As I walked along my own street on Monday night, I saw lying forlornly on the road ahead of me a solitary Converse all-star trainer. I’ve always been a fan of Converse and have a couple of pairs of shoes and high tops. So I thought it odd to see that solitary left-footed bright red all-star lying there. It was in pristine condition. I thought it odd but kept going, anxious to be indoors. 20 feet or so further on my journey, I saw another shoe. Again it was a pristine Converse trainer. You’d think, Dear Reader, that it would be the matching partner to the first shoe I saw. You’d think wrong. For this second shoe was a black hightop. Nothing like the first red shoe at all. And once again, it was left footed.
As you can imagine, I did my scrunched-up, furrowed-brow, puzzled face. And then I raised my head to look beyond the four feet in front of me and saw a row of sad-looking mismatched trainers of various brands, styles and sizes, spaced out in front of me. And then it dawned on me.
A few streets away is a retail park. On that park, among other shops, is a branch of JD Sports. In order to stop people shoplifting shoes, they only ever display the left ones. Someone had broken into the store and stolen as many trainers as they could carry out of there. But they were too stupid to go to the stockroom. They’d just stolen the display items. Then they’d discarded them once they discovered they didn’t actually have a single pair in their haul. I couldn’t help but think that were there a police officer around, they could have followed the trainers back to the looter’s lair like Hansel and Gretl’s breadcrumbs. Needless to say, there wasn’t a police officer in sight.
That was the first sign that looting had reached my world other than via the news. It turned out later that other stores on the retail park had been looted too. PC World, Carphone Warehouse and Curries had all been ransacked of valuable goods. But so had Matalan, Maplins, and even Costa Coffee. Who loots Coffee?
The following night saw EDL members patrolling the streets to ‘protect our homes’ which made me far more nervous than the original looting. The racial undertones throughout the whole riotting and looting episode are deeply troubling and seem, sadly, in the aftermath to be being brushed over without very much discussion at all.
Today, Parliament is debating the riots but the Government seems to be determined to paint this rioting as outright criminality without looking at the reasons behind the rioting in the first place. Some of the suggestions from the Tory benches have included ignoring the Human Rights Act, switching off social networks during ‘times of trouble’, and rounding up looters to put them in Wembley Stadium and turn water cannon on them. Obviously, there were sensible well-reasoned suggestions as well, but they certainly weren’t in the majority.
Like most riots, these initially had a catalyst in the form of the shooting of Mark Duggan by the Metropolitan Police. This led to protest, civil unrest, violence and looting. I don’t condone violence for any reasons and in this particular instance, the looting and disorder have stripped away any justification for what may have been a genuine protest against the apparent killing of Mark Duggan. The destruction of property, the loss of peoples’ livelihoods, and the deaths of innocent people have now distracted attention from any underlying root political and social problems which we should be examining and working to put right. Issues of race relations, unemployment, social tensions, real lack of inspiration, and public and community services destroyed by this government. Those are the issues that Parliament should be debating. Those are the issues with a real power. Until that is, they’re used as an excuse to go on a rampage and steal a row of left-footed trainers.
There is never an excuse for violence, rioting and looting. But there are always reasons. And it’s those reasons we should be looking at.