No one seemed surprised. Not the hooded teenagers fleeing home at dawn. Not Ken and Tony, who used to live in Tottenham and had returned to stand vigil over the missiles and torched cars littering an urban war zone. Tony claimed to have seen the whole thing coming. “This was always going to happen,” he said.
The police shot a black guy in suspicious circumstances. Feral kids with no jobs ran amok. To Tony’s mind, this was a riot waiting for an excuse. In the hangover of the violence that spread through London, the uprisings seemed both inevitable and unthinkable. Over a few days in which attacks became a contagion the capital city of an advanced nation has reverted to a Hobbesian dystopia of chaos and brutality.
This is the most arcane of uprisings and the most modern. Its participants, marshalled by Twitter, are protagonists in a sinister flipside to the Arab Spring. The Tottenham summer, featuring children as young as seven, is an assault not on a regime of tyranny but on the established order of a benign democracy. One question now hangs over London’s battle-torn high streets. How could this ever happen?
On the ground
“The price we pay for not caring”
Writing in The Independent, children’s charity founder Camilla Batmanghelidjh suggests that young rioters and looters plundering their own communities may feel more radically alienated than we think.
How, we ask, could they attack their own community with such disregard? But the young people would reply “easily”, because they feel they don’t actually belong to the community. Community, they would say, has nothing to offer them. Instead, for years they have experienced themselves cut adrift from civil society’s legitimate structures.
Working at street level in London, over a number of years, many of us have been concerned about large groups of young adults creating their own parallel antisocial communities with different rules. The individual is responsible for their own survival because the established community is perceived to provide nothing.
Our leaders still speak about how protecting the community is vital. The trouble is, the deal has gone sour. The community has selected who is worthy of help and who is not. In this false moral economy where the poor are described as dysfunctional, the community fails. Check out the price of failing to care.