Whilst at work I saw on the internet that trouble had flared in Hackney. I expected it would kick off, but not so early and in broad daylight. I left work at about 6:30 and my worry at the time was whether or not to go to the barbers, I didn't want to be left with half a haircut if things kicked off. I live in Camberwell which borders Brixton, where there had been riots the night before and I was actually lucky not to get caught up in. I was driving home pretty late in the evening and I would normally have gone through Brixton, (exactly through where the looting and fires were taking place), but I recalled there had been some road works the last time I'd been in the area (couple of weeks ago) and so instead went a different route.
Anyway at my bus stop on the Strand in Central London, I didn't get on the first bus to Camberwell, it was rammed and I didn't fancy standing up the whole way home. The next bus came a few minutes later and I jumped on. Just as I was approaching Elephant and Castle, I got the first phone call checking that I was ok. My mate told me that there was rioting going on in Peckham, (which borders Camberwell on the opposite side to Brixton) and wanted to know where I was and how things were in Camberwell. At this point I started paying attention to what was going on the street rather than listening to my music. Elephant and Castle looked completely normal and so I assumed I'd have no problem getting home as I thought that this would be the likely place of any trouble. However, I was wrong. The bus didn't get very far away from Elephant down the Walworth Road, before the driver pulled over behind two other buses and turned off the engine and everyone had to get off.
|Police organise blocking off the Walworth Road|
|Police block vehicles and pedestrians from travelling south down the Walworth Road|
Crowd on Walworth Road
After updating my facebook and replying to a couple of texts I was trying to figure out what to do - there was no advice from the police. Surely they knew looting was going on, that their was debris all over the street and that the Walworth Rd would not be open for hours, so sensible advice would have been to make your journey home avoiding Walworth Rd if possible. They could have advised people to walk to Elephant and Castle (a substantial transport interchange of tube, train and bus to get advice on finding an alternative route home) I was feeling quite hungry, and ironically was standing outside a closed McDonalds - they would have made a lot of money if it had been open. All the shops in the area were shut, even Bagel King, and anyone who knows the area, knows that Bagel King is open 24/7. I didn't fancy standing around for an unknown period of time and although I could have gone back to Elephant and Castle and taken a longer route home, I decided to try and make my way through the back streets to Camberwell. I followed a woman down Manor Place past the Police Station, we'd got about 400 metres pass the station when a young mixed race or asian guy ran past us with some small items in his hand (maybe mobile phone boxes) and he shouted something boasting about his loot. The young black woman (in her 20's) I was walking with kissed her teeth and said something about him being an idiot for conforming to stereotypes. We walked down Penton Place, and had the choice to walk up Penrose Street back to the Walworth Road or continue on the back streets. I was not 100% sure of the way on the back streets and to be honest curiosity got the better of me and I walked up Penrose Street back to the Walworth Road as did the young woman.
|Looted shop on the corner of Walworth Road and Penrose Street - 8th August|
As we got to the Walworth Road, I couldn't see the police line further back up the road which had stopped us coming down, but I did notice the first 2 shops I came across (on the corner of Penrose and Walworth and on the other side of Walworth Rd opposite Penrose) had their windows and doors smashed as you can see in the pictures, but other than that it was sparse in the immediate area.
|Walworth Road (view from Penrose Street) - 8th August|
|Walworth Rd Footlocker being looted - 8th August|
I decided to head further down the street. There were a lot of people out on the street, but relatively few involved in looting. There were a lot of people (my estimate is 30% of people there) who looked as though they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time (like the two girls and the guy on the bike in front of the bus). It wasn't really a scary environment, I'm not saying that people weren't frightened, but I think a better description would be shocked and disgusted. I saw a middle aged woman walking with her elderly mother through the worst hit area and they were obviously concerned, but I (and I hope they also) didn't feel that they were unsafe. It sounds stupid to say it, but the atmosphere amongst everyone else seemed like carnival - I actually saw a girl getting chirpsed (chatted up). There were plenty of people (my estimate is maybe as many of 50% of people there) hanging around, fascinated by everything and enjoying watching the 'entertainment'. They didn't seem to be in the wrong place, they wanted to be there and to see what was going on. I got the feeling that they wouldn't get involved in smashing any shops in, but if there were goods dropped by looters, they wouldn't hesitate to pick them up and I actually witnessed this later on. Lots of these onlookers were females and young kids (10-13) and they came from ALL races. I didn't notice any racial tension, Walworth is a very diverse area and white and blacks were mixing together whether that was in watching or in looting.
