Inadvertently walking into a riot where I live in Clapham Junction

I am still slightly in shock this morning after a major riot all around where I live last night. After getting off the train at Clapham Junction and walking to the exit I was met by a gang of over 100 masked, hooded and armed protesters. They raged through both exits, and to get out of the way decided to get out via St Johns Road only to be met by many more rioters. To my horror they were smashing up Debenhams and the shops all the way up to Northcote Road. The Police had created a barrier to stop them moving towards the police station, but there was no control.

It felt like extreme suppressed anger had just erupted, loads of people with hoodies were pouring into the area from the Winstanley Estate behind where I live and other areas of Battersea using Falcon Road as a route to join in the event. As I watched it seemed that this was organised – many were using twitter and texting on their mobile phones as they walked along.

What ever else you hear – there was a strong sense of anger. I talked to one bystander in shock who like me was trying to get out of the riot – who said they were from the Winstanley Estate who said that services had been cut, most of the youth were unemployed and had no hope, and that this was bound to happen as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer and are marginalised.

It is unsurprising then that the target of this anger was consumption and consumerism – the shops were targeted. Why? Because I think they have come to express a false understanding of freedom – the freedom to consume, and when you don’t have work or a future – consumption is one of the immediate impacts.

This is a bit of a wake up call. I had no doubts that the government will point out the thugs and other negative stereotypes in the game of blame – and I am sure there will be a minority number people who have joined in the violence – but this does not undermine the strong sense of anger by the many younger people who are excluded from work, hope and future – and last night in a frightening and deeply upsetting expression of anger erupted into the visible from the suppressed.

This makes the point about a fair approach to debt reduction that does not overly punish the poor and the young. In clapham Junction there is a huge and visible difference between the Council Estates and the opulent of those living ‘twix the commons’. It is well known that violence will aways erupt when the rich get richer and poor get poorer and the fault lines between these communities become the points of tension – and these are the places that were broken into last night..

So I join in the prayers of the Bishop of London and the Archbishop of Canterbury, who has called us pray for peace and reconciliation and a just approach to our economic situation that does not overly discriminate and impact on the poor rather than the rich!


POSTED 09.08.11 BY: ianmobsby | Comments (21)

21 Responses to “Inadvertently walking into a riot where I live in Clapham Junction”

  1. On August 9th, 2011 at 10:09 am Ash said:

    You have to be kidding. This is a capitalist country where wealth is the result of hard work, something these young thugs would shy away from rather than embrace as you suggest.

    They are not the victim of an unjust state but of their own attitude to work and life which in summary is “i should be given it on a plate”.

    One video i saw shows a Sky reporter asking one of the young girls why they were doing it .. “im getting my taxes back” she replied. This shows a youth who have no concept of how life really works, how a country supports its infrastructure, health care, police.

    However, ignorance is no excuse for law breaking. What if the 60 year old man with potentially fatal head injuries was your father – would you be feeling so sympathetic now?

    Save your prayers

  2. On August 9th, 2011 at 10:11 am Mike R said:

    Well said, Ian.

  3. On August 9th, 2011 at 10:38 am PeterR said:

    I thought of you this morning as I watched pictures on TV of Clapham burning. It seems strange to be sitting in a war zone and worrying that my dear friends are unsafe in the heart of London …

    And thanks for this blog post, Ian. What lies behind all this? How much is it the erosion of society, the fruit of Thatcherite “no such thing”, the belittling of solidarity and mutual support? How much is it frustration at the loss of jobs and prospects from the past few months? How much is it a consumer culture driven by conspicuous wealth of a few, tawdry fancies out of reach of most, and an assumption of entitlement without expectation of it being fulfilled? How much is the fruit of greed glorified? How much comes from the breakdown of close relationships, of family and neighbourhood ties and of a shared social contract? What is the place of poor policing in this? The place of a violent culture where guns are a symbol of power and wealth? The place of authoritarianism without moral authority? The place of false gods of status, consumption and fifteen minutes’ fame?

    And moot? I don’t know how you all felt on Sunday – it must have been strange. Here it feels very distant and rather scary. We have a full-blown political crisis – the entire “Executive Committee”, equivalent of the Cabinet, resigned / was dismissed last night – and the battle to liberate other parts of Libya has to carry on nevertheless. Somehow, though, it feels less unforeseen than the unexpected timing of the explosion in London, however predictable the anger that must be part of what lay beneath it.

  4. On August 9th, 2011 at 11:03 am P said:

    This wasn’t society’s fault. This riot wasn’t a protest and it wasn’t driven by anger – it was driven by greed, opportunism and adrenaline. I’ve seen these people before in Clapham – I once stood outside Debenham’s waiting for a bus and saw 8 youths storm a stationary bus brandishing knives, and fight another group inside the bus. It went on for about 10 minutes. The other passengers, including mothers with babies and elderly people, were terrified – it was one of the more disturbing sights I have seen for some time. These people enjoy the ‘gang’ power of frightening strangers, and the quick adrenaline fix of a fight or smashing a window. They’re football hooligans with no team to support.

