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At 9 Months Pregnant, I Want to Know: Who is Going to Stop the Riots?

Posted on the 09 August 2011 by Periscope @periscopepost
At 9 months pregnant, I want to know: Who is going to stop the riots?

Husks of burnt out cars in Ealing. Photo credit: Erik Hartberg,

I was between contractions when I saw the phalanx of police riot vehicles, lights flashing, barreling up Upper Street in Islington en route to Hackney. My husband took a video on his phone as they drove past and I thought, “This would not be the ideal time for my baby to be born.” Nor is it an ideal world.

This story does not, fortunately, end with a baby being born, although it does involve some frantic packing for the hospital because there’s nothing like a false alarm to motivate. It does, however, involve spending hours glued to the Twitters, BBC and Sky News, just trying to get a sense of whether this was actually the end of the world or another false alarm.

Last night, watching the fires in Croydon and hearing the helicopters whirring overheard in Islington, I was reminded of something that happened about seven or eight months ago – three teenagers tried to mug me and my husband. It was around 7:30 in the evening and were less than a block from our home at the time. Weirdly, this was just in front of Amy Winehouse’s villa in Camden Square.

The three teens, probably 17 years old, were tentative, as if this were just a role that they were trying on. “Give us your wallet and phone,” they mumbled through the jumpers they’d pulled up over the lower half of their faces. “What?” we asked. The leader, the tallest of the three, said it again, this time more loudly, and he directed at my husband.

This was about the time that I flipped out and began screaming expletives at the three now shocked and bewildered youths, aimed largely at the tallest one. My only thought at that point was who was going to hold my purse while I punched this stupid, arrogant kid trying to rob me of my phone and my money on my street in the face; obviously, the two kids behind me were not candidates and my husband was just as dumbfounded as they were. The kids finally loped off, still affecting some sort of swagger, when a car came racing up the street; the couple inside said they saw me pushing the kid, my husband trying to pull me away, and knew something was up.

I was about seven weeks pregnant at the time. And I was very, very angry. Who were these kids that they should get to take away things that I’ve worked for – not just my stuff, which is replaceable, but my sense of security in my neighbourhood? How, I thought, am I going to feel comfortable here again? And who is going to hold my baby when I have to fend off muggers?

Who is going to hold my baby when I have to fend off muggers?

At 9 months pregnant, I want to know: Who is going to stop the riots?

Clapham, the day after rioters and looters swept through. Photo credit: Ben Tilley,

I feel like that now. Watching the coverage rolling in, especially the Tweets coming in from Camden, Hackney, and Clapham, places where I’ve lived and where my friends live, and close to where I live now, I was angry. Early labour contractions can do that to you, but I think it’s much more about the fact that the people who are busting in opticians’ shop windows and gleefully making off with racks of spectacles are ruining lives and getting away with it.

These kids who tried to mug us didn’t get away with it and I don’t know if they tried again. They didn’t get away with it in part because I got angry, in larger part because the couple in the car thought to intervene, and in part because they weren’t really that committed to the whole thing. What these riots feel like to me are a bunch of teenagers – and adults – who have gotten away with it and are trying it on again. It worked last night, and they got a flat screen TV – what could they get tonight?

I am by no means an expert on the causes of crime and despondency in low-income minority areas. I have, however, worked for years in community journalism in Boston. I covered the scenes of violent crime, where blood was still fresh on the streets, and murder trials, several involving teenagers and guns; I met with angry young men in gang colours who genuinely believed that the police were actively out to the get them; and I spoke with the people who felt terrorized in their own homes. In Boston, in the summer especially, shootings could be a weekly event, usually young black and Hispanic youths targeting other black and Hispanic youths. They didn’t always hit their targets – sometimes, a child, or a pregnant woman, or an elderly person got in the way.

The city tried, the police tried, the community tried, everyone tried to deal with the shootings and the stabbings and the gang fights, but the fundamental problems remained. Young, disenfranchised, poor people felt more powerful with a gun in their hands than they did in schools or participating in community events. They felt blamed by police and authority figures and they felt like there was simply no hope for their future. To a large extent, they were right – chronic disinvestment in low income and minority neighbourhoods was so deeply entrenched that a few well-meaning engagement programmes weren’t going to cut it. Especially when those programmes were the first things that got cut from the city budget as soon as times got remotely tight.

I get that the causes of violence in communities are deep – but right now, I don’t care.

I get that the causes of violence in communities are deep and I agree that talking about the issues involved, more funding for youth programmes, and those magic words, “community policing”, the idea that your friendly neighbourhood police officer is in fact your friendly neighbourhood police officer, are all important.

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