On a night of violence

I’ve had to turn the news off as the repeated images of violence were making me inestimably sad. As I write this, Camberwell has remained mostly unscathed, although the same can’t be said for Peckham, Brixton, Walworth Road, Old Kent Road, or East Dulwich. I can’t quite take in what’s happening.

Anyone who says with certainty that this is down to pure criminality is talking out of their arse. Likewise anyone who says this is due to disaffection from society, or poverty, or anger with the police, or racial hatred, or any of the multitude of other reasons I’ve heard tonight. Nobody knows for sure why this has happened. I’d imagine the real reason is a combination of any or all of the above, depending on which of the participants you ask.

One thing we can probably say with some certainty is that this doesn’t happen for no reason, and it doesn’t spring from nowhere. But we don’t have any context for it, just supposition and opinion.

There’s no excuse for some of the behaviour we’ve seen; smashing in or setting fire to small, locally owned businesses, and looting the houses of the people who flee out of fear. You can’t excuse that. You shouldn’t even try.

If things have become so bad for people that they feel that rioting is the only option open to them now, I can sympathise with that. But using violence to take something because you’ll personally gain from it is loathsome behaviour, and deserves punishment.

I don’t want to score cheap political points now (there’ll be enough of that in the next few days) but the lack of presence from our elected leaders has been notable. Where was Mayor Johnson? Prime Minister Cameron? We’re hosting the Olympic Games next year, shouldn’t they have spent some time to at least pay lip service to addressing the problem? And while they have the excuse that they were out of the country, where was Deputy Prime Minister Clegg in their absence?

I don’t know what’s going on. I’m bewildered and confused and sad, and not looking forward to all the finger-pointing, politics and punditry that’s destined to follow this.

One final note: over the next few weeks, please don’t buy anything that you suspect to be stolen. Don’t reward this. Help local shopkeepers instead.

Author: Peter

Long-time resident of Camberwell, author of this blog since July 2004.

68 thoughts on “On a night of violence”

  1. New brooms on old brooms. Don’t stand in the doorway, don’t block up the hall — for the times, they are a‑changin’.

  2. @Mark — your point is a fair one. But might I also add that I’ve lived on a council estate in Camberwell for more years than I’m prepared to admit on this blog, am active in the Tenants’ Association and I’ve not seen Kids Company at all. However, I will think about the Wedge House idea.
    @Sim — the Melissa Benn article is very thought-provoking — I hadn’t seen this, so cheers.

  3. Yes, a good article. I agree with much of it. Smaller class sizes, particularly, seems like a good idea. It’s a lot to ask of schools, thou — to, in effect, be partially responsible for raising kids. Talk about mission creep.

    It is such a shame the youth services and youth workers are not supported much better. It seems like supporting kids, teenagers, and families outside of the school system would be more effective.

    A school can’t change the economic plight of a neighbourhood and shouldn’t be tasked with that.

  4. *Bump*

    Don’t really have much to say.

    I listened to this podcast from Peckham about the riots. The Hyper-local Internet, you know?


    Main take-away is that there’s incredible community spirit around here (and most other places too, I would expect). I’m not really buying this broken society argument. I do, thou, think a lot of people are marginalised from the mainstream society portrayed in the media, business, and politics.

  5. @Gabe
    I’m also (a lot) uncomfortable with the whole “broken society” argument, because it is always presented as part of a wider agenda, from both Left & Right. However, most of the major cities have seen multiple changes in the concept people have of “community” over the last century. There are lots of walls, some impenetrable, micro-communities that cross geographic divides and are defined along class, cultural, skin-colour, religious, gender or sexuality lines. All-in-all, I think we’re poorer for it. But then again, there are advantages to not knowing who lives next-door, sometimes.

  6. When you have a little spare time, look at these documentary clips from 40 years ago — especially the second one, about Skinheads.


    These kids give the same reasons for being involved in fights and violence as they do today.

    “People notice you — is that the idea?”

    “Basically, yeah.”

    Worth watching all the way through. The wisdom and insight from this kid is incredible, and it’s both sad and comforting to know that we haven’t changed at all.

  7. Tried to see Peter’s link — my broadband, at the moment, just cannot cope — two different connections. This has been getting worse over, I suppose, the past three months, slowing down, halting or dropping off altogether. Anecdotally I hear from customers around the King’s area that poor connection seems to be becoming a problem. My service providers — Orange and Firenet — both report there being no problem with service so it looks like its line gain that’s failing which is a BT issue — and they say there’s no problems.

    It feels like a re run of two previous periods in the last five years where internet access was failing until equipment upgrades were done at the exchange.

    Serious request — it seems like there’s not enough bandwidth. Is anyone else in SE5 having similar problems with their broadband service?

  8. @Peter — those films are a great find — thanks for posting the link. My (perhaps provocative) take on both films is that it’s a bit cruel to point a camera at a teenager and say “OK — justify yourself”. Because the only real response would be “I’m young, the world revolves around me, but my parents won’t acknowledge that and I can’t have what I want when I want it.….oh yeah, and I’ve got all these hormones pumping around my body and I’m bored”. Instead, Hell’s Angels in Dudley brand themselves “individualists” whilst simultaneously wearing a uniform. Thank God they didn’t point a camera at me when I was 15!

  9. Hmmm James, thank you. I knew the exchange is in Brixton but only by rumour. The further one is from an exchange the more likely for signal fall off — and the more people between you and the exchange, taking bandwidth with their own usage the worse off you are.

    So as broadband usage becomes more common, more and more people start using up bandwidth along the route — and customers toward the end of the line begin to get intermittent connection as there’s no bandwidth left to deliver streaming video and so on.

    My feeling, brought on through years of experiencing this here, is that Camberwell is at the end of most lines for most things, including broadband access, school catchments and almost anything else you can think of.

    There’s nothing WRONG with being digitally deprived, I just assumed, once upon a time, that this sort of experience is the reserve of rural populations. Not when you’re in the inner city.

  10. @J Mark Dodds

    Over the last few months it has rained constantly on my internet connection…

    Plusnet are pretty good and I like them but as you say it’s BT and their terminally slow lines — around Ruskin Park they still are still connected to Telegraph Poles!

    Time for Virgin Broadband methinks…

  11. @eus — my boys were using the internet from 8am this morning and at 9.20am ploofff — zilch nothing neither from firenet nor orange. I hoped to buy a train ticket and ended up doing it on my phone. Connection’s come back in the last hour or so but has been intermittent..

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