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Keep Calm and Carry On

“The car’s on fire!”

“Which car?”

“Your car!”

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.

Our home, and the car burning white hot. Though you can't see, I'm watching from the upstairs window.

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.

7 replies on “Keep Calm and Carry On”

This is exactly the type of article that the looters should read. Putting a face on it makes it real again, and shows that there will be no real quick fix for what has been done to the people in London.
Unfortunately I don’t think the people doing the looting will see this. From the rubbish that people are saying about taking down the system, etc. it’s obvious they are either ignorant of, or deliberately disregarding the victims of their crimes.
Victim impact statements, for all their problems, should be read to those convicted of crimes as part of the punishment/rehabilitation process. (Although I have reservations about these statements affecting the sentencing.)

There’s a reason that arson carries such a severe sentence in many jurisdictions. What starts as a “nice innocent burning down of someone’s car” can so easily lead to real tragedy as you showed. We were lucky that you and your family escaped physically unharmed.

What a horrifying story, Buffy. I can’t even imagine how terrifying that must have been.

The videos from the London riots also sent a chill down my spine in a way in which the Vancouver footage did not. Perhaps I just didn’t see the right footage, but the London riots seemed to me to involve a lot more direct violence against people, as opposed to “just” property crimes, which were what I saw more of in Vancouver. Of course, you’ve done a very good job of expressing here that “mere” property crimes can very easily threaten people as well, and can also be extremely traumatic even if ultimately noone is physically harmed.

I admit that I’m very curious what unfortunate chain of circumstances led to someone targeting your family like that, but I respect that you may not wish to share that information.

I know I’ve come off pretty hostile against a certain commenter in another thread here (someone whom I happen to think has earned my hostility), and there are some things I disagree with you on as well, but I really agree with what you’ve expressed in this post, and I, too, hope that the rioters will be brought to justice and that Londoners can recover from these terrible events.

Thanks. I appreciate you taking the time to read some of my others posts too. Unfortunately, we don’t know why we were targeted. The best guess we have is that they tried to steal the car, or broke in to it looking for valuables, and when they found none, burned it. We’re not the only one’s either – there were two or three similar attacks shortly before and after ours.

I wish they would catch the people who did it, so that I could say to them, in a victim impact statement, some of what I’ve said here. That sad thing is, I’m not sure they’d care about the damage they caused.

I’m not sure that I’ll ever forget that night, or at least, I won’t be forgetting it soon. The absolute horror of waking up to a fireball blocking the entrance and exit to your home is something that’s so hard to describe.

Yeah. I get the (vague, anecdotal) impression that the people who tend to do this kind of thing also tend to have a significantly reduced capacity for empathy, and that it’s very difficult to alter that.

I would like to believe that victim impact statements and other kinds of socialization training might be able to have an impact, but this seems (in my limited exposure) to be one of those areas in psychology that has a lot of unsolved problems, and probably even a lot of unrecognized problems, so that nobody really knows what, if anything might work.

Of course, it would be nice if our prison systems were even *trying* to do something about this, as opposed to just warehousing prisoners and then sending them back out as even more hardened criminals. And it would be nice if we weren’t seeing so many people left behind in our society as to become criminals in the first place. I don’t fully understand what caused the London riots, but this latter seems like it may be a big part of the problem.

Buffy, since you’ve closed comments on the other thread, I want to apologize here for having been part of something on your blog that made you so uncomfortable you felt you had to (for the first time ever) take such an action. Troll-fighting feels like a righteous endeavor, but I can completely understand not wanting to have your own little corner of the internet turned into a battlefield. I should’ve invited Dizzle to take it outside, I guess. Sorry.

I read a letter in the metro this morning by some guy who’s either had his head in the sand or, unlike countless assault victims and people who feel under siege in their own homes, has never met a genuine scumbag in his life. It was a good laugh. He basically said that the rioters were no different from the Arab activists currently fighting for democracy and civil rights and that they were justified in their acts of violence, theft and arson.

The guy obviously didnt see the interview with the 4 looters on sky news who claimed they did what they did because they needed (50 inch flat screen TVs and PS3s) to survive, nor does he seem to be aware that the people who suffered are not the “big bad establishment” that the rioters were supposably “protesting” against, but ordinary people who had their homes, neighborhoods and livelihoods destroyed. Or that many of those arrested had well paid and stable jobs.

I wonder what that guy would have to say if someone robbed his house and set it on fire because they felt they had a right to do it on the grounds that he’s a twat.

I dont deny that the Government is partly to blame, but it has nothing to do with them being some sort oppressive dictatorship grinding the poor under its heel. They are to blame for putting the rights of the criminal before the rights of the victim thus allowing people to commit petty acts of crime and practically get away with it leading delinquents to become ever bolder. They are also responsible in that they created a welfare system that instead of tiding people over till they can get back to work and level the playing field in terms of education, encourages people to not work at all and maintain broken homes for the added benefits.

We’re not much better, our own system is unbalanced and wide open to abuse by anyone who knows how to play it. In college I met someone who’s parents sat in idleness because it paid them to do so. The government paid for him to do 4 years of college and 3 repeat years often with enough money left over in his grant to afford luxuries like flat screen tvs

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