Tuesday, 9 August 2011

London Burns and the Bleeding Hearts Weep

I am a Londoner, born and bred. I was fortunate enough to live in an affluent area of North West London, where trees line the streets, with a large park nearby. I went to good schools, I had two loving parents who encouraged me without judgement and pushed me to achieve. My love of books, politics and history was grown out of the passion I saw in my parents, my teachers, my friends, my neighbours. Not everyone is as fortunate. There were kids at my school/college/work with far less pleasant home lives, with absent parents, and who had to live on estates where getting stabbed (or worse) was a genuine risk, where drugs were rife, where opportunities were scarce. I won't pretend to know what that's like, because I couldn't even come close. My own family come from a poor background, and it's my parents that got themselves out of it through hard work and determination. I am well aware of my privilege, of the sheer chance that meant I was born into reasonable wealth and comfort. But I have always been reminded how precarious it is, what being poor means, I am reminded of the reality of having to choose if you feed yourself or your child. Being poor does not make people riot. It does not force people to commit arson, and criminal damage. I beseech everyone to stop making excuses for the criminals besetting my fair city. Because they don't understand poverty, and have no desire to. All they understand is greed, entitlement, fear, and arrogance.

Lies are being told abroad and here about what has happened the last few days, with many trying to suggest that all of this is due to police brutality and endemic racism, in the same way as riots of the past have been. What actually happened is a young man called Mark Duggan was killed last Thursday by police, and the investigation is continuing into what happened. The story goes he had a gun, and the police fired on him, possibly after he shot at them. However latest news from the inquiry is disputing that he fired at all but we will have to wait and see what they find out. Understandably the family want answers and it seems that they were not kept in the loop by the police. So on Saturday they and a small group of supported protested outside their local Police Station in Tottenham. The police stupidly didn't come out to answer their questions, but on the other hand they can't say much when a shooting is being investigated. I doubt they would have behaved that way had it been a white family, but that's just my opinion. Then a long while after the protest started more people began to join them, but these new additions to the protests became far more violent as the night went on. They began to destroy property, to burn and smash. Looting started, and I suspect this was people who had come for that precise purpose. It started out as a genuine and deserved shout for answers for the death of a man, and was corrupted into a free for all. The violence on Sunday was a continuation of this, but on a smaller scale. Then Monday night came and the game changed entirely. These were not the young adults who were out at the weekend; these were children and teens, with nothing better to do, and they ravaged London. Some other groups of teens and young people came out in other areas of the UK and tried to do the same. But London saw the worst of the violence.

I no longer live in London, but I'm nearby in the county of Essex. It's a small matter of a train ride to get there from these London boroughs that have been attacked, and I have friends and my parents still in London so this feels far too close for comfort. I've seen images of places I know well burning and smashed up, filling me with fear and anger at what is being done to my city. But not once have I felt sympathy or understanding for those doing it. I know these people, I have had to serve and help people like that when I worked in C.E.X., a second-hand games and DVD company. I had to hold my tongue when they shouted at me, I had to keep my cool when they spat in the shop, when they stole stock, when they strutted in and expected you to fawn over them. I have had to cross roads to avoid them when they hang around in groups on the street, in case they should start anything for no reason other than me being 'in their space'. And, if any of you think I'm talking about just one colour of person, I'm not; I've had this from all colour of peoples. This attitude is spread throughout a certain type of "underclass" and it crosses all boundaries of religion, creed or colour. The things they actually have in common are; they are young; they think they're owed by everyone; they're ignorant; they're arrogant; and most of all, they have absolutely no respect for anyone, including themselves. They think fear equals respect, and have no idea how to get it by any other means.

Where does this total lack of human decency, of sense come from? The bleeding hearts have been loud about under representation, police racism and oppression, forgotten communities, unfair media portrayals, the growing gap in rich and poor etc. And these points are all relevant and worthy subjects to discuss and should be looked at hard by those in power and society at large. But they have little to do with the violence on English streets right now. The causes are many and no one with any sense would claim to have all the answers. But the culture that results in this total absence of compassion has, in my opinion, predominantly been caused by those same bleeding hearts. For years they and their ilk have explained that it isn't peoples' fault how they behave, it's society, it's the government, for not providing for them, for failing them. They are the ones who have contributed massively to a sense of entitlement, a feeling of dissatisfaction, a sense of "what about me?". They have caused parents, when they're present, to not take their children in hand, to not discipline them, because after all, it's someone else's job to do that (not to mention that parents and teachers options in disciplining have been curtailed by these same politically correct attitudes). It's society's responsibility, not theirs. The constant victimisation of poor people, of "vulnerable families" has played a large part in creating a culture of apathy, of ignorance and of selfishness. It's also an insult to every single hard working, decent family who otherwise tick all the "vulnerable" boxes.

