Young people in London spoke to Siân Ruddick about the police, racism and their future
“It’s a very difficult time to be young,” says Nanda, who lives in Barking. “I’m broke and unemployed. I’m surviving off £53 a week on jobseeker’s allowance.
“People are punished for being poor, as if being poor isn’t enough. You end up thinking, ‘What’s the point of playing by their rules?’ That’s what the riots were about.”
Nanda sees the riots as “a class issue”. “Everyone is frustrated—you try to work hard but your life is still crap,” she said.
Kaz from Newham, east London, agrees. “I saw the riots as an uprising against austerity,” he said.
“People wouldn’t even know to describe it as that, but it was against the way austerity affects their lives.”
Van, who lives in Epping, says life is “stressful” at the moment. “The gap is growing between rich and poor,” he said. “I don’t want to end up like my parents, struggling to survive.”
All three were frustrated at the way the riots were simply condemned from on high instead of anyone looking at the deeper causes.
Nanda said, “You don’t just get up one morning and decide to riot. The riots gave the politicians an opportunity look at why young people are so angry. But they didn’t.”
The police are a key source of this anger. “Everyone hates the police,” said Kaz. “They harass us. I feel like they hate us.
“I get stopped coming out the station, on my way home, for doing what? The police are the biggest gang. They’ve got their weapons and their guns.”
The systematic use of stop and search and the creation of “no go areas” for young people has fuelled the hatred of the cops.
Kaz went on, “There’s a much higher police presence everywhere. We avoid places because you know you’re going to be searched.
“I used to go Stratford all the time but I don’t come so much now because of the police. It’s become a joke. People get stopped all the time for nothing. The riots were about letting that anger out.”
But Kaz thinks the media focused less on anger at the police and more on the “looting”. He said, “They repeatedly show people kicking in JD Sports. They want to reduce the riots to a consumerist level.”
Van says what theft there was can be traced back to the way unaffordable clothing is pushed into people’s faces. “You’re bombarded with adverts for designer shoes with rip-off price tags,” he said. “So I don’t blame people for doing it.”
But he adds that wasn’t the whole story. “In the riots people were nicking rice. That’s not for a laugh, it’s for a reason—to feed their families.
“I think a big cause of the riots was what they’ve done to education. The government wants to price us out and make university for the rich again.”
Kaz is a socialist and feels the riots have played a role in politicising a generation. “Someone was given 16 months for stealing doughnuts. If we worked on that basis Bob Diamond would get hundreds of years.”
“As time has gone on, more people talk about the system. People are in tune. It’s so plain to see now that things need to change.
“I think people feel more validated because of what’s happening around the world now, like the protests and riots in Spain.” Kaz said. “It’s corrected some of the lies that got put out there.”
Nanda said, “People feel abandoned. The bankers do whatever they want but if you’re young and put a toe out of line they come down on you.
“A year after the riots, I think things are worse for young people. There is no reason why the riots wouldn’t happen again. It’s the system that’s the cause of this. So we have to fight the system.”