I first heard about the riots in Tottenham, in North London, on Sunday morning and thought little about them.
Demonstrators get out of hand all the time in London. Surely this was no different from any other public retaliation against the authorities.
On Monday morning, I heard about devastating fires in South London, too. The violence was clearly spreading throughout the city and it appeared this was no ordinary protest.
On Monday evening, I sat up late into the night watching live news feeds from the BBC and local newspapers, whose reporters could hardly keep up with the thousands of youths ransacking neighbourhoods all over London.
With the rioters’ extraordinary movements overwhelming the news providers, social media platforms Facebook and Twitter became the most efficient way of keeping up with the chaos.
That’s where I saw multiple reports that The Electric Ballroom had gone up in flames. The popular dance venue in Camden is just around the corner from me, so the post had me digging for more information.
At 3 a.m., as I listened to the umpteenth siren fly past my flat and heard the nearby hum of a helicopter overhead, I was convinced that I would have to fashion armour out of my kitchen pots and gather an army of neighbours to protect our homes from a relentless pack of feral youths.
Then I finally wore myself out with worry and fell asleep, only to wake up on Tuesday morning with everything as I had left it. The news reports throughout the day confirmed a few of the stories that had been going around on Monday night, but they also put a lot of rumours to rest.
Although the riots were uncomely, the worst of the damage was contained to a few suburban areas and hundreds of volunteers have come forward to help clean up and repair those areas. The worst thing these young people have done is make their neighbours withdraw from them, tainting their reputations and muddying their futures.
What is especially shocking about this week’s events is the uncertain motivation behind them. One notable clip from the BBC shows two girls drinking from a looted bottle of wine while discussing the riots and their purpose.
“It’s the government’s fault. Conservatives,” one girl said. The other added: “Yeah. Whatever who it is. I don’t know.”
The girls then went on to say how the riots were proving to the police that they could do what they want. They also blamed it on “the rich people.”
It sounds to me like they’d blame each other if they could. I hope I never live in a society designed by those two.
Other rioters have been recorded saying it was about the taxes they paid and getting their money back.
I doubt many of these kids who can be out all night bullying residents, trashing buildings and stealing from shops go to work the next day and sign away large chunks of their income to the government. Many of them come from a benefits scheme and are in fact living in social housing with weekly income coming from their councils rather than any substantial employment. So the individuals retaliating against taxes ought to do a little more research about how their own lifestyles are made possible.
In any case, it is clear that there is no justified purpose for their actions beyond the desire to take things for free. One source on Twitter aptly said: “The youth of the Middle East rise up for basic freedoms. The youth of London rise up for a HD ready 42’ plasma TV.”
And what about Mark Duggan’s death? That tragic incident on Thursday, Aug. 4, has long been forgotten in this heated drama. Not a single rioter has come forward to defend Duggan or indicate that his death was the reason for their actions.
So like a distant memory already, rioters have tired out and gone home (and many of them to prison or court). Londoners are beginning to relax and focus now on victims of the violence and repairing the damage caused.
With the Olympics just a year away and the world keeping a close eye on Britain’s capital, we must endeavour to understand the greater issues at stake and take preventive measures to ensure these events are not repeated.
Higher tuition fees and fewer jobs mean young people might well feel neglected in today’s world. Plus the benefits scheme has served to appease people who are struggling to get work, with the disastrous consequence of endorsing complacency.
If people can get by with doing nothing, why bother doing anything at all? Better yet, why work for the goods you desire if you can steal them?
It’s not healthy but many of Britain’s young people have become accustomed to their low output lifestyles.
So what is needed are drastic changes to pull back on benefits, improve state schooling and encourage healthy competition among the low-income communities. Surely there is some unnurtured talent there that could be put to better use than it has been this week.
Perhaps the first step is taking away those smartphones used to co-ordinate the riots — I can’t afford one and I am working, so how is it the government is willing to recognize a flashy phone as a basic necessity for the unemployed?
Brit Kennedy grew up in Red Deer and graduated from Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School. She attended university in Scotland and is now living and working in London, England.