London's Burning: Is There Any Hope For A Place Like Tottenham?

08/08/2011 12:15 | Updated 22 May 2015

This weekend was not a good weekend to be living in the capital, let alone a stone's throw from Tottenham, north London, which has been decimated by thieves and thugs.

What began as a peaceful protest by the family and friends of Mark Duggan turned into a catastrophic chain of events that left people homeless and robbed others of their businesses. Some lost everything they owned. It is, quite frankly, a miracle that no-one died.

Beyond the initial peaceful march, there was no statement being made by these 300 or so vandals about Mark Duggan – it wasn't even about race in general. I watched the footage for hours and what I saw were reckless looters and wide boys all piling in to get a piece of the action, like school kids in a playground nicking crisps and hoping to cause a good old fistfight.

These are young people with a deep antipathy for authority; they don't think they have been given much (and of course they are being given even less with the recent 75% cuts to youth services in the borough of Haringey), so they have convinced themselves it is their right to take whatever they want. MP David Lammy might like to think that some of the trouble makers were opportunists from out of the area – but it would be very naive to assume the majority of those idiots were not home grown.

More than anything the events in Tottenham, not to mention the copycat crimes all around the city, have been very telling. When young people come out to smash up their own communities, the very places where they live, it's symptomatic of a generation that's hopeless, one that is turning to self harm so it can feel something.

But it's no excuse. What's more, they are just cats crapping on their own doorsteps. Tottenham, an area that was already poor and already struggling has been put back even further. So much further. These kids, who have grown up among drugs and gun crime might think they have given a one-fingered salute to a system that has failed them, but they have, in reality, just hurt themselves. Those nice new plasma TVs, robbed from a retail park while the high street burned, will be outdated and kaput long before the damage they did to their community has been repaired.

If indeed that ever happens. A local resident and shop owner Derek Lewis is quoted in the Mirror this morning: "This community was already dying, now it's dead. I can't see how it will come back from this."

It's very sad but there is no easy answer. Money (of which there is precious little) will fix the shop fronts and the phone boxes, but it won't fix a mindset that has spanned generations. It might not be a mindset shared by all, but it is one that has illustrated its strength and its potential for destruction.

Those good people in Tottenham who have lost their homes and their livelihoods will have to draw strength from somewhere. Lammy believes they'll find it. He said: "For every person on camera throwing stones there will be 1,000 others off camera rebuilding what has been destroyed."

And what else is there to do but keep fighting?


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