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My account of last night...


“When will this end?” a protester a walking away from Hackney Central is asked.

“When there’s war,” he replies.

Walking past burned out cars and smashed shop windows, it is around 11pm on the third night of protests close to Hackney Central in East London.

It is unrecognisable as the vibrant hub it is meant to be and usually is. The looting seems indiscriminate - pawnbrokers, a phone shop, the Burberry outlet, Tesco, an independently-owned off licence.

A car is upturned and then set alight. A van up the road is left to burn and then explodes. Most are carrying bricks and have their hoods up and many have their face covered by scarves.

But some business owners refuse to be moved.

One businessman stands outside his furniture shop with the TV blaring and the door open. “What happens, happens” he says. But he is not moving.

“I won’t let anything happen to this,” he says, pointing to his shop and the shop next door, the owner of that business is leaning out of the window,

There are plenty of police around but are focused on securing the main road. Only after the second pawnbrokers is looted then the police rush in. What is unexpected is that, after the initial flurry away from the police, the protesters confront them.

Bricks are thrown, bottles of alcohol, metal poles, more glass bottles. Every police officer is met with a jeer from the crowd and a number of projectiles aimed at their general direction.

“I will do you”, says one protester, eager to get more people involved in an attack on the Primark clothing store and threatening those who will not get involved. A few are involved with an attempt at “kicking it in”. A more organised attempt is taking place at Phones 4 U a few doors down.

Neither are successful in breaking in.

“Everyone go to Hackney Police Station” is shouted by a man wearing a balaclava and clutching a man holding a bottle of alcohol.

Between 75 and 100 people follow him up the road. Another vehicle - a white van this time - is set alight. And those taking photos find themselves in trouble very quickly.

“What the fuck are you doing? No photos.”

I’m challenged by three protesters and it quickly escalates.

“Delete it right now or we’ll kill you.” There are 10 now. Most of the road-full of protesters are taking notice.

“Put the phone down and run,” says a bystander trying to be helpful.

I’m grabbed, punched and kicked and my phone is stolen. There is a pause, and I am grabbed by a woman of West Indian descent and rushed towards a block of flats.

“They will kill you, there is no law here. What the fuck do you think you’re doing? Run.”

Running is difficult when surrounded by 30 people. I made it into the block, up the stairs and out of the back of one of the flats.

“Oh god, they’re going to storm this place now,” says one resident as I rush past.

“I had no choice, they were going to kill him,” says the woman who helped out.

I make my escape down the fire escape and onto another estate.

The fact remains that most of those on the streets were no more than teenagers and, to at least some extent, they could be persuaded with. Until they spotted the journalists, young people could be warned away from certain things. A car was saved from being burned out because a local resident knew the owner.

Much of the reporting has been about the organisation of the protests. From what was happening on the streets of Hackney, there wasn’t any. This “gratuitous violence”, as acting Met Police commissioner Tim Godwin called it, lacked direction. There was no planning, at least not from what could be garnered from the crowd.

As I ran, the protesters headed towards the police station and off into the night. I just took the long route home.
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11 comments
 
Beautifully written account, Alex. Are you doing ok?
 
Thanks for sharing your story - it must've been scary and I'm glad someone helped you out.

I have to agree with Tim Godwin though: 'gratuitous violence' is exactly what you describe - no aim, no reason. There is no planning in gratuitous violence.
 
Brilliant account, well written and really insightful. Hope you are ok
 
+Devon Young It started off as that ^ and quickly got worse as people found they could do what they want without fear. The looting is simply, because there's no retribution or danger if they do, they can do what they like. Stabbings shootings and killings happen every day, it's just that no one cares or takes notice of the violence. Now people are taking notice, as these same people are now looting and destroying the capital. Unfortuantely, it's already a little late.
 
All that more real when you know somebody that close to the front line, as it were.
 
Glad to read that you're ok and that someone was willing to step in and help you.
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