|Looted shops on Walworth Road - 8th August|
On to the looters. A lot of them (more than half by my estimates) didn't bother to hide their faces. I don't know if this was down to bravado or stupidity, but also maybe because there were no police in sight and no media, although I suspect there is plenty of CCTV around there. From what I noticed the instigators were older guys (20+) but a lot of the followers were teenagers. It didn't feel like it would get violent. Nobody seemed interested in fighting each other and as mentioned there were no police to fight. I wasn't paying attention to where I was walking and barged quite hard in to a big black guy with a bandana over his face, who was with 3 or 4 other guys, instinctively I said sorry and he responded "Cool bredren" and spudded me (touched fists). The only thing that made me a little nervous was taking pictures. I was careful not to capture anyones faces, I felt that was the only thing that could have got me into trouble.
As I continued walking through the Walworth Rd, I noticed a couple of interesting things. As pictured, a LCD TV lay on the street, it didn't seem damaged, so not sure why it was left there, maybe because it was only about a 19"!!!
|Discarded LCD TV on side street off Walworth Rd - 8th August|
|Looted Cash Converters shop on Walworth Road - 8th August|
|Looted Coral Betting Shop, Walwort Road- 8th August|
|Assorted DVD's on the street outside Argos Walworth Rd - 8th August|
|Assorted DVD's on the street outside Argos Walworth Rd - 8th August|
|Assorted DVD's on the street outside Argos Walworth Rd - 8th August|
It may sound like I don't feel the goings on are that bad, when I'm saying that it wasn't violent etc, but that's definitely not the case, I'm just stating facts, it's annoying me that a lot of the reporting I'm hearing and reading is opinion, speculation and rumour rather than fact. I only want to hear accurate reporting (especially when it comes to race - it's definitely not just black men involved), I don't really care what people think, I can make my own decision on what to think, but if you want to hear my thoughts, you can do below.
I'm really angry about ALL of those involved. Those that are causing the trouble, have no respect for innocent people - homes and cars are being destroyed - there can be no excuse for that. As in Walworth where the damage didn't (during the time I was there) involve fire or damaging peoples property, the fact that shops were ransacked still made me mad. It wasn't just chains that were targetted, independent shops were hit too, they can't afford these losses and many will go out of business. Even looting chain stores is far from being a victimless crime, they employ many people and the looting will likely cause jobs to be lost, maybe some stores won't even reopen. I've heard a lot of people speculate on the reasons for people getting involved in the looting and there are lots of them, many very complex, (although none come close to justify what is happening) but to me there is one reason that is key and more important than anything else and that's that people thought/think they can get away with it. They can't be allowed to get away with it and MP's and Police have said they won't. That's the only thing that politicians and police have said that I actually believe. I'm sure they will spend months going through videos and photos identifying the looters and arsonists, but the time for this is after the disturbances are stopped.
