BLUF – if I wasn’t exposed to the media coverage, I wouldn’t know there were riots at all.
I’m not going to offer a hypothesis on “what this all means.” All I will say is there is a lot of graduate-level debate on what appears to be a high school-level issue.
But, as an American living in London, and one who has seen civil disturbance before, I can offer my personal experience and put things in context for an American audience.
I live in central London in student housing. It’s a very nice area that I would equate to living somewhere just outside of trendy in NYC. I live about two miles from Westminster, where Parliament and Big Ben sit. The riots happened (past tense, they are not persistent) no where near me. Think deep Queens if your center of gravity is Penn Station.
The news coverage has been persistent, though. And there are certainly some dramatic images. Two nights ago, multiple fires were covered by multiple helicopters, often shown on television in a four-block grid, presenting the image of London burning. Newscasters spoke in near-apocalyptic terms. Friends who know I am in London have sent me messages asking about what’s going on, fearing that I may be stocking up on supplies and barricading myself in my room.
But London was not in anarchy. Nor is it now. For those directly affected, the damage and violence is extreme. But the presentation of the riots makes it seem that London is on the verge of collapse.
Walking home from SOAS late yesterday afternoon, there was definitely an air of anticipation. People chatted with light excitement about the riots, the causes, and the expectations going forward. Police sirens could be heard almost non-stop, but in the distance. Helicopters buzzed above, somewhere over there. Small groups of police officers in crisp white shirts walked around. Stores closed early and restaurants pulled their outdoor seating furniture inside to prevent roving bands of rioters from using them as weapons. For the first time since I’ve been here, my dormitory locked the front doors as a “precautionary measure.” I had an online grocery order which was supposed to be delivered yesterday evening which was cancelled “due to events.” That’s the extent to which the riots affected me.
I’m not sure what the discussion is like about the riots in the US, but a lot of the conversation in the media here has been about the crowd control methods used by UK police, with the accusation offered that UK police are too tame. Water cannons and tear gas are deemed “continental” methods, something not appropriate for British police. British cops police through “community consent.”
I woke up this morning and checked the news, curious to know if the world had ended. It appears that nothing major happened last night.