I was born in Tottenham where a few days ago genuine anger at the police shooting of what appears to be an armed drug dealer burst from peaceful protest into riots and mayhem. This part of London, along with some of the other nearby areas affected by the more opportunistic rioting and looting that spread soon after, was the stomping ground of my family for generations.
My Jewish tailor ancestors moved into the then edge of London at around the same time Jack the Ripper was plaguing their former home in the East End. What deprivations the Irish side of my DNA escaped from to there is lost from family memory.
None of this gives me any additional insight into the minds of the feral teens destructively shopping their way around those streets. I left as a toddler and am now a generation and a continent removed from the rioters affecting my birthplace. Tottenham is partly a Turkish and Kurdish area of London and many of my neighbours here by the Aegean Sea will have more family connections there than I do now.
Unlike most expats here we moved to Turkey because we couldn’t afford a home in the UK. We do not earn much but we are lucky our jobs enabled us to up sticks and find somewhere more affordable to buy a home and live.
Almost all the expats here are older than us and were able to get on the property ladder while it was still affordable. Typically working rather than middle class, and generally possessed of secondary education only, they worked hard and climbed the rungs until they got off, sold up and bought a home for a fraction of the price in Turkey. The remainder went in the bank to fund early retirement or supplement pensions.
I mention all this because amid the anger at the wanton destruction of small businesses back in the motherland it is easy to forget that those cycling from trouble to aggro at the instruction of their Blackberrys have far less opportunity to replicate the same route to prosperity should their ethic and moral compass set them in that direction.
The British obsession with holding investments in our property increasingly puts even the bottom end of the housing market outside of the realistic ambition of most of today’s working class youth even if the jobs were there. The generation above mine didn’t find it easy to get where they are today but it was doable.
Todays diminished prospects do not make the actions of the looters any less filthy – there are plenty of people in the same situation choosing to clear up rather than tear up the streets – but there seems to be a lazy acceptance that the violence that spread across England existed in a vacuum without any political background.
Politicians on the right in particular seem especially keen to demonise the ‘pockets of our society that are not just broken but, frankly, sick’ and hope the public don’t dwell too long on the inequalities and cut backs that led us to this moment. They would prefer demands that real action is taken to make sure this doesn’t happen again to be kettled.
While I can’t see a protest element to the actions of the rioters – especially when obscured by so much smoke – it is not outrageous to suggest they are born out of poor political guidance and warped establishment example.
When I hear the politicians talk in sound bites of actions and consequences I think of irresponsible bankers compensated for their greedy incompetence, politician’s expense claims and phone hacking. I think of Ian Tomlinson, the sale by the police of terrorism victim’s personal details and the 333 deaths in police custody since 1998 without a single conviction.
The knee jerk reaction is to allow our untrustworthy police and politicians to set a precedent and shoot at children with rubber bullets and water canon – something we may regret if more articulate, peaceful and genuine protests ever take to the streets.