Archive for August, 2011

News from the city and City News #RiotRebuild

Friday, August 12th, 2011

Emma and I are only now coming to terms with everything that happened on Monday, a sense of which you should be able to get from the videos I posted at the time.

These videos only show the riot police reclaiming our street. Prior to that it was thronging with local people, some of them actively confronting the police and setting fire to vehicles, others just looking on. (That I was able to drive our car – the red one just outside the window – away two hours later without a scratch on it is almost impossible to believe.)

For both of us ‘coming to terms with it’ seems to involve periodically bursting into tears, mainly when we go out and walk the streets of a borough we’ve grown to love in the ten years we’ve lived here, one that was unrecognisable to us on Monday, one that still bears the scars despite of the council’s best efforts.

Then we just thank our lucky stars our little girls are okay. It was the thought of them in the back room of our house that really shook us up, even if the prism of shock and adrenaline refracted this into a kind of warped, exuberant hysteria that carried us through a long, sleepless night.

Thankfully the wrath of the crowd outside didn’t seem to be directed against residents – they were targeting vehicles, police and local shops. Our local newsagent, City News, withstood their attentions all the way through until 1am, at which point we heard a few loud bangs and looked out the windows to see the shutters up and a few local kids inside.

The fifteen minutes that followed were truly heart-breaking. We know the guys who run the shop well, they’re our friends, and they work harder than most people do to scrape a living, putting up with a fair few indignities along the way. They are generous-spirited and supremely tolerant guys. They deserved better than this from the community they serve.

I filmed it all from our front window, but the footage is dark, all you can really make out is a kind of feeding frenzy, as the crowd quickly grows and the shop is stripped of booze and cigarettes. Young, old, black, white, men, women; people happy to steal from others, but who haven’t had the breaks in life to be able to do it quietly.

There’s a lot I have to say about this – my headline view is that the greatest shame would be if it pushes instinctively left-leaning UK residents to the right, and that I doubt nearly as many politicians, police, city plutocrats and members of the press have the right to take the moral high ground here as would like to think so.

If you want to call me out on either of those points friend me up on Facebook and come start an argument. The point of this post is to put the guys at City News on the map, at a time when lots of people seem to be working to help local businesses recover: two sterling examples are Help Siva and Keep Aaron Cutting. The guys at City News say they saw £10k of damage, and are unlikely to see more than £5k back from insurance. All week Emma and I have been feeling a strong urge to try and help them close that gap.

I know there are probably more worthy causes out there – Emma and I have donated more to Unicef to help in the Horn of Africa than we’ve given at any time since the tsunami – but I also believe that charity has a local role, and that this is one of the best ways a community can best express itself.

With that in mind the first thing I do after I post this will be to send the link to a man called Jake who runs Hackney Council for Voluntary Service. They are collecting donations on behalf of one Clarence Road shop-owner, Siva, and I will be asking them what the procedure would be to raise funds to make sure City News do not end up out of pocket.

If we manage to work something out rest assured you’ll be hearing about it – I’ll be letting members of all the different communities of which I am a member – be they geographical (Hackney/London/UK/The World/The Universe) or virtual (Twitter/Facebook/The whole damn Interwebz) to chip in.

Feels like now is a great time for online communities – and people for that matter, regular people, people like you and me – to be showing that we can be a force for good, without waiting for the leviathan of the state to do it for us – if we do that we might find ourselves waiting longer than any of us can afford.

Downs Park Rd, 8pm, 08/08 #LondonRiots

Tuesday, August 9th, 2011

This is what our street looked like last night:

The most wretched part was watching the shop across the road looted, at around 1am. They went through it in about fifteen minutes, took all the booze, all the cigarettes. A gang of them, young men and women, white and black, late teens and early twenties. They’re the ones whose future we’ve mortgaged, and we can’t keep up the payments. How else should we expect them to behave?

Downs Park Rd, 7pm, 08/08 #LondonRiots

Tuesday, August 9th, 2011