It was oppressive in East London yesterday.
Late afternoon I got a message from Fyr that things had kicked off in Hackney. A guy had been stopped and searched and suddenly that was the spark-point. From my desk in Clerkenwell I watched a mob mill around the middle of Hackney. I watched a tree surgeon’s van being stopped and looted, and the planks inside thrown ineptly at the police lines. I saw a bus evacuated, and then its windows smashed in until a man with a briefcase cleared the overturned bin from in front of it, cleared space and guided the driver and the bus out of the warzone.
I left work early, because I live the other side of Hackney to the violence and didn’t want to get caught up in it.
I took one of my normal buses as far as it would take me, which wasn’t very far. At Islington I got another bus, which took me a little further – up to Dalston, which is where the looting of Footlocker happened last night. Dalston’s on the outskirts of what you might call “Central” Hackney, and it’s here that the first signs of weirdness manifested. First, by being closed. Every shop was closed and shuttered like it was 3am, from the major chains to the tiny corner stores. As I walked this was demonstrated more and more. The street market beside Kingsland arcade was closed. A few butchers and fish shops along the route served the last stragglers of consumerism, mostly shops that couldn’t keep their stock until tomorrow, but even they were hurried and half shuttered already.
Shops that would sell me more tea and fresh milk when the coding fugue lifted at 3am on a Wednesday morning were closed at not much past six. Shops I’d never seen shut had battered and ill-fitting steel gates over them. Hackney was terrified of itself, now. Hackney was closed.
As I approached Hackney Central – the top end of Mare Street (which was trending globally on Twitter at that point) and the low end of Clarence Road (Which runs along the Pembury Estate, a focus point for the violence) helicoptors buzzed overhead. At least two were from the news – one each from the BBC and Sky – and a couple of police birds as well. Between the background baseline of the helicoptors circling the area and the high humidity, the area felt twitchy and oppressive. It was also quiet. There were people on phones – reassuring relatives and loved ones they weren’t trapped in the middle, sharing news, gathering it – but nobody was shouting, there was barely any traffic moving. Tense and expectant. Terrified.
They smashed in a Ladbrokes. Stirling Ackroyd. Boots. My sympathy there is for the workers who can’t go to work there this morning. They smashed in small local shops, run by people desperately trying to keep body and soul together in an crap economy. A lot of those businesses won’t survive this.
I said somewhere else that I had sympathy but not empathy for the angry people. My experience of their problems is limited. I’ve been made medium-term unemployed by things entirely outside my control, I know the anger of not being able to fix your fate, but fundermentally I’m doing too well in my life, and I have too solid a base, to know what it means to drive someone to the point that smashing up a McDonalds seems like a reasonable action that will help my cause. I can’t, mentally, make the connection. Marching on Whitehall, Westminster, New Scotland Yard seem reasonable. Protesting seems reasonable, even if I believe that the current cabinet (and all such in my lifetime) believe that they don’t actually have to *listen* to The People until election time.
I suppose that’s it. Disaffected, voting doesn’t help, protesting doesn’t help. (I’ve been invited to a protest next week to protest the things people think caused this mess. I’m not convinced large gatherings of disaffected people *can* remain peaceful right now) and all the words in the world don’t mean anything unless something is very obviously done. You can’t take away peoples’ support networks – even if “we’re all going to have to tighten our belts” without some people falling.