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Flatbush Flashback

The Fire Next Time

All this writing about rioting has gotten me to thinking about what it might be like in New York City should a bit of social unrest erupt here. Well, it's not terribly hard to imagine. We got a preview of what would happen in 2004, when the Republican Party invaded New York to re-nominate Bush on the ashes of the World Trade Center. So, I figure it'll be pretty much the same, with more fire and more carnage.

The entire city was in lockdown. Concrete barricades manned by heavily armed riot police and military—it was hard to tell them apart—sprung up overnight, on virtually every street corner in Midtown Manhattan. Chinook helicopters thumped overhead. At the first hint of trouble, the police carried out mass arrests, swooping in with plastic netting, and rounding up anybody who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Stores and restaurants closed. Streets were deserted. Anybody who could leave town did. It wasn’t fun. It wasn’t good for business (as our mayor had advertised). It wasn’t anything but ugly.

Which is why most sensible New Yorkers breathed a sigh of relief when London was chosen for the 2012 Olympics. The convention lasted only four days. The Olympics will go on for 17 days. Word to the wise: Get the fuck out of London if you can. Go to Spain. Or, better yet, tell them to go away. You’re London. You don’t need the Olympics. Read More 
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New York Calling to the Riot Zone

Sitting here in my cluttered New York living room/office, tapping on my laptop, the London riots, though 3,500 miles away, feel uncomfortably close. My publisher, Headpress, whose site you may be reading this on, is in Wood Green, adjacent to Tottenham, where the riots began. A photographer I wrote about in Beaver Street, Steve Colby, lives in Hackney, about a half mile from the worst of the rioting on Kingsland Road. Another friend, who I stay with when I'm in London, lives in Crouch End, also not far from Tottenham.

Yet, from the perspective of these people, it’s tranquil in London. “All as quiet as anything,” reports Crouch End. “Everything OK so far,” says Wood Green.

But it wouldn’t be London without the gallows humor, would it? “A security guard clapped me round the head as I was exiting Foot Locker through the smashed window, but I managed not to drop the trainers!” reports a colleague.

“US size 11, if you get a chance,” I remind him.

Despite what your Prime Minister, David Cameron, says about a “lack of proper parenting,” and a “lack of proper morals” being the root cause of the riots, I’m inclined to believe that when people burn down their own neighborhoods, what they lack is something to lose. It doesn’t take a genius to see a connection between the violence and “the cuts,” as you call them—in health care, libraries, police, drop-in centers, etc., etc…. all the things that governments cut to balance their financial books on the backs of those who already have the least.

It’s the same thing that’s happening here, in America, where the economy is in a state of turmoil, the government has gone insane, 14-million people are unemployed, 46 million don’t have health insurance, those who have health insurance can barely afford to pay for it, and more and more people are left with a desperate sense of having nothing to lose.

I used to think that I’d be okay as long as I was coherent and could string together a couple of sentences. I don’t feel that way anymore. Whatever sense of security I once had has been shredded.

There are just too many people here, in New York, with nothing to lose, and too many people with plenty to lose who are losing more every day. Inevitably, the riots will come to America. And when they do, I can’t say I’m going to join them, but I certainly won’t be able to blame them. Read More 
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