I feel quite heartsick about what's going on in London. And I'm also getting annoyed by what seems to be the two major ways I'm seeing the riots perceived. The first is that this is mindless violence and theft by workshy scum. The second is that this is a righteous response to a corrupt state, the police are the enemy, and that looting and vandalism are anarchist actions against capitalism.
It's really too early for proper analysis of the situation - that will come in the aftermath. For now I have these observations.
These riots come following a year of austerity measures that have not managed to stem the tide of unemployment and economic depression, a time that has seen an extraordinary number of protests and public fury over the government's cutting of public services while pandering to big business. The UK is not the most economically deprived developed nation, but it is the developed nation with the least social mobility. The boroughs of London where violence has broken out are deprived, and there is a history of distrust between the police and local communities, racial tension, and educational underachievement. People feel helpless, trapped by their socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds, and cuts to public funding - including outreach programmes and community policing - will only make such feelings stronger. People are anxious about their futures as unemployment stays high, the economic situation remains gloomy and benefits are cut. That in these circumstances it's easy for peaceful protest to tip over into violence is unsurprising, and those who condemn these people wholesale as mindless thugs are not only narrowminded, they're also missing an important wake up call about what it is these communities are so painfully lacking.
On the other hand, I don't have any time at all for the kind of armchair anarchist who, in a middle class sort of way, pronounces on how burning down or looting stores owned by major corporations is a strike against capitalism. Who do you think suffers when a local branch of a global chain is broken down? Not the corporation itself; one store out of hundreds or thousands is a loss that can be swallowed. It's local communities, who lose jobs when stores are shut down, who see property prices fall as insurance costs rise and store fronts go vacant, who see derelict buildings become foci of vandalism and petty crime. There were people in Tottenham - working class, ordinary people of all races - who were heartbroken because of what's happened to their area, an area they have pride in, an area they've seen struggle to get out of the mire of economic desperation over the past couple of decades. If you cheer on people who steal and destroy because you think they're sticking it to The Man, you probably aren't having to clean up broken glass or face the fact you don't have a shop to go work in tomorrow morning, or you don't know what it would be like to face that. Which means you're probably pretty privileged, and should maybe start thinking about whether you might be The Man, too.