Smash, grab; clean, tidy


August 10, 2011 by jessperriam

Here’s what I’ve done in the last 36 hours:

*Looked at London riot coverage on Twitter and the BBC website.

*Went grocery shopping with my housemate.

*Looked online again – saw that there was a bit of malarkey starting in Salford and Manchester… and then a lot of malarkey.

*Went for a walk around the neighbourhood with a few friends, praying for our Moss Side community – all was calm.

*Came home to look online again to find that more damage had been done.

*Hit saturation point and closed my internet browser.

*Did two live crosses to radio presenters from my old work in Perth about Manchester at midnight and 6am.

*Had breakfast with my housemate.

*Walked to the city centre to help tidy up the mess.

I guess I want to say from the outset that I am a foreigner and I may have a different view to my local friends about what’s happened in Manchester in the last day or so. I don’t have any cohesive, well-written prose to go along with these views either.

But suffice it to say we’re all a bit mystified in Manchester.

Walking in and around the city centre this morning, I realised that while I could be angry that people trashed the city, they didn’t destroy anything I love about the place but rather, the smash and grabbers targetted things they love, value and aspire to.

My favourite cafe in the Northern Quarter is still very much intact, in fact it was teeming with regulars and people who had done their bit tidying up. However just around the corner a shop that sells sneakers that just happen to be on trend at the moment was completely trashed and devoid of any stock.

The next street over a cash converters has been smashed to pieces and second hand electrical goods were taken yet other specialist shops were left untouched. Perhaps looters don’t understand the intrinsic joy that comes from listening to vinyl records.

On Oxford Rd, a cinema /art gallery / restaurant stands proudly on the corner, untouched, a bit further up the road a Tesco had been ransacked and a McDonalds had a smashed window.

Members of Manchester’s community were planning the clean up before the city had been properly trashed. The Greater Manchester Police clearly knew what they were doing by effectively locking down the city before the looting began. People who didn’t want to be caught up in the mess had the opportunity to leave before thing got messy. Spectators were left presumably at their own mercy.

Truth be told by the time the community came to pitch in and clean up this morning, the bulk of the hard work had been done by the Manchester City Council. I think a lot of us who turned up knew that would be the case, but we still wanted to show up to show everyone that this city is better than this bizarre behaviour from a minority. That’s why I love this city.

There are loads of adjectives and let’s face it some pretty foul nouns being bandied about to describe the people who participated in the smash and grab (note, I’m not calling it a riot). Some describe them as criminals and indeed as some are charged and found guilty of criminal acts, they will then become criminals. Others call them scum – I think that’s just perpetuating a clear class divide. If you call someone scum isn’t that giving them permission to act like it?

The word I would put to it is: inarticulate. If you want to riot, have a reason, make that reason clear. Preferably make it a good reason. Understand that if your reasoning is deemed by the community to be selfish, greedy or unreasonable that you probably won’t be supported in that. If your reason is: “I want a new pair of sneakers.” or “It’s fun and they can’t stop us,” then chances are the sympathy levels are going to be low. If you’re frustrated by benefits culture, lack of opportunity or the fact that tracksuits and hoodies seem to only be manufactured in one shade of grey then say so. Don’t just smash things and assume we’ll know why.

But then on the flipside, what kind of society do we live in where people prepare a shopping list before smashing up carefully targeted shops? Perhaps it’s high time we remind everyone (yes, everyone) that contrary to popular persuasion by advertisers you’re not the trainers you put on your feet. Nor are you the latest gadget. You’re certainly not the suit and tie you put on in the morning, you’re not the car with the flashy badge on it. You’re not your bank balance or your address. There’s a reason why cemeteries aren’t full of tombstones with names and bank balances.

You’re far more valuable than that.

The thing is, do you believe that?


9 thoughts on “Smash, grab; clean, tidy

  1. So well said. Thanks Jess.

  2. Carol Perriam says:

    Beautifly written as only you can, I am glad that Manchester escaped the bad damage to buildings and properties. The feeling of belonging to a good community must have been very strong yesterday with all the people helping to clean up. I am glad you and your friends were all kept safe.

  3. Hilary says:

    Hey Jess, I’m glad you’re safe. Please stay that way!

    It’s really interesting to see your perspective on the situation. This bit-

    Understand that if your reasoning is deemed by the community to be selfish, greedy or unreasonable that you probably won’t be supported in that.

    – seems to me to be somewhat counterintuitive though. As far as I can tell, rioting is frowned upon by any community that is affected by it, and deemed selfish and unreasonable by the people not doing the rioting. Generally these kinds of things are only called riots if people don’t like them. Rioting is scary, rioting is bad, rioting involves setting stuff on fire and looting and possibly beating civilians up and definitely violent contact with the police. When there’s sympathy for the movement it’s usually called a protest instead. It’s interesting that I see so many people refusing to call these events riots, as if the people involved are so incredibly low they don’t even deserve a word that’s loaded with negative connotations.

