When we got back Saturday night close to 2am and switched on the bedroom TV, I first thought the flames and urban destruction on the screen were some late-night apocalyptic, horror movie. But as the Sky News ticker started to appear though the wine induced blur, I realised in horror that the blazing streets were Tottenham after a shocking night of frenzied violence and looting.
After six years of living a few blocks away in Finsbury Park, it’s heartbreaking to see the scenes – very reminiscent of the clashes against police in Brixton that I remember as an eleven-year-old girl, in this vibrant and culturally rich area that is close to my heart.
One of the turning points before we decided to ‘up sticks’ and move out of N4 was when my husband was mugged just as he turned the key in the door of our ground floor flat. The mugger had hit and run, so it was understandable when the police said a follow-up visit and incident report were a total waste of time. They were busy that night warding off a racially motivated gang fight on nearby Green Lanes. We don’t remember that incident much now – we just remember the beautiful Victorian townhouses, the quirky local pizza place where they always called you bella – the best fishmonger on the planet and ducks bobbing on the pond in Finsbury Park, the city-dwellers own back yard.
Like the days of the Brixton unrest, Saturday’s Tottenham was riot fuelled by lack of trust in the hard working Metropolitan Police and lack of respect for the local community. But it happens in the middle of a recession and spending cuts, which has all the trademarks of the 1981 in Brixton clashes. Riot shields, front lines of offices, opportunist criminals. I’m not saying this is right, but it’s not just about one misfired police gunshot.
The sprawling, 1960’s council estate Woodberry Down is just steps from where the rioting started out Tottenham Police Station. There are over 2,500 homes there with some of North London’s highest unemployment rates – a stone’s throw from gentrified enclaves like Stoke Newington and Crouch End, where the only street battles you’ll witness are Bugaboos trying to pass on the narrow pavements. Down the road, there might be plans by an overstretched and under-funded Hackney Council to regenerate the area with schools and community projects, you can’t help but think the communist era blocks in this oppressive estate could be a breeding a monster of boredom that comes with unemployment and social depravity.
In today’s aftermath, the local entrepreneurs and retailers who keep the local economy ticking over, can’t make a living today in Tottenham, Brixton and Enfield. A good friend of mine has just arrived at his local, recently refurbished gym this morning in Brixton to find it cordoned off with police tape. Youth rioters smashed the windows of a community pharmacist store, ransacked his shelves and took his till before dumping it in the local river in Enfield. An entire retail park in Tottenham is closed down today and people don’t have their jobs to go to.