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Uncivil Disorder: The Quietus' Personal View Of The Hackney Riots
Luke Turner , August 9th, 2011 08:56

Last night's rioting took place at the end of and along Luke Turner's street. Here is his view on the trouble

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At about six o'clock last night Abdullah, the owner of the Clapton Palm, was to be seen wearing a crash helmet as he brought his stock inside and shuttered up his business. The Clapton Palm is something of a Hackney success story. A large general store situated on the corner of Lower Clapton Road (formerly Murder Mile), Abdullah and his Turkish family have made a roaring success of their business, even as Tesco opened yet another branch right next door. As the donning of his crash helmet suggested, Abdullah is something of a showman, but also a man who cares deeply about his local area, and his people. "I cannot fail and let Tesco win," he told me once, "I would have to send so many people from my family back home."

Half an hour earlier, I'd walked up from Hackney Downs Station through the Pembury Estate to my house. Upturned wheelie bins burned in the middle of the road surrounded by broken glass, and kids, their faces covered, were stockpiling bricks. The atmosphere was extremely tense, claustrophobic, and heavy, but I must state that at no time did I feel personally threatened despite being, in my white linen-jacketed way, an obvious target for muggers.

As the evening went on, the neighbourhood sat under a cacophony of helicopters, sirens, shouts, crashes, burglar alarms. Leaning out of the window, I could see youths ripping up paving stones, and pulling a bollard from its foundations. As the police finally seemed to take control of the situation, vans thundering past the end of my road, the kids poured down between the houses. What was remarkable was how young they were, all in their early to mid-teens, the girls necking Lambrini, goading the boys. On my train from Seven Sisters to Hackney Downs shortly beforehand were three girls heading down to join the fun and discussing the boys they fancied who were joining in the rioting. There were also, sadly, a lot of older people egging the younger ones on.

The BBC helicopter, hovering overhead, showed the police and rioters going back and forth, cars being set on fire and, most infuriatingly of all, a local convenience shop owned and run by people from our local area, being ransacked. Because if there's something that has struck me about this four days of rioting, and seeing the laughing faces of those who were perpetrating it, was its nihilism. This was community self-harm mixed with a peculiar brand of materialism, as kids smashed in windows to acquire trainers, sportswear and high-end electrical goods. It is worth noting that the ones I'd seen preparing for confrontation on my walk through Hackney were not exactly lacking in the accoutrements of street style.

But that is only part of the story. The area of Hackney where I live is no longer the bleak, prostitution and drug-riddled sinkhole that it was ten years ago. I spoke to one taxi driver who had lived on the Pembury Estate (from where most of the trouble seems to have come) describing how drug gangs would force him to drive around London, pay his fare, then pull a gun on him and demand it back. He moved out to Leyton, and told me he would not bring his black son up in Hackney. He was full of praise for the massive changes - and yes, gentrification - that has happened in the Borough over the past ten years. The Pembury Estate has recently undergone a massive refurbishment programme.

The nearest secondary school to Clarence Road, where most of the violence took place, is the Mossbourne Academy. This was built on the site of the Hackney Downs School (former pupil, Harold Pinter) that in the 1990s was described as "the worst school in Britain". Earlier this year, Mossbourne Academy was praised as "a spectacular breakthrough" by Ofstead. And it's important to note, for fear of this being hijacked by the racists of the BNP and the English Defence League, that just across Hackney Downs in Dalston, groups of Turkish men were rallying around and defending their businesses and local residents.

But for all these positives, Hackney is a divided place. Last Wednesday at 5am I was awakened by yet another police helicopter, operating as part of a huge drug bust against local postcode gangs, of which there are three within a one minute walk from my house. When I lived one street over, in a failed 1990 social housing estate called Mother's Square (which has its own gang, the Mother's Square Boys), I wasn't surprised to awake one morning and find one of the flats locked down under metal grill, with a notice on the door saying that a crack den had been closed. Everyone knew it was a crack den, youths hanging around at all hours, the occasional nocturnal shout ("he merked me man", "get in the fucking car") or intimidating, revving circuits by sports car. You know who the gang members are. You walk home from the pub behind three youths, see one of them pull a knife from his back pocket, and twirl it round his head. But you do nothing. The gangs don't bother you, you don't bother the gangs.

From the look of things last night, it was the members of, or 'apprentices' to, these groups who were carrying out most of the core violence, while an excitable and impressionable group of younger kids stood just behind their lines. And this is what is most worrying. If, as the Catch A Looter website suggests, these people are so idiotic as to post pictures of themselves brandishing stolen goods (including a bag of rice) online, what is the mentality that led them to steal in the first place? Yes, government cuts in local services, Sure Start and the Educational Maintenance Allowance are undoubtedly part of the problem, but there are also tough and uncomfortable truths that stretch back way beyond the 2010 general election.

