“I don’t blame these kids for smashing up the place and writing on everything.” The old man said after his rant on the state of the country to the 2 nodding old ladies. He looked at us, still with the pens in our hand that we’d been using to write all over the bus stop. “You go ahead boys, I don’t blame you.” So we did.
The excessive pockets of bad marker graffiti were probably the least effective of our destructive teenage tendencies. Arson was possibly the most dangerous (from bins, to vehicles that we had been unable to mobilise illegally) although so many other things could easily have ended in fatality, a fact that makes me shudder now but didn’t even register back then. These weren’t isolated incidents like the recent riots, these were generally just drunken nights after getting kicked out of the local youth club at 14 years old.
Many people right now are asking, ‘how can people be so destructive?’ or ‘how can people have so little respect for others?’ and of course ‘how can we make it stop?’ I wish I had all the answers to these questions here but if that’s what you’re after, I can’t tell you sorry. I know one thing though, I’m glad I got out of that mentality. I’ve been watching the recent riots in some of my old neighbourhoods: Hackney; Stoke Newington; Notting Hill; and Handsworth, as well as some of my old stomping grounds like Stokes Croft in Bristol and West Bromwich and the one thing that I’ve been glad of is that I’m not a kid in any of these places right now. Especially West Bromwich, where I would have been prime rioting age when I used to hang out there back in the early 90s, and I know there’s a strong possibility my boys and I would have found an excuse to sneak out and join in the ‘fun’.
I’ve been asking myself over the past few days, how I managed to get past my irresponsible and unsociable youth? Was it just by getting older and growing up?’ I guess in part it was, but then how does that explain the 45 year old guys still running round wanting to tear the place up, or at least snatch a little piece of it? I was lucky that, despite the less than pretty picture I’ve painted so far, I wouldn’t count myself as a ‘bad’ kid back then, a bit stupid perhaps and prone to outbursts of chaotic frustrated un-channelled energy but not quite as malicious, violent or dangerous as some of my peers. This was partly due to my parents, whom I have too much respect for to point out any possible failings here but who definitely gave me a good moral and social grounding while I was younger, and despite it getting lost amongst the teen angst, it still made itself heard when it really had to. Some people have never had that and that’s such a sad thing but as a society we need to find out how to make sure everybody has at least access to a basic sense of morals that can be instilled, regardless of their home situation.
Now before I go further, I don’t want you to think I’m just going to be listing excuses for the rioters, so they can turn round and go “yeah, I didn’t mean to steal the TV it was just, you know, my social situation.” There is no excuse for behaving in this way, despite what the nice old man at the bus stop once said. The ultimate responsibility must always lie with the individual and throughout the world there are many worse off than anybody out in the riots here, plenty of who are finding far more positive ways to tackle their shitty situations. However, I also don’t quite agree with the demonising that I saw rampant on my Twitter and Facebook , many of my liberal friends turned into hardcore Daily Mail readers, or maybe even more like, Daily Express buyers, but I also don’t agree that we should sit back and go, ‘well it’s just the government’s fault, this shows power to the people,’ like many others in my newsfeeds. Anger at the rioters is a good and understandable reaction, we should be angry at people who ruin our businesses, destroy our neighbourhoods, hurt innocent people and generally make everybody else fearful for their lives and livelihoods. Hell, even I called for the hanging of the looters whom I thought had burned down Dub Vendor (it was actually their next door neighbour, and no that doesn’t make it alright then) and it truly hit home when many friends and associates had their music stock destroyed in the PIAS fire, although I did smile at Tom Bridgewater from Loose Records tweet “ENOUGH NEGATIVITY!!!! PIAS Indie labels will survive! We never made any money anyway, so its lack of business as usual”
What we need though is some direction for the anger, some way of using that aggressive energy in a positive way, or just like the looters and rioters, it could be extremely destructive. I don’t know exactly how that energy needs to be directed, like I said, this isn’t the place if you want answers. However many of the scenes over the past few days have gone some way to at least show by example about how you should act, and how you should care and have a sense of pride in your areas, businesses and communities. It’s been truly heartwarming to see the clean up campaigns get underway, led by the people themselves, plus, everyone I know from the Dalston area was real proud of the Turkish community and other business owners for coming out in force to save their neighbourhood, in fact I’d say that people from all over were proud of them. This then inspired others such as the Sikh’s in Southall and groups in Enfield, Eltham and Birmingham (where sadly 3 of those keeping watch were killed). Some also mistakenly took the pissed up group of EDL thugs for a similar group, this might have been their spark but it wasn’t their drive, they were just up for causing a race ruckus under that guise. Not that they lasted long, idiots (Read Vice Blog)
Elsewhere people were having to stand up and protect their own shops. Big respects to Mr Shaodow, an artist who I’ve played on the Chrome Kids show previously and who was standing guard at the family shop armed with an umbrella and a cricket bat. Between him and his mum they managed to see off a few groups, but as a Shaolin trained martial artist, God help any looter that might have tried to get too brave.
For me it’s people like Shaodow that should be given more of a voice in situations like this. Somebody who works hard and stands up for something that he believes in and, thanks to his music, is somebody the kids can really relate to. Another important factor that saw me make it to where I am today is role models. My long time partner in crime (figuratively this time not actually) Dregz was a massive influence even before we became close friends and I can honestly say I would not be here without him. But also artists like KRS One, Chuck D and even Ice Cube, who all actually had something to say and made you listen. Yes they were angry, so was I, that’s probably one of the reasons I was listening to them, but they had somewhere to direct it.
I feel it’s a shame that they put a gag on the England Football team about the Riots, as some of the only people a lot of the people rioting might look up to. There’s also been much said of artists not taking enough responsibility for the image they portray and making it clear how much hard work it took them to get to where they are or what it means to be there, so kids grow up seeing the trappings of what they have, relating to the artists (often through a large amount of engineering) and then feeling they should have the fringe benefits they perceive them to have. I can’t say I’ve always been the biggest fan of Plan B’s music but respect him for speaking out about this during the riots most definitely.
Download / Stream: Plan B Talks About London Riots
One thing I’m mindful of in any talks about hard graft though, is to be careful not just to push the kind of Thatcherist ‘Dog Eat Dog’ type philosophies that have got us into a lot of this mess. We need to move the goal posts essentially to get the feeling of community and social respect and humanity back as the primary aims. Nearly all these kids have got a lot more material goods and social opportunities than much of my generation did at their age and ridiculous amounts more than our parents and grandparents, but what does that actually mean in the face of things now?
One problem we have with tackling this is that I imagine large parts of the government and the powers that be will never realise what a shift is needed. A lot of them take these things for granted and some don’t care anyway, so what fuels their futures is money. They don’t feel the need to think outside that box to expand on money as an answer. Maybe now some will but let’s not hold our breath, so of course that means its up to the rest of us to try and change things. If there’s no jobs and no industry then let’s not rely on them giving it to us, just for us to complain about the work anyway because it lacks the substance we need in our lives, let’s create our own. If schools won’t educate the kids properly because the education secretary has no idea what he’s doing and many of the teachers have given up anyway, then let’s educate them. Don’t ask me how, like I said this isn’t the place for answers, but believe me I’m willing to listen.