Smiling faces, some beneath scarves and balaclavas. This is Hackney, London. Or this was Hackney last night. It is somewhere else tonight and somewhere else again in just a couple of hours. The smiles are because the streets have been taken and nobody is afraid of the police anymore.
Some people say the burning of a police car is not political, that the looting of a shop is egotistical and thuggish, that the smashing of windows is irresponsible. For those who say this is not political they have been living in this city with their eyes shut, not seeing the massive and increasing inequality and social and economic repression. Policy. Housing policy. Urban policy. Welfare policy. Financial policy. With what results – not only are people living in shit housing, with shit jobs, getting shit from police on a daily basis – most can only look forward to more shit as the cut backs and financial crisis hit the bottom hardest.
There are also those who say it is not political because the targets are all wrong – local shops and some housing are unfortunately also amongst the victims. They also say it is not political because the looting is for the black market rather than food and necessities, or because people are stealing bikes and cameras off of spectators but this is not a neatly organised riot as some would have it. This is a reaction, a revolt, a bursting of a bubble of angst, repression, lack of options and possibility and pure boredom and depression. And once that bubble is burst everything is a potential target for revenge for a police murder, but also entertainment, gaining possessions and regaining power over ones existence for a moment, and over the whole city for some days.
Like all street action, each person involved will have their own expression meaning there are constantly ongoing political discussions and arguments between people on the streets on the causes and the actions to be taken. To say these people are not political, to say the people involved are all thugs and not political is a lie. How can the discussion and action on ongoing harassment and police murder not be political? How can discussion about how to react to the problems in the community, the government cuts to education and youth activities, the lack of employment, the lack of even the smallest level of self-determination not be political? How can this many young people all of a sudden be understood only as common thugs and criminals?
In a comment in one newspaper, a newcomer to Hackney complained that while he used to feel safe in the neighborhood, knowing that all the social issues and shootings were internal to the gangs, he was now terrified to leave his house. This is telling of how segregated even the most diverse neighbourhoods are and how problems in communities can be so easily ignored as long as the victims are young and black. In these days the victims are not the young and black.
Apart from fear, how are the rest of the people reacting? Some are furious, furious about the destruction of neighborhoods that have it hard enough, some are organised and defend their neighborhood like the Turkish community in Stoke Newington as the chased a group of rioters away from the area, and some are organising vigils and discussions on the streets to find a different reaction to the killing of Mark Duggan.
Day three, and sirens are still continuously blaring through the streets. All workers in central London were warned by the police to leave work early and go home to avoid the expected evening riots. A COBRA meeting has been held (cabinet office briefing room A) after the Prime Minister was convinced he had to cut his Tuscany holiday short and fly back to London. Rubber bullets have been mentioned, and more police seems to be the only remedy they want to stuff down our throats for a social disease that only became deadly when the police killed a man.
Occupied London collective 09.08.2011