Thursday, 11 August 2011

London's Riots: Seven Days Later

A week is a long time in rioting. Last Thursday (4th August) at 6.15pm, I emerged from a cosy conference room in central London - about the same time as armed police confronted Mark Duggan in Tottenham Hale, 
   I checked my Blackberry phone for messages and thought about buying a doughnut. At about the same time, Mark Duggan reportedly sent a message from his Blackberry to his partner, saying: "I'm being followed by the Feds."
   Plied with coffee and cookies, I dodged the doughnut. Around about the same time, several miles away in a very different part of London, Mark Duggan caught two bullets. 

I walked along a quiet safe street, reflecting on a warning I'd just heard during the conference. A Hammersmith-based architect claimed local politicians in Hammersmith had "emaciated" and "demoralised" its own planning officers. "If this is a national policy, then it's very worrying," said the architect.
   Last week I thought the architect's warning carried some significance. But this morning, seven days on, after listening to a recording of that session, the professional conference-going folks with their earnest concerns seem an age and a world away - a small and now irrelevant 'before the riots' moment. 
   Since then, people across London and England have been killed, run down, attacked, shot, and forced to flee and leap from their burning homes with their children in their arms. Homes, shops and warehouses now stand only as ashes and cinders.

Mental map
In recent years, as regular readers will know, I’ve scampered a lot around London’s streets, reporting on this housing scheme, that property development, covering angry residents’ meetings and sleepy council meetings. I've interviewed local residents, shopkeepers, market traders, transport workers, police officers, social workers, architects, developers and planners. 
  As I've scuttled around London on these assignments, I've used my mental map to ensure I don't go into the wrong place at the wrong time. 
Occasionally, my mental map of London and street radar has failed me when, more by luck than judgement, I've only narrowly avoided being mugged and perhaps worse by groups of young opportunists. 
Since then, I've tried to add intelligence of their postcode gangs and their 'ends' to my own map, if only just to keep clear.

In writing this, I offer no grand moral or wise explanation. I'm merely reflecting that people living in parts of London have struggled to run their lives alongside the increasing presence of these young people and their gangs for several years. 
  In fact, as I write, 'holiticians' recalled from their holidays are debating the riots in the House of Commons. Thankfully, so far, politicians have refrained from instinctively indulging in a useless competition to see who can sound the most outraged. 
We might hope Parliament keeps this up but might say let's not hold our breath. Nevertheless, the question of why – the diagnosis – and what must be done – the long-term preventative cures – must be openly discussed if any lasting good can be extracted from the last seven days of mayhem. 

Paul Coleman, London, 2011

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