The author is French-Canadian. England was his second home in the last 5 years. Alexandre Hamel filmed the Croydon riots the night of August 8 2011.
People with nothing to do and nothing to lose are time bombs. And sticking a “time bomb” label on a bomb doesn’t make it less likely to go off. And holding quarterly statistics on the number of time bombs in your country doesn’t make it a safer place, even if it makes the authorities look smart.
According to England’s Department for Education, at the end of 2010, 15.6% of 16 to 24 years old in England were classified as N.E.E.T.: Not in Employment, Education or Training. With the austerity measures of the recent budget, not much could be done about it.
15.6% of 16 to 24 years old means a million people. This is a million time bombs getting bored in overpriced flats. This is a million tick-tacking dynamite sticks spending days listening to rap videos showcasing gold plated guns, diamond neck chains and pimped rides. This is a million time bombs pissed off because they can’t buy the new Ipod.
Well, London is burning, now. The mayor is on holidays and the prime minister is on holidays. The olympic circus is about to hit the town while famous West End musicals keep entertaining posh ladies and gents.
Today’s Oliver Twists don’t want more porridge. They want Puma shoes like Usain Bolt and sexy dresses like Victoria Beckham… And most of all, they want to have a bloody good time drinking stolen booze and smashing windows. For the first time of their NEET life, they want to feel that the city is theirs. And right now, it is.
The police force is completely overwhelmed by the thousands of kids swarming the streets of London. In Croydon, yesterday night, the Bobbies encircled an area that was already burning while all hell was breaking loose a few blocks away. The police vans made detours to reach the “safe” perimeter without even passing close to the scene of the looting. The air was filled with smoke and police helicopters could do no more than providing invigorating lighting effects. Electronic goods shops, clothing boutiques and groceries (for booze) were looted one after the other.
I heard no chants or slogans. Only screams of thrilled rage. Shrieks of destruction-crazed boys and girls enjoying the time of their life. Behind a smashed Sommerset, I saw a couple snugging with a weird adrenaline fuelled passion. The girl was holding a bag full of electronic gadgets still in their packaging.
But the silent ones are the most scary. The members of seemingly organized groups (more than the police, at least) were wearing helmets and masks. They carried bats. I saw two guys using a pizza delivery scooter to carry their loot. They saw what happened in the two preceding nights and came prepared. They walked the street like kings. Or like Hip-Hop super stars, with cool walks, awesome arm movements and puffed chests.
Those kids are the offspring of divorced parents, of single pot-smoking moms, of modest immigrants or of TV addicted baby-boomers who couldn’t care less about their sons and daughters. Most of them are fit and smart. But in England, there are classes. The posh people speak nicely, go to university and have Iphones. The “chavs” use a dialect mixing cockney with the Caribbean accent and the twang of American rappers. They don’t go to university because with moms ands dads on welfare and the cheapest beer West of the Czech Republic, they didn’t even think of it. It’s too expensive anyway. And, Oh damnation!, they don’t have Iphones. They are the 15.6% of 16 to 24 years old Not in Employment, Education or Training. They are NEET because they are angry and they are angry because they are NEET.
After the death of a popular Tottenham thug in a police operation clouded in lame “we must wait for the results of the investigation” statements, the neighbourhood well known for its Hooligans exploded first, on Saturday.
Then, Sunday night, Brixton went crazy. A few hours earlier, most of its “trendifying” and gloriously multicoloured community enjoyed the Brixton Splash, a huge free dancing party where babies, moms, dads, cool teenagers, hip third-age Rastamen and smiling adults had a careless sunny afternoon. Not half a day later, at the very same place, shops were set alight. Classes, again. Many other areas of London were also touched.
This Monday, the violence spread to other cities in the UK. In London, many neighbourhoods including Croydon were taken over by mobs even more scary that the ones of the past week-end.
The authorities still have their slightly smiling stone faces. They’re just talking of police deployment and of the role of parents. They don’t seem to connect what’s happening with the omnipresence of publicity for super-expensive-absolutely-must-have gadgets. They don’t understand how depressing it is to have nothing else to do than loiter at the shopping mall while everything is too expensive. And they don’t understand how insulting this “No loitering” sign is. Being “Not in Employment, Education or Training” is not only bad because you’re part of the unproductive 15.6%. It’s bad because it’s f****** boring!
Yesterday, Theresa May, Home Secretary, declared that the events were “sheer criminality”. Yes, it is. England will have to prosecute and jail many of the riot kids. Is someone still considered NEET when in jail? If not, at least, this whole mess will improve the statistics. Until they get out…