    They may face issues in their lives, but so do people from all sorts of backgrounds all over the country, who manage to behave like human beings. This country has so much to offer anyone from any background. Just because someone else lives in a big house with a Porsche up the street from them doesn’t give them the justification, or even any pseudo-argument, to savage and wreck our community. Many of us have crap lives (some of which are far worse than this mob) without inflicting damage onto others.

  5. On August 9th, 2011 at 1:12 pm Grace said:

    Peter, how humbling that you should think so much of us. I hope you’re well.

    Great post Ian. It is surely the most angry and disaffected people, probably young, who are ready to flare, and when those calmer, more conventional people in their immediate circles begin to feel squeezed and not listened to by the government and its structures, to express frustration themselves, the last tie to peacable citizenship must feel like it’s gone.

    I’m afraid it’s not as unforeseen as some journalists would like to make out – even Clegg predicted them last April – and there’s plenty of build up. A fair summary is here:
    But there’s also the Haringey youth club closures, as an example of London-wide youth club closures.

    We pray every Sunday for our city, and we talk and post and discuss. But what more could we be doing, or voting for, or abstaining from?

  6. On August 9th, 2011 at 1:33 pm Aaron Kennedy said:

    i think this clearly one of those testy “both-and” scenarios. I hear with many ordinary londoners who feel put out by “sheer criminality”, who want to emphasise personal responsibility, but am also very moved by the realities pointed out to do with longterm systemic inequality in britain. it is clearly not an either-or choice. the home secretary is right to insist “this will not be tolerated”, but her government need to look seriously at their own, and probably every previous government since WWII’s role in entrenching the systemic factors that mean young people are at such a loose end, that they have “no stake” (as another guardian writer said) in the society around them they are demolishing.

    we must be willing to hold this tension ourselves, and walk a hard line between those explanations which only implicate the other, and those in which we, as contributing members of society, are also implicated.

  7. On August 9th, 2011 at 1:35 pm Aaron Kennedy said:

    in my opinion. that is.

  8. On August 9th, 2011 at 1:35 pm Mike R said:

    Any mooters getting involved in the London Riot Cleanup Gangs? Real grass roots stuff going on at the moment. People turning up with brooms and so on. Google it.

  9. On August 9th, 2011 at 1:37 pm Mike R said:

    Look out for #riotcleanup hashtag, some amazing stories out there at the moment.

  10. On August 9th, 2011 at 1:43 pm Aaron Kennedy said:

    my colleague also expressed a very insightful comment this morning, when he said, with the expenses scandal, and MPs appearing more or less getting off the hook, with the phone hacking scandal, and police and powerful people appearing to get away with it, added together with a fair dose of disenfranchisement and police-related deaths, it’s asking a lot for these kids not to react when provoked.

    i think that view has something to commend it. additionally, our society has a lot of inequalities, and v poor social mobility, as rcognised by the OECD (

  11. On August 9th, 2011 at 2:16 pm Catherine Dixon said:

    Glad you’re safe Ian. And thank you for writing. And Aaron, I agree. The call for people to take greater responsibility for their actions extends to us all, as we are all members of one and the same society. How often do I see myself as removed somehow from ‘the other’ – those people who are not the same as me. Yet we need to find the connections, to see the shared humanity beneath the aggressive actions. I think it is the only way forward. Though far from easy to love in such circumstances. And so I am thankful for the measure and love of Moot being shown in response to these events.

  12. On August 9th, 2011 at 2:26 pm James_Vincent said:

    I’m finding it very hard to see any actual link between social injustice and inequality – of which we undoubtedly have a big problem in this country – and the looting take place. I was unemployed for a depressingly long time with no real alternative, but I do not feel the need to go out and ‘take what’s mine-by-right’ from someone just because they’re rich.

    People on the TV and radio are urging communities to pull together to confront and overcome these problems, but my experience of London was that these communities are almost entirely fictional. The individualism that has triumphed in this country since the end of the Second World War caused the social revolution of the 60s, as well as the consumer revolution of the 80s. The outcome of both was that no one is allowed to tell anyone else that what they’re doing is wrong. No excuses, no justifications, no sympathy or empathy. Just wrong.

  13. On August 9th, 2011 at 2:55 pm Aaron Kennedy said:

    james, the connection may not be obvious to you, but it is neccesary. you bemoan indivudalism, and the impoverishment of community; we must also look to the communal dimension of the context.

    yes, individuals need to take responsibility for their actions, and they need to held to account, but social policy matters, police-community relationships matter, consumerism (as you say) being pushed as THE life strategy, matters, it matters that funding has been cut to most strategic youth initiatives. … etc, etc, all this matters.

  14. On August 9th, 2011 at 3:09 pm Luci said:

    Good to hear people talking about something other than retribution. Ian, we salute you.