We have to stop making excuses for people. It does not mean we can't discuss and improve problems. But we must stop giving thugs and criminals excuses for their actions (the funniest I saw was a girl stealing from Curries saying she was getting her taxes back. Wtf?). This isn't about Mark Duggan, or justice or fairness. I don't think the people doing it even know why they're doing it beyond "I can so I will". And the worst part is most of the people involved are not actually going out there to hurt anyone; they're just opportunists. They went to town centres and hung around, to watch what was going to happen. I saw it myself on the way home; loads of kids, waiting to see what would occur, but not prepared to start anything themselves. Then, with the audience in place, the real losers arose and started to hurt and destroy, with an army behind them ready to help and join in.

The results of this are both obvious and insidious. Apart from the sheer destruction and lost goods, families have lost their livelihoods when their shops burn down. At a time of economic hardship for businesses and people, the results of this won't be understood for some time. But there is another, darker result to this; these young people, these children who have commited these acts of violence risk undoing all the good work of race relations of the last twenty years. The fact is most of the images on TV and in the papers are of young black men committing these crimes. People will forget all the other hues of skin that were in there too, and sadly the media in general will encourage that. Many will see this as valid justifaction for their bigotry. One Hackney resident said it best, and expresses in a minute what a lot of London is thinking:

I don't know what's going to happen tonight. Parts of Manchester are apparently under attack as I type and there are a tonne more police on the streets then there have been so far. That will either make things quiet or will cause World War III to start. I'm at once frightened and furious; these losers do not represent London or the United Kingdom, they do not represent the black community, they do not represent an angry dissafected youth. They are just nasty, in a few cases evil, individuals, with a lot of hangers on waiting for a chance to steal stuff. A far better and accurate image of Londoners is the wonderful RiotCleanup group, the people getting together to clean up the streets, to show that we will not be destroyed by these scumbags, and they come from every walk of life. The Wombles have spread and are showing why I love this city and the people in it.

Stay safe and keep your loved ones in mind UK. I only hope this madness will end soon and those responsible will be punished to the full extent of the law.


  1. Brilliantly written.

    'The things they actually have in common are; they are young; they think they're owed by everyone; they're ignorant; they're arrogant; and most of all, they have absolutely no respect for anyone, including themselves. They think fear equals respect, and have no idea how to get it by any other means.'

    is what I've been trying to describe when I talk about how these teenagers tend to put the fear of god into me on a bus late at night but haven't been able to explain.

  2. Thanks Dianne; I think a lot of people feel that way when they find themselves alone and surrounded by a group of these teens - they might leave you alone, but their verbal and body language is so aggressive it's hard to not think the worst.

    Also found this great post from Christopher Fowler, who adds elements I forgot to include above. http://www.christopherfowler.co.uk/blog/2011/08/10/the-riot-of-the-dysfunctional/

  3. Okay, here goes ...

    Of course I agree with most of what you've written. It's seriously misguided to think we can excuse this behaviour, or attempt to have it justified. Any justification will fail on the numbers - for every looter from an under privileged background, subject to the same limited opportunities they'll claim led them to act this way, there will be dozens of others in exactly the same situation who haven't looted. If we were to believe that one set have been inevitably led to this action, then all would need to follow suit.

    And that's evidently not the case.

    Of course, most are mere sheep, lacking the wit or understanding to make their own path in life, so taking the easy options ... follow the herd. By like your 'pack' and 'belong'. It's the affiliation with gangs that leads to this mentality, and occurs when people have no clear role models to follow. When the parents cannot provide this, it's typical to be found from a strong, respected school teacher; if not that, then a peer group or siblings. When all these fail to provide a role model, even then, sometimes one will be found from fiction, from the media, from religion, wherever ... however nowadays, we're dealing with 'second generation' disaffection ... the children of those cast adrift by the Thatcher years, guided by teaching and parenting too closely controlled in how they can 'parent', with a popular media concerned most with what is "of interest to the public" rather than with the "public interest".