    It all seems to go hand in hand with a refusal to credit the rioters with any reason for their actions. It’s clear that there hasn’t been much in the way of chanting slogans and marching around with signs to get the point across, but actions are supposed to speak louder than words, and nobody does this kind of stuff for no reason at all. Why smash and burn and steal from a community that you feel values you, that you feel a part of? If you’re at the point where doing those things looks like a good idea then you must have no stake in the community at all, no standing, no sense of belonging, no hope of achieving those things, and nothing to lose. Why risk violent confrontation with other rioters and with the police and possible jail time for a pair of sneakers? It’s not just a pair of sneakers. From over here it doesn’t look inarticulate at all. It looks like a whole bunch of desparate people with no faith in the system and no hope of being listened to even if they were “articulate”. This whole thing- the looting of only certain luxury items, the oddly consumerist nature of it, and the reaction to the riots, the way it’s being reported, the denial that there’s anything reasonable about what they want or the way they’re doing things- it looks like class warfare. It looks like desparate people being told to eat cake, and to eat it with good manners.

    …. And I seem to have written you a short and somewhat ranty novel. Sorry :/ Feel free to not publish this comment- mostly I just wanted to say I’m glad you’re okay.

  4. jessperriam says:

    That’s precisely it – I think people aren’t calling them riots because riots have connotations of chanting and slogans – and I think perhaps in London it could have almost certainly been classed as a riots brought on by a boroughs that are frustrated at the police situation (ie. heavy handed tactics, yet a reduction of active community policing.) . The impetus was a police shooting. But here in Manchester it was a copycat scenario, and a pretty poor attempt at one. That’s why I’m not calling it a riot. You don’t go rioting with a shopping list. And maybe that says something, but the ‘woo hoo, free stuff!’ mentality was definitely the cause of the Manchester smash and grab. Ask the looters in Manchester who Mark Duggan is and perhaps they’d shrug their shoulders.

    I haven’t lived here long enough to have a nuanced understanding of the situation although I’ve been asked a few times whether I would think it would happen in Australia. And I’d have to say no. Or at least not in the same way. Here in the UK, there’s a fairly massive class divide with a sizeable chunk of nice people in the middle who are bobbing along neither poor, nor rich but Australia is prosperous yet racist (and no, I’m not going to expand on that in a comment).

    • Hilary says:

      I’m sure my understanding is lacking way more in nuance than yours, but I still think there’s a bit more going on here than simple greed. The differences between the London riots and the riots elsewhere are fairly obvious, but as I said, why would they go out and damage their community that way if they felt that the community had anything to offer them, and if they truly felt that they were part of it? If the risks of engaging in violence, both in terms of immediate personal safety and in terms of potential jail time and criminal records are something that doesn’t seem so terrible, and there’s no concern for their neighbourhood and the people in it, then there’s more going on than just wanting a new pair of sneakers and not being able to afford them. Even without any slogans being chanted- even without the thought of communicating a protest ever so much as crossing the minds of the people looting- their actions say a lot of things about their situation in society, and none of it is terribly positive. There is always a reason for violence, even if the reason is just not having a reason not to. If there’s no hope of your community ever offering you anything except being characterised as scum who just want to get something for nothing, then why not go out and behave like scum and help yourself to the contents of a few shops on the way? These things don’t happen in a vacuum.

      I don’t know if it would ever happen in Australia either- not in that way, at least. I don’t suppose I even need to mention Cronulla. I absolutely agree that Australia’s social issues tend more towards racism than classism, although those issues do tend to intersect. I have to admit I find it hard to imagine anything like a riot happening in sleepy little Perth… touch wood.

      • jessperriam says:

        I certainly don’t want to say it’s mindless violence – I’m sure the reasons are caught up in social policy, high unemployment, low opportunity and a society that doesn’t appears not to place value on each and every citizen. The society appears to put value on the ‘stuff’ you have and if you ‘have not’ due to your economic circumstances then you’re not valued as highly. I’d be pretty bloody angry too if I grew up on a council estate in sub-standard conditions and other people were teasing me for having the wrong sneakers. If I were in the situation I’m not sure I’d smash up the High St, but I could understand the frustration.

        Violence is a symptom and a cry of this frustration for some, no doubt. But I’m not sure what the desired effect is. And there are polarising views on how the situation should be dealt with ranging from more funding for projects to throwing the full weight of the law at them. It needs to be dealt with through the judicial system because crimes have been committed, but social policy needs to certainly be looked at.

        I think it’s good that people are talking about it. But there also needs to be a shift of attitudes across the class spectrum on the value we place on ‘stuff’. If we had a look at the goods stolen, we could surmise that society places value on the sneakers you wear, the television you watch, the booze you drink and the cigarettes you smoke. I don’t want to go on a consumerist culture, materialism rant… but you can see where this is heading.

      • Hilary says:

        Perhaps the desired effect has been reached, even if only for a short time and on a small scale. The redistribution of wealth seems like a fairly common goal in a lot of riots through history, with or without the context of a highly consumerist culture (although for the record I do completely agree with the implied direction of your rant). Or perhaps the desired effect is people talking about it and actually giving consideration to social policy. Or perhaps it’s both those things, or neither. Intentions aside, I think that in this case it just might be possible for positive outcomes to follow terrible events. Sometimes violent rebellion is an effective way of getting stuff done. I don’t know enough about the context to know if it was really necessary in this case, but clearly enough people thought that it was worthwhile to go ahead with it. Not that I think arson is awesome or that the ends justify the means, and of course those that can be caught will need to face the legal consequences, but… there’s a conversation happening now that wasn’t before. That’s a good thing, right?

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