December 6, 2019

The London Riots

PHOTO COURTESY OF GRANT WESTHOFF

Sometime during my stay in London, there were all these riots going on and all these students were coming together and just gathering in downtown London, in Oxford Street and Piccadilly.

It was peaceful for most of the day; there were a lot of people, a ton of people. There were riot police to protect the shops. All these people were in Oxford Street just yelling at each other and the police, and throwing paint bombs and stuff at the shops and breaking some windows.

We (my friend and I) were like, “Might as well just go see this.” I mean, why not? So we jumped on the tube and we got there pretty late. We get to Trafalgar Square, where all the riots were occurring, get off the train and it was just like a war zone.

It wasn’t like there were a lot of people or anything, but these streets were empty, which never happens in Trafalgar. We got off, there’s glass everywhere, and police running down the street with their riot shields and all sorts of derelict cars.

We walk in and there’s a ring of police around the perimeter of Trafalgar square. Trafalgar is like a circle and there are streets that branch off of it, and they were blocking all the streets, so people couldn’t get out. They call it kettling. Basically, they just surround them until everyone gets tired.

The police will replace each other, but the rioters have to stay in one spot for hours. There was one last stand of rioters, mostly just the anarchists. You know, people who are rioting just for the fun of it. We were just walking around documenting it.

I had a camera with me so I was videoing most of it. There were fires in dumpsters and fires in the streets. Then we hear this commotion. The rioters — I think they might have let them out — just started going crazy and were blocking the streets.

There were side streets where people were just tired and lying on the ground. The police are standing in line with the their riot shields. The general mood was just really creepy — really, really, weird.

There was graffiti all over the place, of course, and on the actual Trafalgar monument there was a graffiti that said, “Revolution is in the mind,” in red. It reminded me of all those post-apocalyptic movies that you see where everything’s gone terrible in the world. I started talking to the riot officers and it was funny, because they were really nice.

At one point I was taking a video of an officer who was standing by himself, and Trafalgar (monument) was in the background. He didn’t realize it at first, then he looked at me and said, “Oh, sorry!” and jumped out of the way. I thought it was the funniest thing.

You’re here to stop these people from destroying the city, and you’re worried about being in my video? I went up and talked to him and they’re really nice; they don’t have a mean disposition or anything.

They’ll tell you anything. You can ask them, “Hey what’s going on?” and they’re like, “Sure, here you go!” They’ll tell you everything. Even some of the protesters started talking to them, and they were generally kind with them. Finally, they let some of the rioters go.

Some of the people had a cart that was playing music, but it was that crazy music where it’s like screams and chainsaws. I don’t know what it’s called. At this point, they started letting cars through again. The rioters blocked a bus, a big double decker, and they started dancing in the middle of the street to this crazy music.

The riot officers came and told them, “Hey, you’ve got to get out.” They weren’t having any of it. Finally, the riot officers started pushing them out and that’s when everything just completely broke loose. They all started fighting back. I saw a riot officer take his shield and guillotine somebody, like bring it down on them.

At this time, we were kind of freaking out because we hadn’t seen them fight yet. When they started fighting, it was really an adrenaline rush.

By this time it was 1 or 1:20 in the morning and we didn’t want to get kettled with all these people because we’re obviously not rioting or anything. We ended up just deciding to leave, not wanting to be there for another six hours.


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