Friday, 12 August 2011

quiet riot (the interrupters)

Top: Message board - David Levene's image of post-it notes on a boarded-up Poundland in Peckham, damaged in rioting: one of many such impromptu message boards on hoardings around London

Below: Broom army - Andrew Bayles' viral iPhone photograph of the armed mob assembled to clear up the streets in Clapham: a kind of beneficent Home Guard community spirit mobilised to reinstate orderly shopping

As the English judicial system moves into disproportionately punitive mode (6 months for nicking a bottle of water etc.), here are some links with perspectives on community and violence that seem well worth pondering right now: a YouTube interview with a guy on the street in Hackney; Russell Brand and Shiv Malik in the Guardian; a poem for Tariq Jahan by Carol Ann Duffy;
Kenan Malik's 'Five quick points about the riots;' Nina Power on some of the broader contexts for social unrest; Owen Hatherley on the punitive eviction of rioters' families from their homes; Chris Goode's compassionate, thoughtful 'Language teaching' from August 9th on his extraordinary blog; and Charlie Brooker's corrosive satire on bringing back capital punishment.

For me, the most extraordinary propositions, provocations and invitations about how to meet endemic violence without producing further violence (or simply pasting some one-eyed cartoon morality on to people's actions and demonising them) come in a recently released documentary film The Interrupters, directed by Steve James with Alex Kotlowitz. It's about a project called CeaseFire set up in the south side of Chicago to 'interrupt' spiraling gang-related and other violence. And in truth it's one of the most remarkable films I've ever seen, with some genuinely astonishing people of great wisdom, compassion and clarity of perception. They include the epidemiologist Gary Slutkin, who set up CeaseFire, and the four 'interrupters' we follow in the film - Ameena Matthews, Cobe Williams, Tio Hardiman and Eddie Bocanegra - all four of whom were formerly involved in street crime or gang violence, and all of whom are just extraordinary.

Please try to see it. It is brilliant and timely, and shines a rather different light on a lot of the odious moral 'blame & shame' bullshit hovering in British politics, the media and elsewhere right now, and on the possibility of change. It offers an anti-toxin full of real intelligence, heart and humanity. A wake-up call.

Here's a trailer for the film. Here's a clip of Ameena Matthews speaking on the street at a prayer vigil. And here's Andrew Anthony's fine piece from the Guardian last week.

P.S. As a crunchy addendum to the British riot-related material above, here's a link to Slavoj Zizek's account of the riots as an expression of 'revolt without revolution', of his sense of broader political contexts, and of the inadequacy of both conservative and liberal responses: 'Shoplifters of the World Unite' in the London Review of Books, 19 August.

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