I'm also really annoyed with the police. I'm not the police's biggest fan (like most young black men), there are a lot of things they could do better. When I was younger I was constantly getting hassled by them, including getting pulled over 3 times by different coppers whilst driving down the Old Kent Road on the same night. Although things have definitely got better over the years, it just seems there are so many things that could be improved very easily. Communication being a key example. After the shooting of Mark Duggan, the truth should have been put out straight away. Rumours were leaked to the press that he had shot at the police first, when the police officers on the scene (and any witnesses - the cab driver for example) knew this wasn't the case. The police belatedly now admit this. The Police may have feared a disturbance if they had admitted they had shot a man dead who hadn't shot at them, but they made it worse when they didn't clarify that reports he had shot at them were wrong. I think that they presumed that people would believe this story until the IPCC report came out and tensions had calmed down. What they didn't expect was that Mark's family and friends would completely reject that he would shoot at the police, he may have been involved in criminal activity, but by all accounts wasn't a violent person, at least not a killer letalone a copkiller and those that knew him smelt a rat. I know they can't put out the full details when an IPCC investigation is ongoing, but they could have said a man has been shot dead by a police officer and the officer has been suspended (surely they have to suspend even if on full pay) whilst an investigation takes place. People may have been angry, but at least it wouldn't have felt like a cover up, which obviously would make people more angry. It just seems that those leading the police are making some pretty big mistakes (let's not forget phone hacking and the De Menez shooting at Stockwell) and makes it hard to justify their six figure salaries. Unfortunately it seems to take something to go majorly wrong (Stephen Lawrence for example) for things to be improved and lets hope lessons will be learnt from this. Having said all that, I can't have anything but sympathy for the police having to deal with the disorder that has occurred over the last few days. Their mistakes don't deserve bricks being thrown at their heads.
I presume that it is up to the government as to whether police can use rubber bullets, water cannons or even bring in the army. Therefore its disgraceful that the most senior politicians were not here. I obviously don't know all the pros and cons, but I am massively in favour of water cannons. As I state earlier, people are rioting because they can. They have realised that if enough of them do it, in enough different areas, then the police can't stop them. Also, I have mentioned that I feel a lot of people involved are hangers on. Therefore if you have a water cannon, you can first send a megaphone warning that people need to clear an area before the water cannon is fired - I think most people will leave then (as I said a lot of people are just onlookers), police can then approach, they may not need to even shoot the water cannon or only give it a short burst. At the moment, the police are looking on and the looters are looting in their faces knowing they can't be touched. Having a water cannon means that you can take on a crowd that is bigger than the police force. Surely they are safer than driving armoured vehicles towards a crowd, which they did last night!
I wouldn't say I'm angry with, but I'm annoyed by, the media (even though I work in it myself). There have been a number of innapropriate people getting airtime and the presenters have been ill equipped with the basic knowledge of who the people they are intereviewing are. Point in case being this interview with Darcus Howe, whom I am not a fan of.
The reports on the trouble in Ealing also really pissed me off. I keep hearing that Ealing is a "leafy affluent area" where you would never expect this type of thing. Well we don't expect this type of thing in Tottenham, Brixton or Hackney either - it's been 25 years since we've seen disturbances anything like this in these areas. Reports keep talking about how people must have come from other areas in to Ealing because locals would never do anything like that. Maybe, I'm being over sensitive, but I just don't like the connotations of what they are saying. Sky News and Dermot Murnaghan the worst culprets. Lastly, the jesters that they have giving the weather reports are annoying at the best of times, but when something serious is going on, we really don't need to see their inane smiling faces and chirpy voices cracking jokes. Can a producer not tell them just to bring it down a notch?
The looting in Walworth hasn't been mentioned on TV, obviously there are a lot of disturbances in other areas that were a lot more serious, but on a normal day what happened in Walworth would have been headline news. It makes me wonder how many other smaller scale disturbances there were and whether the police (even with increased numbers tonight) will be able to cope especially if forces are coming from other areas that might find that they have their own disturbances.
I think I've just about managed to spit out everything I want to say, and I feel a little more calm, let's hope it calms down in the high streets too. It's taken me the full day, in between doing some bits of work to write this up. I don't imagine many will find this, letalone take the time to read it all. However if you are reading this do let me know :) and if you've got any comments then I'm of course really interested to hear - oh and apologies for the bad grammar.