*sigh* People, let’s talk about this UK riot situation.
I know, I know. It was a whole week ago, now. Aaaages ago. But, in the grand tradition of CP time…here we go.
First, the factual, woman on the street stuff. I’m bad at that, so I’m going to send you here, to Spinster’s Compass, where a fellow expat(and ‘net friend) breaks down the aftermath of the London riots in pictures and video interviews. Very well done, and worth a look.
Once you take a look at that, then we need to talk. I don’t do facts, remember? I do opinion and feeling and spirituality with a couple of facts thrown in. So let’s lay this all out.
Tuesday afternoon, amid all the news of unrest in London, I went to my new job. (*pats self on back*) I work mid-evenings in Manchester city centre, less than 5 minutes walk from Manchester Piccadilly Gardens. When I went to work at about 4, it was gorgeous out. I walked through the high street, checking out the happy people, shining sun, random buskers, and thought to myself…nothing’s going to kick off here. Look at all the happy people! Just check out that smilingly pre-emptive police presence!
Wishful thinking on my part.
By 7 o’clock we could hear sirens at work.
At 7:30 we could see flames coming from the high street…two blocks away.
8:00 they told everybody to go home.
All of the public transportation in and out of the city centre had been shut down, so a friend offered to come pick me up. I took her up on the offer because the minute I stepped into the street, there were huge groups of teenagers in hoods blocking both ends of the street I work on. There were riot vans and sirens. The grocery store and a clothing store on the main facing street were being broken into and the clothing store had been set on fire as well.
One of my former kids(I used to be a youth worker) was live-tweeting and face-booking pictures and video and so on. To her credit, she wasn’t involved in any of the chaos, but had friends who were stuck in the city centre who couldn’t get home because of the transport cancellations and was simply passing on what they were sending to her. I messaged her and told her to quit playing Barbara Walters(her response: “Who?”) before she got in trouble. Then I hopped in my friends car and we drove away.
On the way home, my phone, fb, twitter were all blowing up with people asking how I was and telling me to leave work and get away from the craziness. To be honest, at that point I wasn’t worried about my personal safety. Yes, there were packs of dangerous looking people roaming the streets. Yes, there were sirens, and fire, and broken glass, and lots and lots of panicking police officers. But not a single one of those people seemed to be all that interested in…well, other people. The focus was on getting to the stores and standing around in packs. Me and a frightened co-worker literally walked into a pack of teenaged boys trying to leave our office building. We actually had no choice but to walk with/near them as we were leaving the office and they didn’t acknowledge us once.
On the way out of the city centre, I saw a group of young boys trying(and failing, thank God) to firebomb a JD Sports while we were stopped at a red light. I called 999(the UK equivalent of 911) and got an answerphone message saying “The GMP is currently experiencing a high call volume…please try again.” I tried again. I got a very bored-sounding operator who re-routed me…I said, “You must be getting a lot of calls…?”. He said, “Yeah, what do you think?”
Talk about service with a smile.
I went home and did what I seem to do well, if not best. I plugged into the news. Articles, message boards, blogs, twitter, all with the hum of BBC in the background.
I saw a group of Sikhs protecting a London gurduwara, and felt proud. I’m not Sikh, but I love to see people uniting to protect holy spaces.
I read(and later heard) the chaplain at the BBC Media City in nearby Salford describe her experience watching mothers send small children into stores with bags and looting instructions because kids can’t be arrested, and my heart broke, just a little.
I read this guys’s blog post from Birmingham, and was impressed by the sympathy and compassion within…all without excusing deplorable behaviour.
I saw this terrible video of a Malaysian student being mugged by “good Samaritans”;
…and felt sick.
I heard how the police were stretched really thin, and the country is backlashing against all of the budget and service cuts, and the young people are simply protesting a lack of ambition. I heard that this is just the tail-end of a revolution beginning with bad bankers and student tuition rise protests. I heard people who are supposed to be far more intelligent and better resourced than me blame this unrest on everything up to and including liberalism, race, racism, rap music, Ramadan, and poor nutrition. I began to pray–not knowing what I was really praying for–because something about this little historical curl wasn’t turning all the way over for me. Amid all of the frustration and anger and horror and sadness being expressed all over the country–there was something missing. I felt like I was failing to notice something.
Then I saw this video;
…and suddenly it all fell into place for me.
People, these weren’t riots. This is not a revolution. This wasn’t protest, this wasn’t political, this wasn’t the response of a disenfranchised youth to political oppression or unfairness. This wasn’t caused by the pervasive influence of rap culture(which isn’t all that pervasive, here…more on that another time), genuine poverty, poor race relations(although they are…once again, another time), or little green men from Mars. These weren’t riots.
This was just theft in large groups.
Now, to clarify, I’m talking about the nationwide “rioting” that occurred. From what I can tell, some of the events of the first night in London were true riots. Frustrated people in negative circumstances and lots of bad history blew up like a poetic dream deferred. I get that. I’m not taking away from the shock and severity of what happened to Mark Duggan. I understand that there are problems, real problems, that need to be addressed. I also understand that people lost everything, and that there are parts of London that have been gutted by flame and destruction.
I’m just saying, that 99% of what happened last week in this entire country wasn’t actually riots. It was just group-induced theft and stupid accidents. There were windows broken, there was property damage, there were the lamentable deaths of three men in Birmingham. But mostly, there were just selfish, frustrated, foolish sheeple wandering in groups stealing things because they could and destroying things whenever they couldn’t. Not because they need them. Not because their children might genuinely starve or freeze to death or be taken away without them. Not because that stolen pair of trainers means the difference between life and death. Not because it’s an effective way to get hospital services and art centres and lower tuition back. Not because it’s the only way to get a tyrannical government to pay attention and change things.
But just because they could.
Egypt needs to come over here and kick the UK’s ass.
Now, to be fair, Manchester was probably one of the least dramatic scenes of chaos last week. Maybe I’m being harsh. Maybe I’m minimizing a serious situation. Maybe I just don’t get it.
But then again, maybe I went back to work the next day. Maybe there were police everywhere, a few boarded windows, and a few tense people in the office. Maybe some of my Carribbean and Asian neighbors were talking about sending their kids away for the rest of the summer to see family in other countries like they always do, because they’re frightened by the desperate moral degeneracy that sometimes seems to be the name of the game here and want their kids to learn some old-fashioned values to go along with the freedom and individualism that England allows.
Maybe I signed up for a clean up crew the day after the Manchester unrest only to be texted not to come because the council had done most of the cleaning overnight. Maybe now, less than a week later, things have quieted down almost totally and people are already acting like nothing happened. Maybe because of that, there’s already criticism that the court sentences for “rioters” were too severe.
And maybe, just maybe…all this governmental talk of evicting rioters from their homes, and focusing on troubled families(which seems to be the same group of people….), and gang task forces and curfews and politics and trolitics…is just that.
There’s no severity here. This was not an outpouring of lawlessness from a broken people desperate for change with no other options. This was not a revolution! This was a spoiled child’s temper tantrum. And like a child’s tantrum, it can be dealt with in three ways. It can be ignored. It can be harshly corrected. Or it can be indulged.
I have no idea which of those should be done. This whole thing is just stupid. Sad, and stupid, and utterly unnecessary.
England seems to think they were doing this…
But really needs to hear this…
Peace, y’all. (For as long as it lasts, I guess.)