnight, symbolically declaring that it was all over. Like some heroes returning from war. The only difference being they had little to do with maintaining order. If violence is a sexual act then it reached it's climax on Monday night and had started to peter away naturally on the Tuesday and most certainly by the Wednesday evening. (sorry for the metaphor but it is one that works with the momentum that occurred here).

The other thing I found weird was how in the mornings (the Sunday, Monday and Tuesday mornings) it was always beautiful and sunny and everyone would resume normal routine, everyone was out doing their usual thing, working, shopping, walking dogs, or playing in the park with their children. But after lunch it changed, things got edgy again and as the day progressed we reverted back to this paranoid, anxious ridden society. Shops closed and put their shutters down around 3 / 4 o'clock, people were allowed to leave work at 4pm so they could make there way home before night started to fall and before' it' came back again, it was a very disturbing week.

Everyone here is scarred. Myself and all of my friends and other people I have spoken to have all gone through psychological shifts between shock, frustration, anger and depression. It was a traumatic experience but as the dust starts to settle I can honestly say I have never witnessed anything like what happened this week and I was not caught up in it in the slightest, for awhile their it was the total breakdown of a society and it happened very swiftly and to an extreme level.

What started out as a protest, turned into something else entirely. By Sunday, this was not a protest, it was not a revolution, it was misguided chaos and wanton destruction of the immediate environment, the years of oppression resulting in atavistic anarchy and consumeristic confusion.

I do not want to pass on 'my' opinion on any of this as there are enough morons on the BBC doing this every day, not to mention the tired leftist blogists who jump at the opportunity to say, 'See! this fits in exactly with what I have been saying for the last seven years'. Life and society is never so clean cut, but I hope I have outlined the background, some of the events themselves and the general mood and atmosphere of London and other parts of England this week. The nature of what happened here is deep and complex and will never fit tightly into any premeditated rationale, left or right."

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