  15. On August 9th, 2011 at 3:58 pm Grace said:

    A friend who told me once at uni while drunk that “we’re all just pieces of meat” just facebooked this comment: ‘It’s almost as if bombarding people with advertising for junk they’ll never be able to afford then removing any real job prospects is a BAD idea.’

  16. On August 9th, 2011 at 4:30 pm PeterR said:

    Aaron, I agree that it’s both-and. I agree with you, James, that being young and unemployed and unconnected and prospectless doesn’t make looting right. It stays wrong. But what we need to understand is not what might justify it but what leads to it. To say that people are morally responsible for their actions doesn’t stop it being important to understand what pressures create those actions. After all, people didn’t riot before but they did now, they didn’t loot before but they did now. So if we want to do something positive to move forward – which simply saying “you’re all bad” will never do – then we need to work out why we’ve got to this point. If there are causes (not excuses) for this in the politics or culture of London then we can try to address those causes. Nothing in today’s London makes it right to say “let’s nick some watches”, but something in today’s London makes it seem OK to destroy someone’s livelihood. And we need to understand what those forces are if we’re gonig to build a better society. We’ll never build one that doesn’t also need better people, but we can do something to reduce the sources of anger and frustration and helplessness and marginalisation
    I hope.

  17. On August 9th, 2011 at 4:39 pm Mike R said:

    Hi Peter! Are the Libyans recognising the rioters as the true government of the UK now? ;-p

  18. On August 9th, 2011 at 5:11 pm Emily said:

    Glad to hear you are safe, Ian. Have been thinking of you.

  19. On August 9th, 2011 at 7:35 pm tim d said:

    hi guys. i’ve really appreciated reading this dialogue today. agree with Aaron that it’s a ‘both and’ event/stiuation. I just hope as a society we embrace the lessons inherent within this. tim

  20. On August 9th, 2011 at 8:02 pm ianmobsby said:

    Wow – that certainly kicked off a discussion. I certainly agree what Aaron has said about a balanced and non-dualistic response. I compassionate response seeks to understand and discern an underlying reason to this. Just demonising and judging and naming out of anger doesn’t really move things on. We need to learn from the experiences of northern ireland about a dialogical restorative justice rather than punitive justice has to be important here. Starting with thug is only telling half the story which must include the terrible things we hav neglected for younger people who have been left to rot in many of our estates. If we believe ina kingdom of God then seeking the best for many of our unemployed younger people to enter into full society is crucial.

  21. On August 10th, 2011 at 10:34 am ianmobsby said:

    One further reflection I have – is one of scape-goating. At the weekend retreat we looked at the issue of power and scapegoating, and I have been reflecting how this street violence maybe is an expression of this.

    When I was at school I was in quite a rough class, and there was one guy who I would now recognised for being gay, who was constantly being picked on. Not only was he gay but he came from quite a poor family. He was relentlessly bullied by the richer more able kids from the rich suburbs. One day, he could not take it anymore, and he flipped out and raged beating up a class room and our possessions. He simply could not take the violence expressed at him anymore – and in his rage and powerlessness – he took out his rage on the only thing he had the power to do – on his environment.

    For the last year we have as a society been doing economic violence to the poor and young with reductions in social and health care, the ending of projects to reduce poverty and the effects of poverty – and now huge unemployment particularly of the young – where all the resources are still being held by the boomers who had grants for education, a free health service and a lot more possibilities. In the cuts sure-start and many many worthwhile projects seeking to challenge and elevate poverty have ended – creating ghettoisation in our now market society that actively excluded the poor. In a world where everything is about competition rather than co-operation we have recreated a society modelled on the rules of the class room I mentioned earlier.

    Just may be the poor including the excluded many young people who have experienced the violence of exclusion and economic injustice have expressed they rage and anger at the only thing they can – their environment in front of them again like that class room. Scape-goating is when the powerful project their violence and raging at others – and just may be this is what we have done as a society justified by the language of prudent economics.
    A final thought is the unspoken rules of a class society. The rich express their crime through sociopathic gain by manipulating others such as the politicians expense scam, many of this is expressed power abuse to those perceived to be over lower class. This is then expressed down the chain to those who are at the bottom who are expected just to absorb the violence – like the victim of a bully. May be some of the anger I hear on the news is because of peoples anger that some of the most marginalised people in our society didn’t just take the abuse of our current unjust social system – may be our anger is because they have expressed their anger back at society – breaking the rules of a bully – and our anger is because the scapegoat has fought back by naming their anger against the shops as the environment.

    I find it interesting to see the anger that starts with the actions of those who did the rioting. No one is asking what caused this rioting to act out all round the country – why are we unwilling to ask what is the cause? May be it is because we would then need to face our responsibilities for creating an unjust society whose values of competition will always do violence through the language of competition? In so doing we are collectively the bully and we are collectively scapegoating…