The Greatest Injury is Fear: London Riots

by Anna Blanch on August 9, 2011


Sadly, this may be continuing for a fourth night. Though things are relatively quiet in London, with another car on fire in Croydon, it appears that Birmingham (west Bromwich and Wolverhampton) may be in for a rough night. I will be following this and this and this map from the Guardian. BBC is also great (check out Piers Morgan and Paul Lewis on Twitter) for well researched articles.


My heart is heavy.

It felt like London was burning last night. And it feels like, despite the massive property damage and damage to livelihoods, homes and those who were attacked, the greatest damage is psychological. When those within a community attack and destroy their own streets, and when an elderly woman is awakened in her own bed by young intruders dressed in black head to toe, the whole community suffers from the fear induced by these barely pubescent “attackers.” I’m not really going to begin to speculate why these “riots” have occurred, although I do commend to you this well written and thoughtful piece “Panic on the Streets of London” by Penny Laurie.

When these incidents of destructive behaviour began on Saturday night they followed on the heels of a peaceful protest in Tottenham following a questionable (and still being investigated) shooting of a local man by police. But since then there is no sense of “protest,” just violence, looting, criminal damage and destruction. (a screenshot of this map – You can read about how James Cridland compiled this map and the care he took to verify his sources)

The sheer breadth and density of the incidents recorded on the map above (a screenshot of this map) is daunting. But this wasn’t just a London city phenomenon. Taking the opportunity to draw upon the fear and chaos of the situation in London, Bristol and Birmingham saw violence.

I initially watch the live feed from BBC. But i was frustrated by the repetition and the lack of new information, so i turned to Twitter and found #londonriots to be a good source of links to up-to-date information, although it was also a little chaotic and included much commentary from people observing from outside london. Many people were calling for Army involvement as it was clear the police were stretched. There was very little criticism of the police or fire services.

I’m not convinced the Army should ever be involved in policing their own communities. When you put on camouflage you are not trained in riot control. You are trained to keep peace with way more force than you ever want in the streets of London. So grateful that there were no shots fired by police or tear gas even though many would have been unsuprised if they had taken that tack. It seems the attackers/rioters generally ranged in age between 13-26 – with large numbers of teenagers. It is possible that the sheer number of minors is one of the reasons the police were so restrained. The video taken by Sky New’s Mark Stone clearly shows young girls watching the rioters in Clapham.

I found that a combination of Sky News Live feed with the Twitter stream from #londonriots along with this local West London blog – The West Londoner – provided the best coverage. The West Londoner incorporated the best of independent journalism with social media (including lots of photo and video from the streets) and press releases from the Met Police, and Sky and BBC coverage. ITV was only good for perpetrating rumours after they published news of a man shot and killed in Croydon. It turned out it was non-fatal and it had nothing to do with the police.

There are plenty of locals who disagreed with what was happening last night. I was sent a link to this truly extraordinary speech by fearless West Indian woman in face of #Hackney rioters. It does come with a *language warning,* so keep that in mind. There were reports via Twitter of Asian youths in East London protecting their community and keeping rioters away, and Turkish shopkeepers in Dalston driving away rioters there. It is difficult to think about the need to protect your community with your own hands, but the police were unable to cover all the incidents as they kicked off across the capital.

I can’t help but be struck by the mindlessness of it all. Yesterday was John Stott’s funeral. And Nancy Wake, the war heroine of heroines, died. And many people in London had their businesses and homes ripped from them. Mobs attacking shops. Buildings and cars burn. The Sony Warehouse in Enfield, which is the distribution point for many independent labels and musicians, was burnt to the ground.There are real people affected by this mindless thuggery.

Real people. This moving photograph is of 89 year-old Aaron Biber, assessing the damage to his hairdressing salon after riots on Tottenham High Road on August 7, 2011. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

I’m hearing about locals gathering together to clean-up. There is talk of the need to reclaim London. I get the sense from Twitter and facebook friends in London that people are angry with the politicians, feel helpless and scared that police are not more able to keep on top of things (but do not blame them) and are confused, angry and bewildered at the damage, and malice of the rioters in the determination to steal, destroy and set fire to businesses and homes.

People are also aware of their own anger and sadness.

This is a difficult day. It will be a difficult week. Trust has also been broken between young people and these communities. This will take much time to be repaired if ever.

If you are so inclined. Pray.

Pray for peace. Pray for calm. Pray for the police to continue to walk a line between restraint and control.

It might be a bumpy few months. It’s definitely going to be a rough few days. Let’s just hope there are no more nights like that ever again.

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I’ll try and keep an updated list of ways people might be able to help:

Images: maps from various screenshots of this customized google map by James Cridland. Tweet @jamescridland with verifiable source please // . Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty

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  • preachersa2z

    Good to reflect on this Anna – and so very aware between my life here, and the lives of those in the areas affected. Been reflecting on it myself this morning – and the undue emphasis given (again!) to the role of social media. See "misinterpretation is trending":

  • bekah

    I'm in Alabama, US. Had no idea. I haven't seen this on the news. I do not understand.

    • Goannatree

      Bekah, we who are here and see it on the news do not understand. You are in good company. BBC world is your best bet for trying to track this (or anything international) stateside.

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  • bekah

    My heart aches for you all.

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