Perhaps some of these issues are those that the left sometimes feels uncomfortable discussing: a lack of discipline in schools, for instance, the impact of the breakdown on the family structure, a disconnect between police and community combined with hardly any regular patrols. Where were the parents of the children rioting last night? What would they say when their offspring come home with a new telly or armful of clothes? We live in a society where the capital expended at the top end rarely filters downwards, and the harsh reality is that we do seem to have a generation growing up, some of whom appear to have minimal intellect or social awareness, and zero interest in anything save materialism. This morning, when I walked to work down remarkably clean streets (only the burned out vehicles remained) there were groups of kids hanging around, angry that "they'll" be closing down BBM and Facebook. Other local people just stood in the street, looking worried and depressed.

It's hard to know how we can have better community integration in areas like Hackney, to create a situation where it doesn't feel as if we're different groups orbiting around each other and never communicating. Someone on Twitter described this situation well: "a multiracial monoculture". Abdullah and his family at the Clapton Palm, along with the Turkish restaurant across the road who recommend music from their homeland when I go in for a lahmacun, are evidence that this is happening. These riots are two steps back. As I type, the internet suggests that we're in for another night of it. Who knows where it will all end. But the last word ought to belong to the woman who made a defiant speech next to the post box that sits pretty much opposite the end of my street. Let's hope that among the over one million people who have listened to her words are some of those intent on rioting tonight.

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Aug 9, 2011 1:21pm

Brilliant article, and all true. It will be remarkable if David Cameron still wants to make cuts to the police after this. Also, that Hackney lady is insipiring, kudos to her.

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Aug 9, 2011 1:51pm

for the love of god stop trying so hard to write like a journalist

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Aug 9, 2011 2:04pm

If that's directed at me, then how at all does it sound like a journalist's writing? Those are just my mannerisms. I asure you that I'm not trying to sound like anything.

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Aug 9, 2011 2:21pm

It's disturbing that the view of 'I can take because someone is richer than me' seems to be the underlying thread through the blogs and interviews I've been reading. The identification with heavily advertised merchandise and the need to 'have it' at all costs and hence get one step further up the ladder of social respectability (in their friendship groups/gangs) without having to pay for it is an enticing one. The advertising for 'street' goods and modern consumer items has reached saturation point. Imagine you can only afford the fakes but the 'real thing' is now just a small reach away. Tempting eh? Running in near parallel to all this has been MP expenses. 'Its all there waiting to be taken', 'nobody will notice will they' 'everybody else is doing it, why can't I?' 'I need this to carry out my job and my basic salary doesn't cover it'. Opportunism writ large; the common thread? That nobody is perceived to be watching.....

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Aug 9, 2011 2:56pm

Kaiser Chiefs = Smug Bastards.

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Aug 9, 2011 3:16pm

i dont know if i would call them mannerisms, it's just the way it moves from one thing to the next. "first, here's a particular detail. here's some further information which helps elaborate upon it, and here's some more, but it's true that that particular detail, after all, was essentially little more than simply a particular detail. the general picture contains many particular details such as the one just described, and at some time in the past it became clear that it was apparent that etc etc" / "from such a perspective, things appear a certain way. however, some might say other perspectives exist which make things appear slightly different. some of the other perspectives are touched upon in this part of this sentence, and perhaps some others are touched upon in this part, but one thing's for sure: things have happened." phony broadsheet selflessness, where the author never seems fully present but never seems fully absent either. no need for it. no disrespect tho blud brap brap fuck da feds

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Aug 9, 2011 3:24pm

In reply to jeah:

But I wasn't writing like that at all! How can you develop such an in-depth analysis from something that was only two lines long and actually features no information, just a personal point of view, and doesn't contain the views of anybody else or any different aspects of the subject? If anything you're the one writing like a journalist in that last comment with your extreme over-thinking. You're just looking into it too much, I'm more human being than you're imagining. Anyway, let's argue no more about this. Sorry if my comment annoyed you.

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Aug 9, 2011 3:49pm

In reply to jack:

I don't think it's about you, Jack. Bit self-important of you to presume. And kudos isn't a word that many people use.

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Aug 9, 2011 3:57pm

In reply to Kitsune:

I predict a number one...

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Aug 9, 2011 4:14pm

Great article Luke - despite the pathetic critical smartarse, but add nothing, comments.

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Aug 9, 2011 4:28pm

Interesting piece, good reportage up to a point, but oh dear apparently somehow the Left have to have the finger pointed at them, no mention whatsoever of any other political responsibility. The violence and destruction can't be condoned and its effect on local people is lamentable, but what about the bigger issues which provide a context for understanding the riots without justifying them that you singularly fail to mention:

- The police shooting
- Wholesale promotion of materialism without alternative
- Massive and ever-increasing social inequality
- Corruption of the political sphere (Murdoch et al)
- Coalition government without mandate
- Cuts to public services
- Late capitalist monopolisation
- Privatisation of public space
- The MP expenses scandal
- Bankruptcy of national economies...

