London's burning

I have lived in London for the past nine and a half years, and I've only once been genuinely scared living in the capital. That, of course, was during and after July 7 2005. The fear of being blown up by Islamic terrorists on a Tube soon dissipated, however; normality quickly returned.

The events of the past few days - riots, looting, savage mobs of youths roaming the streets in their hundreds destroying businesses and homes alike with impunity - are unprecedented, unparalleled, surreal, game-changing, but above all else, truly terrifying.

Minutes from where I live shops were raided, and restaurants invaded as guests dined; just a little further away, in Ealing, buildings were torched.

Had you asked me a week ago if I thought "this sort of thing" could happen in the capital city of the United Kingdom, without hesitation I'd have have said no. The police would undoubtedly clamp down on criminal activity within minutes, especially with less than a year to the Olympics, I'd have said.

But when it came to it, the police were overstretched, overwhelmed and outnumbered. The mob was free to do what it wanted: brazenly carry big screen TVs and trolleys loaded with goods out of big name retailers, torch department stores, attack journalists... One particularly sickening video shows an injured boy on the ground in a pool of blood. A gang of youths come to his aid, and at first appear to help him. Then they rob him and leave him to bleed.

Buses on fire. Terrified locals driven from their homes as fires engulf the buildings where they live. And in all the pictures and video you will find online, there's often no police or fire brigade in sight. That's what's really frightening. When it comes to it, you're on your own.

The perpetrators of these horrors are mostly kids - the youngest reported, an 11-year-old - and there's plenty of girls joining in the mayhem. Scenes of young women looting are plentiful. Apparently, the majority are black, but again, there's plenty of white kids and others. There's more on their make-up at The Guardian: Who are the rioters? Young men from poor areas ... but that's not the full story. The crowds involved in violence and looting are drawn from a complex mix of social and racial backgrounds.

Poverty is the key here. But I believe it's a case of how much others have, rather than what they don't have. We are witnessing the consequences of extreme wealth, privilege and rampant consumerism juxtaposed with poverty, under-privilege, and the demonisation of the working class - or, as certain segments of society would have it - the underclass. Rikki Beadle-Blair puts that argument forward here: "If I was a kid now, I would be the 'chav scum' that I keep reading and hearing about today."

Let's look at that glittering treasure trove Westfield - Europe's biggest shopping centre - an obscene cathedral of consumerism, shoehorned into Shepherd's Bush, an area riddled with deprivation. The poor can pour in from the nearby council estates and grimey terraces to press their noses up against the windows of Prada and D&G, gazing at all the things they can't have. Those pretty things are for the billionaire Russians and Arabs who call London (one of their) home(s), and the wealthier upwards of middle-class residents of nicer areas.

And let's not pretend this isn't anything to do with David Cameron's government of millionaire public schoolboys, lecturing us on making necessary cutbacks to fix the mess their banker chums made of the economy. The massive shutdown of youth schemes as part of those government cutbacks is key to this.

Cameron's bluechip white collar pals looted the economy, giving Cameron the opportunity to implement Tory ideology (CUT, CUT, CUT). Now, the kids at the bottom of the pile, faced with being left further and further behind as that rich/poor divide becomes a yawning chasm, are rampaging. They have no future, no hope, and don't care. London is a big playground, and the kids who have been told they can't do this and can't do that, are now doing it, and no one is stopping them.

Join the dots. In the recent past, MPs have been caught looting the public purse in an orgy of greed-fueled expenses claims. The News International saga uncovered a corrupt rot that ran through the Prime Minister, the police and journalists. No one has a hope in hell of owning their own home - or increasingly, even renting a home - unless they're reasonably wealthy. The Olympics - supposedly a leg-up for a deprived part of London and for youth in particular - is increasingly seen as exclusive, tickets going to corporate sponsors and foreigners. Trust in the institutions that are supposed to be the glue that holds society together has evaporated.

I'm afraid. I'm terrified that come Friday - as is rumoured - things are going to erupt in a big way, and that mass home invasions will be next. Is a firebomb going to come in my front window? Will a gang force their way into my home? It's far from impossible. But even with that threat hanging over my head, even with London now transformed into some extreme, lawless live action version of Grand Theft Auto, I know where the blame for all of this lies.

Do you?


Cup-o-Noodles said...

I hope you're staying safe!

Anonymous said...

Please could you make aware for everyone who reads your blog that theres someone on another forum who is stirring up trouble re the London riots; and theyr not even in England but the U.S.
On the Wonder Woman forum on Comic Book Resources, its lead moderator, who goes by the 'name' Aegisbearer, has been stoking up trouble on the forum. He has posted up a sign telling rioters how to avoid the police and how not to answer any questions if arrested. He is posting racial abuse in a [failed] attempt to cause trouble by saying only black people are rioting...this is clearly not true at all!
Please please please BOYCOTT the Wonder Woman forum on CBR until this individual is dealt with appropriately.
Thank you.

thegayte-keeper said...

I hope you have an underground bunker or something!

MOC Blog said...

It was interesting to see Cameron's emphasis on the "criminality" of the looters. I don't think he'd ever come out and say: "We've turned our backs on you and now we're wondering how and why this mess was created."

The police finally came clean and admitted that their initial response was woefully inadequate.

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