Looking In and Out

You, Me and the Riots

Earlier this week, a sniper killed a man about 300 feet from my front door. I had received a phone call—the Caller ID came up EMERGENCY—and a recorded voice told me to stay in my house and lock my doors and windows. Then I heard a shot. I soon found out a man had been holding a woman at gunpoint and was eventually hit. I heard a man being killed.

I was online a few days later when a breaking story flashed across my homepage: man goes on gun rampage in a small town. The town was my father’s; less than three miles from his home, a man killed family members and neighbours before being killed by police.

And the riots. I’ve been watching some of the coverage until I have to stop. I can almost not bear the chaos and the destruction in the photographs. I know I’m sometimes accused of looking through St George’s Cross-tinted glasses, but I can’t explain how evocative I find photographs of “normal” English things—a row of High Street shops takes me right back to when I felt at home, a long shot of hedgerows in a film can sometimes make me cry for longing. To see these things being destroyed, looking war-torn, breaks my heart.

In addition to the visual images of the riots, there are the words—the reports, the analysis, the excuses, the accusations, the attacks. On Twitter, I learn the rioters are scum. On an American news site, one person argues that Obama is to blame (and if England allowed everyone to carry guns, citizens could have just shot the rioters in the faces and all would be well) in response to another person’s claim that the Tea Party’s influence has now reached Croydon. On a British one, I read it’s the lack of education; if young people had just been taught about Shakespeare’s use of dramatic irony in Romeo and Juliet, they’d never dream of looting. On Facebook, I read a plea to the looters to “man up” and go fight in Afghanistan where mindless violence must equal bravery.  The “experts” weigh in: single mothers, the Coalition, poverty, racism, the police, immigration, student fees have all been blamed.

Here’s the problem: nothing is ever quite as simple as we’d like it to be. Because problems are complicated, solutions are complicated. We need to remember this.

David Cameron has promised punishment: listen up, looters, you damage local communities, you will be prosecuted. Simple as that. But David Cameron’s government recently decided to appoint a German company for the Thameslink programme, thereby damaging the local community of Derby. Will he be prosecuted? Was his decision as simple as that?

No one’s decisions are ever simple. The effects of those decisions aren’t either. Because everything is connected, everyone is connected.  We need to remember this.

There is a twisted, tangled ribbon of hopelessness binding the globe together. When people see the end of the string, we grab and pull on it for just a little sense of power. But when we do, we tighten the knots. Each individual, each community, each country is trying to unravel the effects of a global crisis on its own—whether by cutting services, arguing party politics, trashing a city centre or holding a gun to a woman’s head. But one pull on the ribbon affects everyone tied up in it.

A man with a hostage caused me to lock myself inside my house last Monday. What caused him to take a hostage?

Everything is complicated, everything is connected. Whether we’re making or breaking laws, ranting or weeping, we need to remember this.

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