What about the riots as symptom of the above, not protest or response? Instead you ask "Where were the parents of the children rioting last night?" The more I think about your piece, the more it strikes me as archetypal neoliberalism masquerading as common-sense. Your voice is of a piece with the majority of the reporting I've read. I expected more from The Quietus.

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Aug 9, 2011 4:33pm

In reply to :

Considering both his comments were directed at me, I don't know who else it would have been about.

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Aug 9, 2011 4:36pm

Ps. Sorry, Jeah, if you're not a "him."

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Aug 9, 2011 4:41pm

Nihilism is spot on. I've lived in London for 6 years in what you'd hardly call afluent areas (Stockwell, Holloway, Stepney, Hackney Central and Homerton) and have continually witnessed or been a victim of this disregard for literally everyone but themselves.

The people committing these acts of looting and rioting are surely the same people that:

-Jack peoples bikes, phones, jewellery
- insult you flagrantly on the street for how you dress or look
- play loud music and scream on the bus and then attack or tell anyone who protests to 'fuck off'..
- insult women passing by calling them 'slags, whores' and
- barge to the front of the cues shops

And the only reason we're scared of them is cos we think they have a weapon or are rolling in a big group. This is how they get away with it.

Surely someone else has noticed this?

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John Doran
Aug 9, 2011 4:42pm

In reply to Colin:

Colin, what's your full name and address? It's just that I live in Hackney and work in Tottenham as does Luke. It would be interesting to know what your "personal view" of the riots is actually based on.

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Luke Turner
Aug 9, 2011 4:44pm

In reply to Colin:

I don't think you have read the piece properly. I mention cutbacks, I mention the dominant materialism in our culture. I mention unfair distribution of wealth. I mention alienation between different ethnic groups in the local area. I entirely agree that most of the things you additionally mention are part of what it behind these disturbances. But I will not step back from saying that discipline IS an issue.

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Aug 9, 2011 5:14pm

In reply to jack:

jack, jeah's first comment is clearly directed at the author of the main article. This becomes even more clear when you read jeah's second comment.

It is possible that jeah responded to your comment 'if that's directed at me... etc' thinking that you were the author of the article.

'I don't know who else it would have been about' Get a grip, lad.

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Aug 9, 2011 6:17pm

I'm a bit unsure as to why Colin has gone on some rant, Luke seems to make some great points which actually match with the things Colin mentions. And I don't think Luke is having a pop at 'the left' and his remark on discipline is spot on. Oh and ignore that silly bastard saying 'stop trying so hard to write like a journalist' etc etc. Excellent article, I think.

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Tubby Isaacs
Aug 9, 2011 6:58pm

"It's hard to know how we can have better community integration in areas like Hackney, to create a situation where it doesn't feel as if we're different groups orbiting around each other and never communicating."

Brilliantly expressed. Tower Hamlets is like that. Middle class white, working class white, Bengali (no idea how many communities within that). I know neighbours, people who work in shops. That's about it.

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Ellie Stamp
Aug 9, 2011 8:00pm

There have been many comments written about the form and content of this article. I feel praise is deserved for writing it. Thank you Luke.

There are indeed many factors surrounding the riots, i feel many of them are touched upon in this article and the surrounding comments. However, what we need now is action. How do we open the lines of communication and reach young people that are addicted to consumerism?
How do we re install faith in our community?
How do we stop 'different groups orbiting around each other '?
We need to stop talking and start doing. I do not condone the actions of the past couple of days. But at least they did something and people are now listening.

There needs to be a physical platform for discussion. The internet is not enough.

People freely gave up their time today to go clean up the streets. An initiative started by people wanting to help their communities.

Recently young people have lost their community centers, youth clubs. key workers and youth leaders? What's stopping people giving up their time to work with these young people apart from fear?

Young people have been demonised as criminals and now they behave like criminals. This needs to change.

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Aug 9, 2011 8:34pm

Great article- I would never have thought of them immediately, but here you've highlighted a lot of issues that I and probably others have completely overlooked, such as education etc. The really disgusting thing is the fact that the police seem to have done pretty much nothing about it thus far. I know their numbers are stretched but I've heard reports that they've just been largely letting the looters run wild and not making any real attempt to stand in their path. I don't know what your take on the police action is Luke, but it's nice to see a personal insight and a first hand account.

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Aug 9, 2011 9:18pm

So frustrating.

