(This started as a food post, where I was going to share my recipes from the dinner I cooked for friends over the evening of the London riots and the evening after where we stayed in doors for fear of one. It became something else and I thought I would post it anyway)
I arrived back from Dubai on Monday evening extremely tired and happy to be home. I wandered slowly through the streets of Dalston, jetlag dragging on my limbs like deep pools of treacle, noting quickly the intense sirens and many helicopters. A quick browse of twitter and I discovered that London was up in arms and there were riots happening and brewing.
Living in East London, a lot of it was happening on my doorstep, although, thankfully not actually so. We could hear everything and stayed vigilant but as we live in a residential area with no shops or restaurants to loot, they didn’t trouble us. I followed poor Uyen’s trauma over twitter, hoping she would be ok with a car on fire outside her flat in Hackney. Thankfully they moved on and she was fine.
Remarkably, the local Turkish community defended their property and the rest of us, driving out the rioters. The Bangladeshi community in Brick Lane did the same and the Greek community in North London – do watch this great video on the Guardian.
I read many heartbreaking tweets from friends. One told of how in her local Hackney shop, she watched an elderly shopkeeper as he was told by two youths that they would burn down his shop that night. With tears in his eyes he graciously served them. I do hope his shop survived. Another friend tweeted of the fireman he found weeping in a nearby park.
Elsewhere, restaurants were vandalised and invaded with a mass mugging by looters at London favorite The Ledbury. Rioters took jewellery, wallets and mobile phones from diners before being chased out by chefs brandishing knives. I read first about it when a chef, Harry Wilkinson, whose parents were dining there told him and he tweeted it, then when one of the chefs, Isaac McHale, confirmed it on twitter himself. Touchingly, many regular customers turned up the next day offering to clean up. The Ledbury refused to close the next day too, bravely opening their doors to the public.
Most shops and restaurants closed but some, resilient, stayed open. I suspected things might stay calm yesterday but just in case, stocked up. Instead of riots, the reality yesterday in Dalston was that it was a gentle, calm and sunny evening, and there were no riots at all. No doubt due to the increased police presence all over London, and I think the riot frenzy had hit a climax the night before. I don’t envy their job, what a tough week they have had.
Frustratingly, clumsy mainstream media reporting decided to blame twitter and blackberry messaging for the rioting. Ridiculous to say the least, for me it was a sane and reliable source of information on the situation (this of course does depend on who you follow but most journalists are on there and were reporting from the scene). It is also where the heavily attended and extremely efficient #riotcleanup was, and continues to be, organised from. Celebrities like the Kaiser Chiefs got involved, and tweeted as they swept.
I saw someone tweet that blaming twitter for riots is liking blaming typewriters for death threats. Hear hear! It was nonsensical to do so.
Bigger issues were at play – where was our political leadership and why were the police so unable to cope until David Cameron finally returned from holiday and increased the numbers on the streets? Why are we even considering cutting their numbers?
I know we’re not out of the woods yet, but hope this is it for now. These riots are indicative of deep social problems that need to be understood and addressed. I am not defending the violence of the riots – that was wrong and criminal and cannibalistic to devour their own communities. That is the issue though, they don’t feel like they are their communities. The political leadership has disappointed so far, but can we please look into this? Otherwise, next time will be only worse. An inclusive, less elitist society should prevent it.
I will leave you on a nice note. London does pull together and most people are good. Just look at this riot shield tea tray, with tea from some good folks in Camden for the tired police in a calm instant mid-riot.