I think the riots have provoked such a reaction from Londoners because destroying one’s own community displays a logical disconnect that offends the British sensibility. Violence during the G20 protests was at least targeted around financial institutions and the Square Mile. This morning Londoners behaved in an entirely British way, shaking their heads at the damage and going to work as normal, while others engaged in communal clean-up efforts that go a long way in restoring faith in society. While it sounds like more is yet to come, I’ll share some words on last night and images from this morning.
Perhaps fortunately, looters hit Walworth Road early yesterday. The police response was to close off the road, my bus announcing its diversion as it reached Elephant & Castle. Hopping out I headed down and found a police line guarding virtually nothing. From that end the road looked deserted and calm, belying the violence occurring (and ostensibly being allowed to occur) further along. I called Anna and suggested she head back via Kennington instead.
The mainstream media may spin Twitter as being the tool used by rioters to organise their movements, but in truth Londoners were using Twitter primarily to ascertain which areas of the city should be avoided and which remained safe. It became clear that, while it was not going up in flames, Kennington was not free from trouble either, so I threw on a pair of jeans, donned an old hoodie as camouflage (a good reason to keep hold of nondescript uni stash!) and headed out towards the station to find Anna and ensure she made it home safely.
The roads were eerily quiet, punctuated by bursts of noise, most rioters presumably having headed further south. Two cars swerved around the corner of a building across the road. Dark figures jumped out of the cars, one asking “which way did they go?”. Whether they were referring to pursuers or prey remained unclear. I checked on a few young guys at a bus stop, one of whom was compressing his friend’s head wound. Blood pooled on the floor at his feet, but he remained lucid and coherent. An ambulance had been called and they were waiting for its arrival. I wondered momentarily why the third in their group was topless: ah, that would be his shirt being pressed against his friend’s head. He paced, shivering slightly in chill night air.
Sharing the experience many have echoed, aside from the initial cordon at the quiet end of Walworth Road an hour earlier, I did not see a single police officer. The centre of Kennington appeared to remain relatively safe (perhaps due to the paucity of lootable shops) but I understand sirens continued throughout the night as it became the best route for police to move between the north and south.
Stepping out onto the balcony after midnight, the lights of the London Eye gazed back at me in impassive silence. The flickering of television sets emanated from most flats, all tuned to the news, viewers glued to the violence occurring elsewhere. People seemed uncomfortable sleeping, unsure of where the violence may move through the city. The sense I had was that a caged beast had broken loose of its shackles and was determined to express its newfound freedom, knowing it was temporary, but roaring just to hear its own voice.