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.
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.
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."
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.
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.