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The Manchester Riots: An Expat's View

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I've never considered myself a true Mancunian (a person from Manchester), moving from another county to 35 minutes outside the city when I was 3, then leaving at 21 to live in the U.S. But growing up, Manchester was 'town', as in when we'd say we were 'going to town', we meant we were heading in to the city of Manchester.

The Manchester of the late 70's & 80's was sorely in need of a lick of paint (not that it would ever have dried due to the mostly damp conditions), but it wasn't a bad place; you could walk throughout the city, down the damp side streets, without much fear. The people weren't necessarily the friendliest, nor were they particularly rude. They just went about their business as people tend to do, keeping to themselves.

Many a time, I took the train to Piccadilly Station and walk down to the Arndale Centre, the main shopping mall in the middle of the city. I spent time perusing the shops, buying things from some, and marveling that others somehow remained in business despite their apparent lack of quality goods, or customers.

Although I wasn't a Mancunian, it was my town.

Moving away, first to college on the other side of the country (90 minutes away), and then finally to the U.S., meant that I didn't get to see my town that much. In 1996, I was first horrified at the IRA bomb blast that damaged the Arndale Centre, then delighted to see how the city was rebuilt, complete with a new tram system, after being awarded the 2002 Commonwealth Games.

Last night, I saw the first pictures, tweets, and stories coming out of my town, talking of masses of hooded youths swarming through Manchester city center, smashing shop windows, brazenly looting stores of anything they could carry, and setting fire to at least one shop.

It sickened me.

After the London riots started Saturday night and began spreading across the country to Nottingham, Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool, and elsewhere, I knew there was a good chance it would hit Manchester. It was reminiscent of 1981, when rioting in Brixton (a suburb of London) led to the Toxteth riots in Liverpool's suburbs and the Moss Side riots outside Manchester. At that time, the looting and arson persisted a full 72 hours.

It's true that today, as in 1981, the economy is not great. It's true that it's harder for anyone to find a job right now, let alone youth lacking practical experience or higher education. But this is not, and never will be, an excuse to destroy another person's livelihood; to smash, burn and destroy the businesses, houses, cars or property of others.

There are no visible leaders in these riots; no real demands or specific grievances beyond being bored, not having a job, and a sense of entitlement to commercial goods that has lead to smashing and grabbing across the country. While the catalyst of the first disturbance in London may have been the shooting death of Mark Duggan, it's tough to argue that the later riots have had anything to do with that incident.

Watching video feeds of the riots, I see places I know, shops I've been in, streets I've walked down... and I see gangs of youths with bandanas, baseball caps and hoods tied tight around their heads to obscure as much of their face as possible. I see them stealing everything from bags of cheap candy to high end plasma televisions. I see a branch of a company I used to work for, window smashed, shelves empty, everything gone.

Some have talked about oppression, harassment by police, an ingrained culture of mistrust and abuse by the system. Tell me, what does the corner shop owner have to do with that? What had they done to deserve to lose their livelihood in a deliberately set fire, or mass theft? The people whose homes were broken into, or whose cars were torched, or who were walking or taking transit home and were terrorized by screaming mobs, burning barricades, and flying projectiles... what did they do to deserve this?

One girl interviewed on the television in London claimed this was her way of "getting her taxes back." I would guess she doesn't realize that while the insurance companies will pay out to those affected by the riots, they'll most likely attempt to claim it back from the police under the Riot Damages Act of 1886. If the police end up paying a bill currently estimated at $162 million, that comes out of the public purse... her taxes. The idiocy of such a statement when she claims to be rioting against poverty and the oppression inherent to her financial state (so we can safely assume she's not paying a high amount in taxes, anyway) is astonishing. She doesn't seem to realize that cuts will now have to happen elsewhere to make that money available. She's now contributed to worsening her situation, and that of everyone in the country.

I hope the riots will soon end. That order will be restored. That these criminals will be arrested, or at the very least stay indoors tonight and play their looted Playstations on their stolen big screen plasma TVs, rather than head back out for another night of completely pointless violence and anarchy.

Other people in Manchester are already planning to mobilize; armed with broom and dustpan, they'll converge on the city this morning and try to clean their town, to brush away as much of the destruction as possible.

Those are the images I look forward to seeing today, of Mancunians coming together to show they won't be bowed down by these degenerates. That their town means something to them, just as it does to me, even though I'm 3,500 miles away.