I had a walk around London today. I guess you could call me a riot tourist. I'm not writing any stories about the protests — there are plenty of people doing a fine job in that area. I also don't think there's much need for a citizen journalist to be out on the streets following the trouble. People have been relaying what they've seen via Twitter and that information has been absorbed and then filtered by the media. There is no way in hell I would have gone out onto those streets by myself during the riots unless I was getting paid for it and I had a news org behind me. They weren't friendly people out there and a floppy-haired mug like me walking around would have been as easy target.
But still, I wanted to see what had happened to the city. It's been surreal here, almost like living in a movie. People in London have felt unsafe for a few days now. For some, getting to and from work has been like a military operation. There has been a large element of the unknown. People haven't known what will happen next and where it will happen. The police have been stretched beyond their limits and it's only now that more officers are on the streets holding it down.
The mood around the city may or may not have been more sombre than usual, I don't know. I personally felt rather jaded while I was out and about, but it wasn't as if there was a noticeable cloud hanging over people. Everyone was getting on with what they had to do. The visible scars from the riots are there in the shop windows and I noticed a lot of people stopping to stare at the broken glass, many taking photos with their camera phones.
The riot cleanup was a great idea, not because it was really needed to clean the streets up, but because it was a symbol of unity among the people of the city. It was a message to the rioters that they won't get the better of us. The cleanup went on all over the city and there were lots of people carrying brooms around. Clapham looked like a bomb had hit it. I overheard a young black woman say, "This is history in the making. I love it. Part of me wishes I'd been out there with them looting." Not everyone is disgusted by what's gone on.
A lot of people have been trying to justify what's been happening and frame it as part of a broader social struggle. It's not a struggle or a movement. It's opportunistic. These aren't good people who are doing this. You can try and justify it by looking at the deeper social context, but people can make a choice whether they decide to smash up a shop or not. They haven't been forced into it by society. They've made choices their whole lives, to stay in school or not, to get a job or not. I'm not saying that a simple choice would suddenly lead to a wealthy and prosperous life, but not every kid from a council estate will have chosen to rampage through London these past few days.
There was a breakdown of law and order that was capitalised upon by criminals who didn't differentiate between white and black, between local and multi-national. This wasn't about Mark Duggan. This wasn't about the government. This wasn't about the police. I didn't see any placards. I didn't see police stations targeted. I didn't see anyone at Milbank. I saw people at shops. I saw thugs robbing civilians. We can't let these people off the hook by blaming it all on society. Products of society we all may be, but we each have control over our actions.
I don't believe people are rioting because it makes them feel powerful. I think they're doing it because the opportunity is there and these are people who when presented with that opportunity will take it, while others wouldn't.
There was a chap shot dead during the riots in Croydon last night, not by the police, but by a criminal. Are we supposed to blame that shooting on society? Do we write it off as some kind of collective failure to give that murderer a brighter future?