Rob, 36, is a resident of the south London borough of Croydon, which was put under the media telescope, after rioters who’d caused havoc across the nation’s cities, burnt down a 144 year-old family business.
Now that tempers have begun to settle, and communities are trying to make sense of the situation, The Afro News spoke to him to find out how he feels now about his local area.
Croydon’s my home. I bought my first sofa from the furniture shop that burnt down, House of Reeves. It’s weird watching the TV and hearing them say that the furniture shop is a landmark but it kind of is. It could be a cinema or anything in your local street that you associate with home. You get used to whatever it is; you get attached to your local area.
When someone burns it down and you know it’s your own people, the people from your community doing it… (Rob sighs). Maybe in other parts of London it was different, but I think the Croydon attacks were Croydon kids. They were the same people I see on the streets everyday. They were out for excitement I think.
What were you doing when the rioting moved to Croydon?
I was watching it on TV, but at the same time the smoke was coming from my window so I could actually smell it. I was watching and then suddenly I heard a big bang. I looked out of my window and around the corner from my street I could see my neighbours and their TV store; they absolutely wrecked it. Basically they took all the plasmas. It was a home business, you know, a little store, they took the whole lot.
So what did you do then?
I took my baseball bat out because I live above a shop and I didn’t know which shops they were doing. It was all a bit crazy. I called the police and they said that they couldn’t do anything.
I called them to say could they just bring one car down here because the looters were taking people’s livelihoods, but they wouldn’t even bring one car. They said if they were burning buildings down then call, otherwise there’s nothing they could do.
Why did they say they couldn’t do anything?
They didn’t have enough police; all the police were on the main strip in Croydon. They said ‘we can’t come to that street, we can’t contain them, only call us back if you’ve got a fire.’
How did that make you feel?
At that point, knowing that anything could happen, and whatever you did, you know the police wouldn’t come, that was a little bit scary. You know the saying ‘when mob’s rule’, when mobs run the city, it was like that, and you know that you have to fend for yourself.
To be honest, being in that situation, it was intimidating. I didn’t know whether to turn my lights on or off; make them think if I’m in the house don’t bother it, but then if they think you’re in the house they may try it, so it was a little bit crazy.
What was the mood like in the community the following day?
Among the community generally relations are very good; among the slightly older demographic there is that respect there. But the very next day it was weird because when I was walking around, I saw people with their bikes and hoodies and you do think ‘were they part of it’?
There was a certain barrier that everyone put up. You go to the newsagents the next day and you’re a bit more cautious, a bit less friendly. Everyone’s rushing the customers in and rushing them out, and you get the sense the people are thinking ‘hmm, I wonder if he or she was one of them last night or if they’re a normal person.’
And what are your thoughts on the arrests of the working professionals among the looters?
I think it was a school of two halves of people; you had the criminal element, people who are natural criminals, and opportunists. I think that 50% of them were very young people who didn’t have much to do.
Once it started kicking off they got excited about it because they don’t feel part of anything. So even though it was the wrong thing, the fact that everyone’s doing it at the same time, they all suddenly become part of this massive team and I think that’s what a lot of people miss out on.
A lot of it is boredom. The schools are out, the youth clubs are out, there’s no World Cup this year, there’s nothing. When there’s sports happening or things of that nature it keeps people’s attention.
The people that burnt down local businesses, regardless of their age, I bet you they regret it deep in their hearts. When they walk past and see that those local businesses aren’t there any more it will kick in. I think they just got swept up in the whole madness of it.
By Chinwe Ojielo