Sunday, 28 August 2011

Peckham Riots

On Harriet (12 August, 2011) the Mp for Camberwell and Peckham slaps herself heartily on the back for thanking clerks who worked overtime at Camberwell Magistrate’s Court to process locals who’d been involved in the recent riots, “tough action in the courts is going to be very important”. Well she got her way and that of her Westminster chums, most of the media and saddest of all a great number of the poplulace. We’ve seen the insanely disproportionate sentences, the constant tellings off, the BBC inviting Kelvin Mackenzie! on Newsnight to tell young people how to behave, their journalists not at all adhering to some forgotten code of impartiality, Kirsty walk, constantly using the word, "disgusting" for the behaviour of the rioters. Michael Gove’s hideous, smug, mug looking oh so pained. The same man who paid back a tiny proportion of his mortgage payments and ludicrous furniture he’d ripped from the public purse is shocked, affronted. Suddenly England is a land of the least imaginative of headteachers. What a boring response; if only the clerks of the magistrates courts had chucked in the overtime and headed for the streets: "The same people who are murdered slowly in the mechanized slaughterhouses of work are also arguing, singing, drinking, dancing, making love, holding the streets, picking up weapons and inventing a new poetry." (Raoul Vaneigem).

In ‘First as Tragedy, Then as Farce’, Zizek notes the similarity of Bush’s language as he addresses the American people over the financial meltdown of 2008 and the attacks of 9/11, 2001 referring to them both as attacks on the American way of life while simultaneously calling a halt to freedoms expected thereof. This government is of the same mind, Theresa May now seeking to ban all marches in 5 London boroughs. It is us that ought seek zero tolerance and rioting is that, a mass screaming, we’ve had enough!

 When I went into Peckham in the aftermath of the riots, the first damage I sighted on coming out of Meeting House Lane onto the High Street, was the boarded up windows of the police station. Kieran Yates (The Independent, 10th August), braver than me, had ventured into Peckham during the riots. She interviewed girls that were on the scene, not as evident as the many boys. She noted how they fell into two camps, some shouting encouragement, “Get me Jeans!” as boys charged through the broken windows of the Blue Ink clothes shop, while others were more concerned about their eventual arrest, “Get out of here you dickheads, what are you trying to prove?” (a tactic that proved quite successful apparently). Kieran asked some of them, “have you seen your boys being stopped and searched?” for which she invited expressions of disbelief that she would even bother to ask, one saying how the boys had a right to their anger describing how her brother had been shoved up against walls and bars, “and he’s never had anything on him”. Another saying, “You just have to stand back and watch. Not saying this is the answer.”

“It's not one occasional attack on dignity, it's a repeated humiliation, being continuously dispossessed in a society rich with possession. Young, intelligent citizens of the ghetto seek an explanation for why they are at the receiving end of bleak Britain, condemned to a darkness where their humanity is not even valued enough to be helped. Savagery is a possibility within us all. Some of us have been lucky enough not to have to call upon it for survival; others, exhausted from failure, can justify resorting to it.” These are the words of Camila Batmanghelidjh whose charity, Kids Company, works with deprived children in the boroughs of Southwark, Lambeth and Camden. Camila doesn’t condone the actions of the rioters where people were really frightened, but seeks an answer through compassion and equality.
Of course, we are repeating history all over again, as tragedy, as farce, and ever will be till the very bloody death of Capitalism. Under Thatcher in the 1980s, £7,9000 million of treasury support was lost to London Boroughs, The Inner London Education Authority and the GLC. Hospital wards closed and so 148 schools, homelessness was rife, “the government penalising councils for possessing severe social problems within their boundaries and for having the temerity to propose spending money to tackle them.” (Roy Porter, London a Social History)

Thatcher also introduced the filthy manoeuvre, “right to buy”, a policy still being implemented, losing London shit loads of affordable housing. Southwark, along with other London boroughs, is now threatening to evict families from their homes if a family member has been involved in the riots. The desperate impotence felt by Britain’s poor is being met with crackdowns, zero tolerance, tough action, further containment, fewer opportunities in jobs and education, less facilities, while the ruling class cream off millions to further impoverish their lives: Atos, A4E, slave labour, chucking people off benefits and from their homes. And so the poorer boroughs of London and other British cities erupted. There was at least a carnival spirit in those few days. In Peckham the Clayton Arms was broken into for booze supplies, pinching senseless knickknacks from the pound shop, and so pertinently essentials such as nappies. Ripping off clothes from Primark and boutiques, shoes from Clarkes, electricals from Curries, cosmetics from the ABC Chemists, chucking missiles at the police and their station, burning cars, a bus, a building. Their streets were transformed. The city, site of alienated labour and passive consumption was made the site of active consumption, an outsider art visited upon the site of their bondage, whether chained to boring, ill-paid jobs or trudges to the jobcentre or A4E schemes to insult them, the riot days they threw off feelings of impotence and said, fuck you. And it was communal too, friends together (or gangs as the press prefer) either rifling shops or standing around to watch the spectacle. We can only hope that in the return of the boring reign of the everyday, the loud roar, No Fucking way Arseholes, will not be plastered over through jail and daily humiliations. The broken, boarded-over window of the Pound shop on Rye Lane has become a site where the community has come together again in a calmer, less spectacular refrain. A chorus of post it notes, claiming love of Peckham: “Peace”, “God is love”, “stop police violence”. It’s a pretty patchwork quilt that is going to be preserved for memory at the Peckham shed. But the fury must not be forgotten.

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