I wasn’t going to write a post for a while, as I have 5000 words of copy due in tomorrow and I’m racing to finish it all. But with everything that’s been going on in the UK for the past few days, it’s hard to stay silent.
I was away for the weekend and busy for most of Monday, so I hadn’t watched TV, been on the internet or seen a newspaper for a few days. It wasn’t until Monday evening that I realised what was going on in London. Since then I have watched it spread across the country, slack jawed with astonishment that this can happen with such speed and such force.
My brother and his girlfriend live in Hackney. My bridesmaid C lives in Brixton and works in North Finchley. I have other friends in affected areas of London. Relatives from both sides of my family live in Birmingham and West Bromwich. There were riots five minutes from where I work here in Bristol. These events have touched everyone in the country, sadly some much more than others.
It worries me how quickly violence can flare. Whether it’s as a result of someone being shot, or something more trivial such as a hockey team losing a match, society and its self-imposed moral codes break down scarily, horrifically quickly. Grassroots protests are brilliant, and can bring about much needed and much wanted change. One of the best things about our country is our democratic right to protest about things we’re not happy with. But this is not a democratic process; this is mob rule, and it’s out of control.
A lot has been written about the riots and the reasons behind them. Some blame the government’s cuts to services, some blame a lack of discipline, some blame racial tensions and growing disenfranchisement amongst young people. There are problems in the country, and we can’t ignore them. I work in youth services, and I work in the arts, so I know first hand what it’s like to lose a significant chunk of your funding and to feel frustration about the short sightedness of government policies. On the other hand, we had serious financial problems and they needed to be dealt with.
In the UK there is inequality, and the gap between rich and poor is growing ever wider. Some people live in serious poverty, without hope that anything can ever change. This is not right, and I can see why people are growing tired of it.
But. But. But. Stealing from Foot Locker and Debenhams, and smashing up people’s cars, and burning down buildings and homes and possessions is violence for violence’s sake, and that’s what I can’t comprehend. I can see why people are frustrated and angry about how the world is run, but it’s clear that there is a minority taking advantage of a horrific situation and making it worse. Is all this really a reflection of people’s true feelings of disempowerment, or is it simply people ignoring any kind of morals and ethics they may have once had, and seeing it as an opportunity to get a new pair of trainers or a plasma TV, whilst trying to justify this behaviour as a ‘political statement’? How is robbing a Spar store and making off with twenty bottles of vodka going to help to change the government’s policies? How is burning down people’s homes and businesses going to tackle unemployment and child poverty?
What has also surprised me is the vitriol coming through people’s Twitter and Facebook feeds over the past few days. Words such as “chav” and “scum” have been bandied about with such casualness. Hatred towards the government and their response to the situation is also rife. Politicians are turning on each other; ideologies are clashing. There is so much ugliness and pain in the air right now that it’s hard to breathe.
On the flip side, there have been moments of such solidarity and such community spirit. The “riot wombles” cleaning up London’s streets. People collecting food and clothes for those made homeless by fires. The couple who made tea for the police guarding their street and serving it to them on riot shields. Sainsbury’s handing out Danish pastries to the volunteers.
I don’t have answers. I can only watch, incredulously, while buildings burn and people’s lives are destroyed. I am simultaneously horrified and proud to be British. It’s an odd feeling.