Generation terrorists

I haven’t been able to read much about this yet. Riot vans were charging south-east to Lewisham all yesterday afternoon, then the consumer revolution (where you take what you feel you deserve, and don’t pay) spread the other side of where I was, to Peckham. I headed north after work, uneventfully. Today the sirens haven’t stopped and there’s smoke in bits of the sky.

In Barkingside, Gems and – no! – the Co-op. Our inadequate high street may have saved us from the worst. Perhaps, I speculate, our tighter parenting traditions? At any rate, it’s lucky since Twitter says Barkingside police station is shut.

On the outbreak of looting and vandalism in London I have only wonderment. Why pound shops? Why Job Centres?  Not an uprising at the death of Mark Duggan, surely, with so much burning, trashing of small businesses and flats above shops, and carrying away of consumer goods. (To sell? To keep because we’re all entitled to a free flatscreen TV?). Really Grand Theft Auto? How young? How many? How covetous of expensive footwear? School children with time and no money, no holiday jobs, nowhere to go and nothing laid on for them (youth services cut)? Rites of passage? Competitive copy-cat action, for a story to tell? Why this shitting in their own back yards – because they are too young to grasp the consequences? It must be hard to keep a determined 16 year-old from going out…

There is a protest about policing and there is a much larger spasm of smashing and grabbing. Through the fog reaches Alex Wheatle writing in last night’s London Evening Standard. After condemning the looting and arson, he comments,

“There is a deep aggravation in the black community that despite the many deaths of young black men in police custody there has yet to be a conviction of any policeman or policewoman. Tensions heightened with the recent death of reggae artist Smiley Culture, who allegedly took his own life with a kitchen knife at his own home. Again, no one in the black community believes this account. In a similar response to the Smiley Culture controversy, the IPCC announced an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Duggan.

Many in the black community who I speak to have no faith in the IPCC and believe it is an investigative body that is not fit for purpose. Over the years we have seen investigation after investigation but no conviction.”

“Justice” was the chant in Brixton 30 years ago, “justice” was the chant in Brixton Town Hall at a public meeting following Smiley Culture’s death and I heard the same cry on Sunday morning on the streets of Tottenham.

Trust between the police and the black community has been painstakingly rebuilt since the Eighties. For example, I am now consulted by the City of London police on stop and search policy for ethnic minorities. That simply didn’t happen in the Eighties. In Brixton the community now enjoys the Summer Splash street festival that was initiated by local community leaders hand-in-hand with the police.

All this good intention and goodwill will be undone if young black people perceive the police as an institution that never has to account for its own criminality.”

Ballistics investigations will shed more light. Yesterday’s protest began with a bereaved family’s long wait outside a police station to see a senior officer, and became continuous with a long list of black people to meet unexplained deaths in police custody. Then it became a smash and grab by kids who clearly don’t understand that when you take from a pawn-brokers, burn down your local Post Office, and trash your local Job Centre, you hurt your poorest neighbours. I blame the two most recent governments above all, but it would be nice if parents felt some sense of responsibility and brought their children out in their new nikes and watches, to clean up.

Raiding and burning a modest business, or taking possession of a flat screen TV or pair of trainers you didn’t buy, or hurting police officers who arrive to keep the peace, has nothing to do with Mark Duggan’s death. Opportunism and getting carried away explains these things, but not the underlying mentality of the youthful smashers and plunderers, nor their supporters’.

Generation Terrorists in the Manic Street Preachers’ nihilistic debut album.


Update 2 – The World Tonight was very good. There was an interview with wined up looters which for me raised a possible link between Mark Duggan’s death  and the riots – “showing the police we can do what we want – and now we have”. Bonnie Greer wearily disillusioned those who like me are horrified by the parents – “These kids don’t live in a Dick and Jane world”, pointing to the win or lose world of television, calling on society to listen to the young people while prosecuting the criminals. And an interview with two young men from South London, who shake their heads about the rioters and the police, who mostly get it wrong.

The people who wrote the Spirit Level are right.


6 thoughts on “Generation terrorists

  1. I have had very similar thoughts so agree very much with your post. BBC News reporter just read out one of the BBM that went around yesterday: “pure terror & havoc & free stuff”. For me, that sums it up exactly. I feel angry – but I also feel terrorised, that’s the worst of it. They’re shitting in my back yard too, because I live here too.

    • It is your back yard and you have indeed been shat upon by your neighbours. Bonnie Greer was good on tonight’s World Tonight (BBC Radio 4). She explained a few things about those children. I wish she was here to talk to Kelvin MacKenzie who’s now going on about “vile people” and scumbags on Newsnight, and nothing about the causes of vile people and scumbags. I can’t remember where I read a quote of a looter saying “We’re getting our taxes back” and trying to repackage what was going on as a tax riot rather than a consumer goods uprising. I’ve been preparing nerdy restorative justice activities and a re-educative curriculum (involves discussing that documentary about what council tax does, The Street That Cut Everything, and The Pawnbroker – in my head all night.

      • I still haven’t seen that programme, must find it again. Kelvin MacKenzie is, to borrow from his own vocabulary, a scumbag, but that’s well known. Camila Batmanghelidjh on you and yours (!) R4 in the morning was good as well. Thoughtful, as opposed to all that invective spouted by so many others.

  2. A story in today’s guardian re shaping of political landscape, on Miliband: “He has asked all his staff to read The Spirit Level this summer, the book by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett that has become the bible of those who argue greater equality nourishes community.”
    Guess who just downloaded it onto her Kindle!
    I’m about to make a table that compares offence and sentences of MP expense fiddlers & participators in looting/ rioting. I may have been quite angry, but I fear that they’re not being proportionate & politically motivated. Arses! Will hassle you if I need help 🙂

  3. well i got this far today… It’s been helpful to me, only to check if i was naturally biased, but I think there is bias in sentencing, both unavoidable & culturally/ politically determined. And there has been a lot of knee-jerk authoritarian posturing in the last few days. Did you see Peter Oborne in the [*shudder*] Telegraph blog? Spot on, I thought & conveniently ignored by many of our politicians. He says what we’ve both been saying for years, that we should shame people who avoid paying taxes instead of celebrating them. Ah, in any case i wish you an uneventful weekend (nice and relaxing!)

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