Affairs

Crime

UK Riots Part 1: Solidarity of the broom brigade— England

Preface

If the night before had been symbolised by the hoodie, the abiding image of the morning after was the broom.

Government

9 August 2011

If the night before had been symbolised by the hoodie, the abiding image of the morning after was the broom. At Clapham Junction, the scene of some of the worst looting on Monday night, hundreds of people turned up yesterday morning armed with dustpans, brushes and broomsticks to help the local council workers clear the streets.

Outside the train station on Lavender Hill, with most of the road still cordoned off by police, they waved their brooms in the air – it was as much a demonstration as it was an actual clean-up.
The trouble the night before had begun in the early evening, when it was still light. One witness, who like so many in Clapham was wary of giving his name, told how a group of 60 teenagers had gathered outside JD Sports at around 18:00. “I didn’t think it would pan out like this. I thought it would be a little gathering, making a bit of noise. But look at that building over there.”

He pointed to Debenhams, a large department store on the corner where the windows had been smashed, but he could have been pointing at any number of shops. Litter and debris was strewn across the street, the blackened remains of the Party Superstore was still smouldering. Down side roads there was even more destruction – windows smashed, goods stolen.

One of those who had come armed with a broom, a young man who gave his name as Jack, said the clean-up helped to show Clapham still had its soul. “I’ve lived here since I was little, I know the place very well. Some of the shops that got wrecked had a bit of a close place in my heart. Getting people together, showing that people care, it’s quite important and good for the area.”

There was a sense of community but as the violence of the night before had shown there is more than one community here now. “As much as it’s great that there’s a community spirit here and everyone’s come out to help,” Jack continued, “it exacerbates that feeling of them and us. They feel so far removed from our world, our cosy little lives.”

There are worrying similarities between the situation in London and other UK cities and the riots that began in the Paris banlieues in 2005. In both capitals it started with a death at the hands of the police. In both capitals there is an underclass that has lost all connection with the rest of society. The French riots lasted for three months – and six years on there is little sense that the underlying issues have been dealt with.

“Clapham’s a lovely area,” said one young woman outside the station. “But now it’s just… everybody’s scared, scared for their lives. It’s the kids that they’re scared of that’s the big thing about it. It’s our next generation that we’re scared of.”

On the other side of the police cordon, at the top of Lavender Hill, a group of half a dozen teenagers stood sullenly watching, leaning on their bikes. When a journalist approached them, they turned and rode off.

Monocle 24

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