“The car’s on fire!”
It’s almost 4am, and this is how I have woken up. Without even thinking, I run downstairs and start to fill something, anything, with water. I sprint to the front door and throw it open, realising as the handle burns my fingers, and the heat singes my face, that the fireball I’m looking at is beyond this tiny bit of water I’ve brought. A moment later, it hits me. The smell is everywhere; burning plastic, petrol. The noise is deafening. There are loud bangs, little explosions, the repeated beeping of a car horn. I rush backwards and close the door, and then I’m suddenly upstairs again. As I’m standing, watching the fireball engulf our front garden, the window cracks with the heat, and I call the fire brigade again, crying, and begging for them to come before it’s too late. I can see neighbours and friends outside on the street calling the emergency services, and shouting at us to stay back from the windows. It’s almost 4am, and my dad’s car, parked just inches from our front door, has been set on fire.
A few months ago, I learned what it feels like to be afraid in your own home, to be afraid to close your eyes and go to sleep in case something happens, to jump at every noise. A few months ago, we were the victims of an arson attack which destroyed my dad’s car and damaged the front of our home. Every window in our house had to be replaced, as they cracked and buckled under the heat. The driveway was ruined, and needed to be dug up and resurfaced. The garden, my mum’s pride and joy, was singed and blackened, and the grass and flowers died. Our front door melted, and had we not opted for toughened glass in the porch, we suspect it would have collapsed entirely. Our beautiful wooden floor in our hallway was damaged and stained – water leaked in when the firemen sprayed the house, and soot and debris were walked into the grain when they came in afterwards. We are lucky – the noise of the tyres and other car parts exploding woke us up, and we are all safe. The damage to the house has now been repaired, the damage to our sense of self and safety has taken a little longer. When someone targets your home, it’s more than just physical damage that needs to be repaired. Your home is somewhere you should be able to feel safe, and when something like this happens, you don’t feel safe any more. Your home has been violated, and for those who’ve set the blaze, it’s just another night.
It is because of this recent experience that I feel so keenly for those in the UK who also don’t feel safe in their own homes, as people riot, damaging and destroying property with reckless abandon. The news has been dominated by stories of rioters damaging shops and homes, looting, and setting cars, buses, and premises ablaze without any regard for the people they might hurt. In some cases, rioters have shown what can only be described as callous disregard and contempt for those whom they’ve injured, terrorised, and stolen from.
Terrorised might seem like a strong word to use, but I believe that it accurately describes what is happening at the moment – innocent people are being terrorised by a few opportunists who have used the death of a young man as an excuse for violence and thuggery. People are afraid to leave their homes, afraid to be out on the streets, and afraid of what might happen. These riots are not political protests. They are not motivated by systematic oppression of the people of the UK. They are not comparable to events in Syria, or Egypt. They are far removed from the original, peaceful march intended to highlight a desire for an inquiry into the death of Mark Duggan.
By 6.30am, the burnt out husk of my dad’s car had been removed from our driveway, and we were left to sit with our own thoughts. At 9am, friends, family, and neighbours began to show up at our front door, brushes and hoses in hand, ready to help us clean up and make sense of what had happened. No one asked them to come, but they came, because an attack on one member of our community is an attack on all of us. We swept, hosed, and cleaned as best we could, some neighbours prepared lunch for us, and the shock of the night gradually settled. In the UK, communities are rallying around to show that they, too, will not be bullied. Heartening images show people willing to give up their time to clean up a mess that they had no part in creating, to restore their community, even though a few choose to destroy it. Though some media outlets chose to condemn modern technology, and the part it has played in the riots, people have shown the power of positive online campaigns, organising riot clean up groups, and encouraging people to aid those who are disabled, or may need extra help and support dealing with the riots or staying safe.
Efforts to identify those involved in the looting and destruction are ongoing, and I encourage you to do what you can to help (though I hasten to point out that vigilante justice is not the goal, and should absolutely not be encouraged). If you know someone who is involved in the looting, now is not the time to stay silent. Those involved should be identified, and reported to the police, because no one should be too scared to go to sleep tonight.