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Aug 9, 2011 10:12pm

In reply to Ellie Stamp:

'Young people have been demonised as criminals and now they behave like criminals. This needs to change' Great point! The clearest and most succinct comment i've heard...

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Aug 10, 2011 9:21am

In reply to jeah:

For the love of god bus driver, stop trying so hard to drive this bus.

For the love of god doctor, stop trying so hard to make people healthy.

etc etc

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Jerry Barr
Aug 10, 2011 10:14am

I read this as I sit in my Cotswold home and prepare for a meeting in Birmingham with fellow travellers from Rwanda where we support those who work for peace and reconciliation in that damaged country. They have so little and we have so much yet have lost the ability to communicate, share and understand. I weep and pray for those caught up in this violence - I can do little else.

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Julian S
Aug 10, 2011 11:23am

"Perhaps some of these issues are those that the left sometimes feels uncomfortable discussing"

Feels uncomfortable discussing? Aren't things like traditional discipline, traditional authority figures, exactly what the left has been trying to get rid of for the last few decades? Hate to sound like Melanie Phillips, but surely it's not a case of the left ignoring those things, but a case of the left actively disliking them.

Those things have often been regarded as patriarchal and repressive by true lefties. So instead we have a nation of "community leaders" and youth workers. Sadly, it doesn't seem to have worked too well.

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Aug 10, 2011 3:26pm

A fine article with a genuine understanding as it's actually written by a local resident.
Apart from tv news I've mainly come across gut reactions to the riots. It's either been these-people-are-scum-send-in-the-army or yeah-revolution-smashing-windows-is-automatically-a-good-thing or to put it another way either " two rights make
a wrong " or " my enemys enemy is my friend ". Both are equally idiotic so thank you for writing this Luke - a sensible voice.

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Aug 10, 2011 4:17pm

In reply to Colin:

'Archetypal liberalism masquerading as common sense' - Couldn't agree more Colin. Very predictable that when public order is under threat the left is immediately blamed/criticised/used as a scapegoat.

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brother d
Aug 11, 2011 11:51am

In reply to John Doran:

calm down, it doesn't matter where he lives and I agree with him it was a piss poor piece of

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John Doran
Aug 11, 2011 12:03pm

In reply to brother d:

Duh, it is entirely central to the feature if he's giving a 'personal' view on how the riots affect him. The main photo is what Luke can see from his front door. Half of my local shops were attacked, the others protected by men with baseball bats. etc. So, you'll forgive me for wanting to know exactly what his vantage point on events is. Not that it would improve his powers of reading anyway.

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Aug 20, 2011 7:03pm

Afraid you find yourself in the same company as David Cameron in your opinions. I hope you find that as repulsive as I do.
To quote a considerably better man: "Riots are the language of the unheard". If you honestly think that it is time to denounce the rioters as nihilists then you are disconnected from what is going on. A man in jail for stealing ice-cream. A nine year old in court for stealing a bin. A woman facing a sentence for receiving a garment as a gift that was stolen.
A bad moment to pick the wrong side and I'm afraid choosing to go after the "materialism" and (as you assume) the poor parenting of their mothers and fathers is simply not needed. It is based on no more evidence then a Governmental press release and seems to be motivated by nothing other then your fear of being mugged. I suggest you actually engage with some of the problems that have caused this riot rather then jump to condemnation in tandem with the judges, the tories, the fascists, David Starkey and, disappointingly, most of the liberal media.

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John Doran
Aug 21, 2011 6:01am

In reply to Jakakhan:

Anyone who sees this situation as being 100% the fault of the rioters or 100% the fault of the politicians or 100% the police is a fucking dimwit, simple as. And that applies equally to bombastic, out of town, armchair anarchists like yourself as it does to the editors of the red and blue top tabloids.

Just because we don't like seeing people getting made homeless and countless independently owned, ethnically run, family businesses being destroyed in our own neighbourhood just to pave the way for even more branches of Tesco, that doesn't mean we're fascists or in league with David Cameron.

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John Doran
Aug 21, 2011 6:14am

In reply to John Doran:

Plus, let me make myself clear on this point. If you support the use of arson on any building that may have people in it (which pretty much means residential or business) then you are sub human scum. I don't care if people want to march on police stations. There are some districts of London where I'd join them.

Burning down a charity shop or a bakery or a family home however is the work of a cunt, whether heard or not.

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Aug 23, 2011 10:45pm

In reply to d:

for the love of god commenter stop trying so hard to write a comment. for the love of god actuator stop trying so hard to actuate. for the love of god actuator stop actuating so actuatedly to actuate. for the actuating of actuation actuator actuate actuation actuatedly actuated to actuation. a meaningful line of discourse indeed.

where is it you live where medicine and bus driving are considered creative arts? is it constructed entirely out of lego?

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