Thursday, August 11, 2011

This week in London

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.


Anonymous said...

I stand by what I believe in that the youngsters who committed these crimes should be given an option to either serve in Afghanistan for a year or go to prison. Our brave soldiers would much rather be at home with their families.

CJ xx

Cathy said...

The problem, CJ, is that the perpetrators were such a mixed bunch, it wasn't just kids. The causes are complex and I really hope that everything will be taken into consideration before there are knee jerk reactions by politicians that could make things worse. And to be honest, I wouldn't trust most of them to be capable of serving in the army, that requires dedication and skill..

catdownunder said...

Purrowling in from Miriam's blog to say hello - and London is my "home". I lived there as a student and have felt homesick for it ever since. I hate what is happening to it - and I can see Australia going the same way. We need to acknowledge that responsibilities are more important than rights.

Cathy said...

Welcome, catdownunder.

I hate the fact that the rest of the world is getting such an awful picture of London and other parts of the UK. Yes there are problems, longstanding and deeprooted, but as I watch my 19 year old go off to work on a holiday playscheme for children with special needs, I comfort myself with the fact that not all our young people are bad. There are many others striving to get an education, to go university and better themselves, but for what? A huge debt and no job prospects? And it is not their fault.