London Runs; London Riots

August 23rd, 2011 in Articles by 0 Comments

Mike Atwood, Faster Than Forty’s Editor at Large, spent time in London this summer — running races and tracking down bits and pieces of running-geek lore. Needles to say, he was not pleased by the news of the London riots…

Riots in the streets of London? It made no sense to me when the news came over the wire. I had just been there, enjoying the warm summer streets and jovial atmosphere. People were gregarious, friendly, and genteel. In a bustling, international city, I enjoyed a plethora of quiet, reflective runs through the streets.

Now London was burning. Arsonists had set ablaze shops, cars and a double-decker bus similar to the one I toured on. People were looting, others beating up bystanders for petty money – if you cropped the photos you may have thought it was Los Angeles in 1992.

But it didn’t make sense. The Friday afternoon I spent on Oxford Street, then down to CarnabyCoach @ Outside a London Pub Street near SoHo, was filled with after-work drinkers, people standing and socializing outside of pubs, enjoying pints and laughing – not harming each other. To add to the pacifist mentality, 25,000 people had run with me peacefully through the streets in a10K road race that featured charities. Thousands more had lined the course in support. What had happened in less than a month?

As I sat typing another article about my fantastic week of running around London, my phone rang and I stared at an international extension. It was Matt O’Neill phoning from the UK.

“They hit Oxford Circus last night,” said my former student, now an actor in London. “It was loud and they were getting close. We were nervous.”

The words traveling across the telephone line from some 3,000 miles away were troubling. What he recounted reminded me of a Clash song from the 1980s. (Brixton had riots in 1981, 1985, and 1998.) One of my favorite songs from my youth, Eddie Grant’s “Electric Avenue,” makes reference to the violence that took place due to frustration with racial tensions, unemployment and poverty in South London.

Now, the 2012 Olympics loom ahead and surely, despite a public calm, chairman Sebastian Coe is fearful of the threat to the peace of The Games. Visions of Munich wander into my mind – seeing as London was home of the 7/11 attacks a few years back, and safety and security is always a worry. If London can’t control it’s own citizens, what will happen when the world arrives next summer? The Olympic rings hang waiting at St. Pancras Station as the Eurostar trains pull in and out each day bound for Paris.

So why riots? Why now? To paint the portrait for you, Tottenham it is just four miles away from the pastoral Hampstead Heath’s Highgate entrance. It is about eight miles east of Maida Vale.

The fires in Tottenham began when a black man, Mark Duggan, was shot by police after his minicab was stopped. He was allegedly in possession of a gun that later was found to hold blanks. Police suggested he had shot at them, then a spokesman corrected the statement and the social media networks erupted. Twitter was accused of starting the riots it seems. From there it turned into chaos in Tottenham as looters smashed in the windows of local business, stole, then set fire to a historic furniture store that had survived the Nazi Blitzkreig.

A culture of  thugs right?

Apparently not as much as the police profilers would like to suggest.  We should’ve been more afraid of the father of two, Charles Thompson, who burned down the furniture store, or the pregnant airport employee who looted over 1,000 pounds of goods. And watch out for the two sons of an Evangelical minister; they were stealing stereo components.

My host in London, Fay, told me to be wary of the “kids in the hoodies on bikes” as I ran around the canals of Maida Vale. There were some “projects” around the corner and she had had her purse and cell phone stolen one day when a kid in a hoodie rode past her and grabbed them. I kind of laughed at the image.

However, the riots made me sit back and think how much we take for granted, how much I took for granted during my week in London. Five people are dead; 1,000 people have been arrested, and $326 million in damages round out the stats. I have hope that once this rage is calmed, things will return to normal and the Olympiad will be celebrated in peace. But with one incident, London was a city under attack once again.

Michael J. Atwood was a standout runner at Boston College (class of ’93). For his full bio, click here. He was once named The Boston Globe’s “Coach of the Year,” but recently he has been bombing around the U.K looking for cool running spots. He has plans to run a sub-three-hour winter marathon.

Author: FasterThanForty

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