Riots and looting have spread across London City over the last few days, with copycats spilling over into Birmingham, Liverpool and Bristol on Monday night. What began as a peaceful vigil outside the Tottenham Police station for the police shooting of Mark Duggan has descended into anarchy that has not been seen in the U.K. since Thatcher’s ‘80s. The Grapevine has been catching up with Icelanders caught up in the violence.
Anna Hildur Hildibrandsdóttir was in Islington on Monday having a meeting at a pub when the landlord suddenly announced that he was closing.
What did you see happen?
I didn’t see anything, but I decided to hurry up and get a bus before public transport was closed.
Did you see a police presence?
During the meeting I saw eight armoured vehicles heading towards Hackney.
Did you feel unsafe?
No, but I was here during the IRA bombings in the 1990s and knew that I didn’t want to get stuck at a tube station.
Do you think social media has played a part in the events?
I’m not sure whether that or the national media is more to blame; word spreads fast either way.
What do you think of the people involved in this?
A lot of the news that you see makes you think these are just thugs. But there is clearly an underlying frustration that is breaking out and our society is not able to control this. It is also obviously a mixture; some of these kids are just getting an adrenaline rush out of kicking in a window.
Do you think the police did the right thing?
I think they did what they could, but they were clearly outnumbered.
Hafdís Arnardóttir is based in Islington, but works in central London. As she was attempting to come home from work on Monday, the train stations began to close down and she had to stay at a friend’s house. I spoke to her on Monday night as the worst of the looting and violence takes place.
What have you seen happen in your area?
I’ve been trying to stay as far away from it as I possibly can, but there were hooded youngsters running around the Victoria line yesterday. We have locked ourselves in my friend’s flat now, but there is smoke all around and we can hear explosions.
Have you seen a police presence?
No sadly not. They are arriving late and not staying long. It seems like they can’t handle this. It’s the third day in a row now and it just keeps getting worse.
Do you feel like it’s unsafe to go outside?
I’m very scared and I’ve gotten very scary messages from many friends. I’ve never felt unsafe in this city, but now I just feel like crying.
What do you think of the people involved in this?
I find it all very sad and scary. They seem to be from the age of 12 to 17 and you can’t help but wonder where are the parents?
What do you think can be done to end this?
I’m not sure, but they need more help. They should have brought in the army.
Do you think the constant media coverage has made it worse?
I think the media is having a difficult time keeping up with everything because it’s spreading so fast. The worst thing is the social networking sites where people are lying about things that are happening and confusing people.
They are calling it the BBM riots (Blackberry Messenger). What role do you think social media has played?
I think it has helped both the rioters and the people trying to prevent it or stop it, but it seems to be randomly happening in every area of London now and outside the city.
Would you like to comment any further?
It all just seems like a movie. You don’t believe this kind of stuff happens until you see it with your own eyes and even then it seems unreal. The most ridiculous story I have heard is kids breaking into Footlocker (a shoe shop) and taking the time to try on the shoes to find the right size! I just hope they manage to calm it down soon and not too many people have been hurt.
When I went out at 1:00 AM to check out the action in my local area, which boasts a wide variety of charity shops, a Tesco’s 24 hour supermarket and a McDonalds, I was confronted with small pockets of young people walking through the high street. Unsurprisingly, they were coming from the direction of the local council estate. When I drove back down the road, they were breaking into a TV shop and casually walking away with their haul.
What seems clear is that the police are visibly not in control, whether that is because they are outdated in their methods, the kids were too clever or they are understaffed and underfunded (why does it seem most likely they will say this?) Social media has, as in Búsáhaldabyltingin [Iceland’s Pots and Pans Revolution], been a key factor in taking the police by surprise. Unlike other recent social unrest around the world, the rioting in London seemed to be most utterly gratuitous. Clearly this was born out of a wider social problem and general attitude amongst a generation of children that have few prospects and little to lose. Many questions are being shooed away by angry and frightened Londoners today. Was this an attack on capitalism, a demonstration of disenchantment amongst our youth? Why was it laughter rather than angry shouting that could be heard echoing across London for the past three days? What is so special about the clothes from JD sports*?
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