Hackney furious and fearful after 'shameful' riots

12th August 2011, Comments 0 comments

Poverty-blighted Hackney in east London is counting the cost after becoming a flashpoint of Britain's worst riots for a generation with locals warning that serious social problems threaten a volatile future.

"Stupidness", "opportunism", "a shame" and "disgraceful" were some of the reactions to the mayhem which peaked on Monday.

The multiethnic area descended into anarchy as youths ran rampage, setting fire to cars and buildings and looting shops as earlier demonstrations against the killing of a man by police in nearby Tottenham turned violent.

"All this was mainly an opportunity for everyone to start moaning. They were all opportunists," Ola, of Nigerian origin, told AFP.

"Everybody was rioting; whites, blacks, Asians," he added. "There are schemes when you're unemployed, but some people are lazy and rioting gives them some excitement," he added.

"Why me?" was the reaction of Sri Lankan Sivaharan Kandiah after his shop on Clarence Road was gutted by looters.

"I never thought it would come here," he explained. "At 8:30pm they broke into my shop and the police were standing 50 metres away, doing nothing.

"If you have social problems, attack the government buildings. Why attack my shop?" he asked.

A third of Hackney's youth are out of work, according to government figures, and the area was named as London's most deprived borough in a recent report.

Concerned locals fear that the government's programme of austerity measures coupled with simmering racial tensions could reignite the situation at any time.

Oscar Junior, 13, said his friends had been caught up in the disorder and blamed the hopelessness felt by many youngsters in the area.

"The government should pay more attention on the youth of today and open up the youth centres," he urged.

Fellow resident Jay, 35, said that since the recent closure of centres, youths had taken to "hanging around the corners".

A youth dressed in a hooded top and baggy jeans added: "We have no jobs here, the government doesn't do anything for us," while a male on a bike passed by and threatened "problems" if he continued talking to the AFP correspondent.

Some in the area blame the police for a perceived heavy-handed and discriminatory approach to law enforcement.

"Maybe people wanted revenge on the police," a 15-year-old resident told AFP. "We're walking around peacefully and they come and try to arrest us all the time. The youth here are angry."

Situated in the industrial east end of the British capital, Hackney has endured race riots, crack cocaine epidemics and gang violence over the past few decades and some locals fear tough times ahead.

Mathematician David Rowland Hughes, 62, blamed social alienation for the escalation in civil disobedience.

"Local people feel abandoned," he argued. "Having seen Hackney for 25 years, these things haven't been treated with real seriousness."

Hackney born-and-bred councillor Ian Rathbone offered a more optimistic evaluation of his neighbourhood.

"Hackney has been stereotyped and attacked on many occasions, on false accusations," he reasoned. "This is a good place but the media won't recognize it."

"Clarence Road was a no-go zone for the police 20 years ago, it was a frontline. Today it is a wonderful place for diversity."

© 2011 AFP

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