Sitting at home in Kingston, Jamaica and watching television images of rioting, looting and burning buildings in London and other major towns, seems a little surreal, disturbing and somewhat ironic.
Little over a year ago I was sitting at home in Kingston, watching tanks on the street and images of violence that came in the wake of the efforts to extradite Christopher Dudus Coke. I was at home because as we say here “the country was lock down” because of the unrest.
I would not have blamed any of my foreign friends for saying they would pass on any invitation to travel to Jamaica for a vacation. Around that time I got messages on, Facebook and phone calls from concerned friends and family who had heard and seen what was going asking if I was safe.
Today in an ironic turn around, I switched down the sound on my television and picked up the telephone to call those same people who had been concerned for me to ask them if they were safe. Having been born and brought up in England the dots on the map showing the areas of violence are familiar to me, places I spent time in growing up and as an adult.
It is not the first time of seeing such scenes of disturbance I remember the Brixton and the Totenham riots of the 1980’s, but the reasons were different then and there was more of a reason sense of injustice. One can’t help feeling that those on both sides who in the intervening years have worked so hard to improve the conditions that led to those riots must be quite saddened to see the turn of events.
The family of Mike Duggan held a peaceful demonstration on the weekend in Totenham to protest the manner of his death and the way they had been treated by the police. They have distanced themselves from the violence that emerged after that protest and that says a lot.
Commentators and pundits have opined on the reasons, the underlying causes the failings. The television pictures give lie to anyone who would like to suggest that the situation is a racial one; this is not a prelude to the so called rivers of blood that Enoch Powell talked of so many years ago.
Many have wondered about the police response, but to be fair in a city of 10 million or so and strength of 6,000 police, risks are great and reasonable options are limited. However, much protection you have there are still vulnerabilities.
Social media so celebrated in the so called Arab Spring had a hand in the events too according to police. Proof again that social media may be neutral but its use is not. Watching from a distance and hearing the complaints of residents about the police strategy, I am reminded of something a Tivoli Gardens reseident , in Kingston said in response to a police and military incursion into that area that left more than 20. He asked why the police had started firing and wondered why they hadn’t as he put it “run them with a little teargas”?
Britain’s rioters may well find themselves facing a little tear gas as the response from the authorities ramps up, but perhaps they should think themselves lucky for that.