This time last week I was in Clapham with lots of other South London locals who had shown up with brooms and dustpans and binliners, surveying the aftermath of the events of Monday night. Burnt out flats, trashed shops… I spoke to someone who saw their flat on fire and another person whose home had been broken into. A friend got caught up in the chaos while just trying to make her way home. I am Londoner. I was born here. London has aways been home for me. It was hard not to feel emotional hearing these stories from the people I spoke to and seeing places that had been there for as long as I can remember reduced, literally, to ash. To know that people have lost their homes and livelihoods.
Since the violence and disorder in London and other cities across the UK last week there has been and will continue to be a lot of analysis. For one thing, it has certainly brought out the closet right-wingers. I have been stood at a bus stop while a man I do not know angrily told me he blamed ‘the blacks’ for what has happened (the impression being that I was expected to offer an apology on account of my skin colour). Young people have been accused of being ‘feral scum’ (as though all young people, particularly from deprived backgrounds behave in this way). There has been talk of cutting benefits to the people deemed responsible which might sound satisfying as a politician’s declaration, though nobody seems to be able to explain how that might work or what it means in the long run. Not least, it concerns me to see the assumptions being made about those who were perpetrating the violence, when we know that those out there rioting and looting were of all backgrounds and ages. There is understandably a great deal of anger and heated feeling about what has happened. Yes, there are discussions to be had. This is not a simple situation. It is time to look at what is going on in our society and have a serious debate about solutions rather than the now familiar rhetoric and reactionary soundbites. What started with the shooting of a young man in Tottenham (now almost forgotten in all the debate) evolved into something else and the subsequent violence we saw is, at its root, clearly about far more than people wanting trainers and plasma TVs.
All those angry and at times, violent reactions, understandable as they might be, look and sound a lot like expressions of fear.
I was struck by something the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu said last week in a discussion about the riots when he explained why he was against the idea of meeting violence with violence saying, “…you create more darkness on a night where there are no stars at all.”
One thing that all the talk and all the anger cannot change is what has already happened. The anger will not bring back people’s homes and businesses. What I see that is so heartening is that so many people are saying no to the darkness and fear and are responding with love instead. Regardless of age, race, religion or class people have gathered together to try and help in whatever way they can. This is what true community is. This is love in action.
Some people may say it sounds airy fairy but I would rather let love win. That does not mean it is always the easier route – fear can be so powerful. But, if we are to truly move forward instead of repeating the same old patterns then what alternative is there?
I feel I am not alone in this. I felt this at the clean-up in Clapham last week and since then in Brixton and generally across my home town just while being out and about. I feel there is a shift happening. I hope I am right.
The events of the past last week affected me quite directly because they happened on my doorstep, but as we know, the whole world feels like it is being shaken up right now. Not least economically and environmentally. Increasingly, I believe that ultimately the solutions don’t lie with politicians or the police or the armed forces… The solutions, even if we’re not quite sure what they are yet, lie with us. Fear is rife. Can we have the courage to let love win?