Hackney Burned and Smashed Sean Gittins*

9 August 2011 — New Left Project

I spent last night amongst the crowds in Hackney, the smell of burnt rubber and metal wafting through the air. As I did so, I heard parts of their stories:

I heard one man, his tracksuit top unzipped and chest bare, say he had ‘waited six fucking months for this, wait, was it six or seven months since the Tories came in, bruv?’ He then smashed the windows of an estate agent and betting shop.

I saw police arrest a man who had looted bathroom toiletries including several bottles of head and shoulders and some toilet roll whilst rioters less than 20 yards away smashed windows.

I heard riot police say, ‘I’m getting bored, let’s get stuck into these cunts.’

I saw several priests chatting to the hooded gangs and people of their local neighbourhood. One conversation I overheard between them and some youths with their faces covered was about the ideas of religion. I heard one of the youths say, ‘but why would I listen to ideas that are 300 years old?’

I saw a man from the local community implore people throwing rocks at the windows to stop what they were doing. ‘This is our place, where we work and live, it’s those bastards you should be having words with,’ he said, pointing to the police. One of the masked youths said to the other, ‘he’s right, blood.’ They smashed the windows anyway.

I came home and put on the news channel. I found all the pundits talking about the Mark Duggan case and interviews with predominantly white and upper-middle class people about the riots. Thuggery this may be, but watching people hurtle rocks at windows and cops with scant regard for their future and the consequences lays bare a complete hatred of the system these rioters have come to know. Cameron’s warning to ‘these people’ that they are ‘potentially wrecking their own life too’ will have been as comical as it is empty to them.

The question is, what could make someone feel that way? Are they just ‘mindless thugs’ as is suggested? Or are these people’s disregard for a system a product of a society that has built into it a need to create estates and forgotten people? As I heard one of the rioters say tonight, ‘we’re not ignored now are we?’

It’s an obvious comparison but last night, standing on an estate with police around me as flames illuminated the night, I felt like I was in a TV show like The Wire. These estates are our projects and the forgotten places that society doesn’t want to see or understand. These places are the outcomes of socio-economic and political choices, rather than, as much as the political and media class would have us believe, simply a place where degenerate thugs reside.

There was too much to take in for me to know exactly what I was seeing last night but I’m sure more than cars and buildings were going up in smoke.

Sean Gittins blogs from here and tweets from here

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