My taste for nostalgia only goes so far.
I was eating my wife’s homemade pulled pork last night (very nice it was, too) and trying to remember where I used to get pulled pork in the ghetto I lived in over 20 years ago in Washington D.C. Most of my friends lived in and around Adams Morgan, just north of Dupont Circle in NW (northwest, as all the Washington areas are quartered into NW, NE, SE, SW).
But that’s not the point. In the course of reminiscing with some of those friends, one of them posted a link to an article about a riot that took place just over 20 years ago in my neighbourhood, Mount Pleasant.
I’d say there are some uncanny correlations between what happened then and what’s happening now in the UK (it’s spread from London, if you haven’t heard yet).
It was Cinco de Mayo, a Sunday, and an important Mexican holiday, so people were celebrating. It was warm as I recall; being D.C. this means humid, too.
The way the story goes, a rookie female police officer told a Salvadoran man, who didn’t speak a word of English, to get rid of his beer or whatever it was. Officially, he resisted and pulled a knife on her so she shot him in the chest. Unofficially, apparently he went to take his belt off because drunk Salvadorans fight with their belts (who knew?).
Unlike the spark that set off our current riots, he did survive. But that’s not the whole story.
According to the article, some 85,000 Latino immigrants lived in the Adams Morgan, Mount Pleasant, Columbia Heights area, a number of whom had fled civil wars in Central and South America. This doesn’t surprise me as I lived next door to a Latino community centre and my friend Julia and I were the only white people living in our building at the time.
I called it a ‘ghetto’ because none of us had money, we were just surviving, working to live. I always figured I never had any problems in the neighbourhood due to the fact everyone knew about the crazy white guy that lived in a mostly black and Latino-occupied building.
Anyway, the police heavy-handedness sparked two days of chaos: burned out police cars littered our neighbourhood’s streets, more than 30 (mostly local) businesses were attacked and looted. I think the only chain we had at that time was 7-eleven, so it’s hardly like they were protesting global capitalism. And I got my first whiff of tear gas (which begs the question: do they use tear gas in the UK? I think it’d change a few minds about rioting if they did! Or water cannon.).
Does any of this sound familiar? A very poor neighbourhood, bad (or at the very least, careless) police behaviour and whoosh the touch-paper is lit. What seems to be much more distressing here is the fact that we’re in a global meltdown where the most disadvantaged are being even more disadvantaged by the fat cats with the financial sector’s hands up their backsides (What? You think politicians run things? Judging by the last two years, the banks run things, resisting any moves to regulate or control them, but I digress.)
Oh, but it was different back then, Rodney King had just been beaten up on the six o’clock/ten o’clock news, Good Morning America, etc. and things were just waiting to explode. I don’t think so. I liked it where I lived. People spoke to each other. Football from South America played on the telly in the laundrette. You could get all varieties of Latin American food or soul food and I seem to remember a Spanish restaurant, too.
By all reports Tottenham, where this all started, was a good community, too. Decades of work by people to make things better had made it a place that got along, a prime example of the multi-culturalism mostly working in modern-day Britain. But now it’s got a burnt-out heart and upset people. The authorities are decrying the looting and violence and, as usual, taking no responsibility for the root causes of the problem.
No surprises there. I’ve been half-expecting diatribes against single mothers again now the Conservatives have taken back power with the collusion of the so-called ‘Liberal’ Democrats. Successive governments have created the economic and social situation we now find ourselves in and none of them are willing to take responsibility for their actions — or to try and make it better.
The best quote I’ve seen so far was retweeted by Cory Doctorow overnight: “Needs repeating: you can utterly abhor the actions, but the causes cannot be ignored.”
But like those single mothers of the last Tory government, they probably will as the authorities are more concerned what this looks like with the World coming to London next year for the Olympics.