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<nettime> Penny Red: Panic on the streets of London
Patrice Riemens on Tue, 9 Aug 2011 18:47:51 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Penny Red: Panic on the streets of London

Glued to the Beeb as I have been the last few days, I do have my opinions
on the origins and consequences of, tag "Anarchy in the UK" happening
right now, and I triggered a discussion on that subject on the INURA list,
where I found ref to this text, which I think is most worthwhile. So no
substantial comment for now (it may come), but just going for one of the
purposes of this list: text filtering.

Cheers, patrizio & Diiiinooos!


Original to:
(do check it out for background & more!)

Penny Red
Panic on the streets of London.
Posted August 9, 2011

I?m huddled in the front room with some shell-shocked friends, watching my
city burn. The BBC is interchanging footage of blazing cars and running
street battles in Hackney, of police horses lining up in Lewisham, of
roiling infernos that were once shops and houses in Croydon and in
Peckham. Last night, Enfield, Walthamstow, Brixton and Wood Green were
looted; there have been hundreds of arrests and dozens of serious
injuries, and it will be a miracle if nobody dies tonight. This is the
third consecutive night of rioting in London, and the disorder has now
spread to Leeds, Liverpool, Bristol and Birmingham. Politicians and police
officers who only hours ago were making stony-faced statements about
criminality are now simply begging the young people of Britain?s inner
cities to go home. Britain is a tinderbox, and on Friday, somebody lit a
match. How the hell did this happen? And what are we going to do now?

In the scramble to comprehend the riots, every single commentator has
opened with a ritual condemnation of the violence, as if it were in any
doubt that arson, muggings and lootings are ugly occurrences. That much
should be obvious to anyone who is watching Croydon burn down on the BBC
right now. David Lammy, MP for Tottenham, called the disorder 'mindless,
mindless'. Nick Clegg denounced it as 'needless, opportunistic theft and
violence'. Speaking from his Tuscan holiday villa, Prime Minister David
Cameron ? who has finally decided to return home to take charge - declared
simply that the social unrest searing through the poorest boroughs in the
country was "utterly unacceptable." The violence on the streets is being
dismissed as ?pure criminality,? as the work of a ?violent minority?, as
?opportunism.? This is madly insufficient. It is no way to talk about
viral civil unrest. Angry young people with nothing to do and little to
lose are turning on their own communities, and they cannot be stopped, and
they know it. Tonight, in one of the greatest cities in the world, society
is ripping itself apart.

Violence is rarely mindless. The politics of a burning building, a
smashed-in shop or a young man shot by police may be obscured even to
those who lit the rags or fired the gun, but the politics are there.
Unquestionably there is far, far more to these riots than the death of
Mark Duggan, whose shooting sparked off the unrest on Saturday, when two
police cars were set alight after a five-hour vigil at Tottenham police
station. A peaceful protest over the death of a man at police hands, in a
community where locals have been given every reason to mistrust the forces
of law and order, is one sort of political statement. Raiding shops for
technology and trainers that cost ten times as much as the benefits you?re
no longer entitled to is another. A co-ordinated, viral wave of civil
unrest across the poorest boroughs of Britain, with young people coming
from across the capital and the country to battle the police, is another.

Months of conjecture will follow these riots. Already, the internet is
teeming with racist vitriol and wild speculation. The truth is that very
few people know why this is happening. They don?t know, because they were
not watching these communities. Nobody has been watching Tottenham since
the television cameras drifted away after the Broadwater Farm riots of
1985. Most of the people who will be writing, speaking and pontificating
about the disorder this weekend have absolutely no idea what it is like to
grow up in a community where there are no jobs, no space to live or move,
and the police are on the streets stopping-and-searching you as you come
home from school. The people who do will be waking up this week in the
sure and certain knowledge that after decades of being ignored and
marginalised and harassed by the police, after months of seeing any
conceivable hope of a better future confiscated, they are finally on the
news. In one NBC report, a young man in Tottenham was asked if rioting
really achieved anything:

"Yes," said the young man. "You wouldn't be talking to me now if we didn't
riot, would you?"

"Two months ago we marched to Scotland Yard, more than 2,000 of us, all
blacks, and it was peaceful and calm and you know what? Not a word in the
press. Last night a bit of rioting and looting and look around you."

Eavesdropping from among the onlookers, I looked around. A dozen TV crews
and newspaper reporters interviewing the young men everywhere ???

There are communities all over the country that nobody paid attention to
unless there had recently been a riot or a murdered child. Well, they?re
paying attention now.

Tonight in London, social order and the rule of law have broken down
entirely. The city has been brought to a standstill; it is not safe to go
out onto the streets, and where I am in Holloway, the violence is coming
closer. As I write, the looting and arson attacks have spread to at least
fifty different areas across the UK, including dozens in London, and
communities are now turning on each other, with the Guardian reporting on
rival gangs forming battle lines. It has become clear to the
disenfranchised young people of Britain, who feel that they have no stake
in society and nothing to lose, that they can do what they like tonight,
and the police are utterly unable to stop them. That is what riots are all

Riots are about power, and they are about catharsis. They are not about
poor parenting, or youth services being cut, or any of the other snap
explanations that media pundits have been trotting out: structural
inequalities, as a friend of mine remarked today, are not solved by a few
pool tables. People riot because it makes them feel powerful, even if only
for a night. People riot because they have spent their whole lives being
told that they are good for nothing, and they realise that together they
can do anything ? literally, anything at all. People to whom respect has
never been shown riot because they feel they have little reason to show
respect themselves, and it spreads like fire on a warm summer night. And
now people have lost their homes, and the country is tearing itself apart.

Noone expected this. The so-called leaders who have taken three solid days
to return from their foreign holidays to a country in flames did not
anticipate this. The people running Britain had absolutely no clue how
desperate things had become. They thought that after thirty years of
soaring inequality, in the middle of a recession, they could take away the
last little things that gave people hope, the benefits, the jobs, the
possibility of higher education, the support structures, and nothing would
happen. They were wrong. And now my city is burning, and it will continue
to burn until we stop the blanket condemnations and blind conjecture and
try to understand just what has brought viral civil unrest to Britain. Let
me give you a hint: it ain?t Twitter.

I?m stuck in the house, now, with rioting going on just down the road in
Chalk Farm. Ealing and Clapham and Dalston are being trashed. Journalists
are being mugged and beaten in the streets, and the riot cops are in
retreat where they have appeared at all. Police stations are being set
alight all over the country. This morning, as the smoke begins to clear,
those of us who can sleep will wake up to a country in chaos. We will wake
up to fear, and to racism, and to condemnation on left and right, none of
which will stop this happening again, as the prospect of a second stock
market clash teeters terrifyingly at the bottom of the news reports. Now
is the time when we make our choices. Now is the time when we decide
whether to descend into hate, or to put prejudice aside and work together.
Now is the time when we decide what sort of country it is that we want to
live in. Follow the #riotcleanup hashtag on Twitter. And take care of one

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