  4. (...cont'd)

    If I am to single out a primary cause I think it is within the shrinking world, and the constant bombardment by marketing aimed at young people, telling them how they should live, and highlighting that material wealth equals 'success'. Nowadays it's not enough to have a mobile phone; you must have a new one every year. It's not enough to have new clothes; you need new ones for every fashion, every mood, every moment. You must have 'new' and 'more' all the time to be worthy.

    There was an interesting local news item a few weeks back. They said that two generations ago, a child would go out and play (unsupervised) in a 10 mile radius of their home; last generation it was a 3 mile radius; this generation - their home street. Whatever this might say about our young, I think more interesting would have been to compare the adult "world-size" over similar times. I'm sure we would have seen that two generations ago, that circle would have only increased to 20-30 miles, with the occasional trip to the (local) coast; last generation, a few hundred miles with occasional trips abroad. And now? We're all expected to holiday abroad, travel widely, and even when we physically don't the entire world is at our fingertips, either by way of television or the internet. My point being that 75 years ago I had a narrower perception of what a life could be; my aspirations were set lower, and more realistic. Even if they weren't that fanciful, in general there was a chance I could achieve them. I don't really mean simply that "I knew my place", there was 'social mobility' but people were realistic. They recognised what they had, knew that better was possible, and felt that with hard work they could bridge the gap. Now, we force pictures of unrealistic achievement at people ("you can be the next big thing, the next pop star, chef, footballer" "you should be earning £50k/wk" "you should be living like Beckham, Rooney, ...") but never let on that there's almost no chance whatsoever of achieving those goals. This is no excuse; but it's a reason, and I think a big one.


  5. (...cont'd)

    To enforce my point, there are (sadly) many teenage girls desperately trying to achieve some "size zero" figure - unhealthy, crazy and stupid though it is. Now, this is no doubt caused to a great extent by 'pressure' (all pressure of course is from within) from both their peers, but driven by a constant stream of images targeted at them of unrealistic body shapes, but essentially saying "you're not right if you don't look like this". And we (rightly?) sympathise with those who suffer terribly when trying to match these ideals ... no-one condemns anorexic girls for not eating. And I'm fairly certain that this illness did not exist 100 years ago. It's a modern sickness brought on by society. I also think it's predominantly a female illness. Now, if we're going to sympathise with this group of people because of what they feel they need to do in order to be accepted/fit in, shouldn't we also sympathise with this other class of people who are also prey to these constant images of who and what they should be? Is it the same thing?

    Both things are crazy. We should be demanding that irresponsible marketing be banned, in all of its forms. I recall my mother rolling her eyes and complaining when toy commercials would appear on TV in December, because she knew she'd then be under constant nagging from us for those toys ... now it's all year round, and more insidious, more sophisticated, more pervasive.

    No excuses, but we need to stop telling everyone that they are 'wrong' and need to change to be a member of society, or we end up with a society where nobody seems to fit the ideal portrayed, other than a few people who don't represent the norm.

    But, yes, this is just looting, and "having a laugh" just 'cos'; and that's about as deep as their thinking is going.

    (written in a soft Scottish burr)

  6. Thanks for the epic post Mike! :)

    It's true, the constant barrage of meaning through the goods you own, rather than through your actions is a serious problem and is definitely a factor in feral losers like this valuing "things" over people; aptly demonstrated with the fact they looted before burning the shops/homes down once they got what they wanted.

    I personally think anorexia is a slightly different issue, as it's a mental illness that is at the heart of that, though it is made worse with the media's constant unrealistic images. But I think a lot of anorexics would still be anorexics even without the images. Would so many of the people we've seen destroying the streets be doing this if we had a non-consumerist society? Hard to tell... Certainly the message of "why should you wait for the things your want, you can have it now with store credit" is also not a helpful one, and the long term results of that mentality are clear in the "gimme, gimme" attitude of a lot of the criminals we've seen on the streets these last few days.

  7. Thank you for that perspective on the events that many of us here in America find baffling.