I've lived in London for nearly 30 years and this week, for probably the first time, I was ashamed of my adopted city.
I'm sure there will continue to be be many inquests about what happened and why, but nothing can excuse the behaviour we've all witnessed in the media. The furniture store in Croydon, owned by the same family for nearly 150 years, razed to the ground. Young men clambering over roofs in Peckham (I believe). Not, as I first thought, to vandalise the buildings but to escape a ferocious fire raging in a shop below. A woman jumping from a window to escape flames. A young student, recently arrived in this country, physically attacked but then mugged by men who seemed to be offering him assistance. The video went viral but I find it just too distressing to offer a link. Looters stripping stores bare and running off with expensive trainers and electrical goods. Small shopkeepers staring at the wreckage of their livelihoods in tearful disbelief, families left homeless.
My husband worked in Camden for many years and we've both lived in Hackney. We know those boroughs well. Their quirky charm comes along with all the usual problems of inner city areas, but we've seen nothing on this scale before. The police seemed to be initially caught off guard when trouble kicked off in Tottenham and there was a total lack of political leadership in London for a few days. It is truly scary and saddening that the violence and looting spread so quickly to other areas and other cities in apparent copycat actions.
But some good has come out of it. The subsequent use of social media, not to incite riot but to organise clean-up operations, was impressive. Communities are pulling together and, thank goodness, the race card is not being played much. Perhaps the most impressive and moving response so far was the dignified speech yesterday by Tariq Jahan the father of one of the young men fatally mowed down whilst protecting their community in Birmingham.
Here in our borough there was heavy policing from Monday evening onwards. Shops and leisure destinations were closed early and I believe the main tube station was shut for a while. Any attempts at causing trouble in the town centre were peacefully repelled. We've had a lucky escape so far but the week has left a very nasty taste and an undercurrent of fear.