This is how I learned there were troubles in Peckham on Monday night:
Jeremy and I were on the Vespa. We were on our way to a yoga class and a woman standing at the corner of Peckham Rye Common, with a man who had a Slayer tattoo, said to us, “Peckham is burning. They’ve set a bus on fire.”
We saw that there were lots more people out than normal, and we thought, “Well, that’s no good.” But we still went to our yoga class, which was probably silly, but we were already on our way, you know?
The class ended ten minutes early because they were closing Dulwich Leisure Centre early because of the building that had been set on fire. I’m pretty sure this was the lingerie shop on Rye Lane but I’m not positive. I haven’t been down that way since last week. It’s blocked off by the police right now.
So we got back on the Vespa and took ourselves home. On the way we saw people breaking into the Tesco Metro on East Dulwich Road. The door was smashed in. The people who live in the flats above the shop were leaning over the railings and it looked like they were shouting something. I couldn’t hear anything from where I was though. It was like a flashback sequence in a movie, everything felt fuzzy and slow motion.
We got home and saw our neighbourhood on the news and looked at pictures posted by friends on Facebook. Jeremy called one of them who said things had mostly calmed down. I called my mom and told her not to worry when she saw the news in America, we were fine. We watched the news until the presenters had repeated themselves for a second time and then changed the channel, as Facebook and newspaper websites were giving us more accurate updates anyhow.
We went to bed late and slept poorly. In the morning I discovered that our wheelie bin had been stolen and our trash had been dumped all over the walkway next to our house. We retrieved our spare bin from the allotment and picked up the trash.
And then I went to work and everything was basically normal.
My feelings about the riots are conflicted. I don’t think they were the right response to the shooting of Mark Duggan in Tottenham a week ago, I don’t even think that by the time they hit SE15 they really were a response to that anymore. I can’t pretend to understand the motives of the people rioting (both young and old) although I can see how truly messed up life is for many people in this country (I am, with my yoga classes and allotment and Vespa driving husband, not in any way representative of the reality most people inhabit), and I don’t know if they fully understand why they chose to do this, some of them probably do, some of them probably just got caught up in the moment. I don’t see this as a legitimate means of protest,and I don’t expect anything will change for the better anytime soon. Things will almost certainly get worse first.
I’m angry about the damage done to my neighbourhood, my community, and I do want people to be punished for it. But I also hope there’s a way to fix the things that are wrong so this doesn’t happen again. Because in order for destruction like this to happen, there’s usually something desperately in need of fixing. Something deep and remarkably wrong with the society we live in. Something that won’t be fixed easily or quickly. Something that all the proposed cuts to social programs certainly won’t help and something that increased police numbers will only contain in the short-term.
I don’t know what the answers are, I still don’t know the UK well enough for that (despite passing my Life in the UK test with flying colours) I probably never will. The way I look at class and opportunity and government and just life in general is very different from the average English person. I don’t say this because I think I’m superior or that the US is better/more right or whatever. I just say this because there’s still a lot I don’t get about the culture here and the way I was brought up to look at life in general is different from the way most people here are brought up (again, not better, just different). I’m still pretty new, really, and adopting a new country is vastly different from being born into one.
Anyhow, not sure where I’m going with this. I had a point when I started typing this out and it’s gotten lost in my head somewhere. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next, where we, as a country, move on to from here. What happens to the perpetrators and the victims and how we define those roles. And mostly I hope my neighbourhood recovers and becomes even stronger and better than before, I hope these acts of violence don’t defeat it, because I love this place. I love its poncy galleries and butcher shops with chicken feet hanging over the counters, the wig shops and all the different pubs and the libraries and the Persian shop and the greasy cafs and view from the train station and riding the bus as I eavesdrop on kids having ridiculous conversations. I chose to live here for a reason, you know, and I want the good back and the bad to get fixed, even if I’m not totally sure how to do that.