THERE were times last night where it was genuinely frightening, a feeling that the police knew that they did not have full control of what was happening in Chalk Farm Road and later Camden Town. That’s not a good feeling. Fireworks zipped across the middle of the road from nowhere and makeshift missiles looped impossible angles through the sky. The police and the eyes behind the scarves took it in turns to essentially rush at each other, the police equipped with shields, the scarves with anything they could find.
I saw a group rip open rubbish and recycling bags, pick up bottles and hurl them at the line of officers. The ‘feds’ – I heard that word probably 200 times last night – were at times outnumbered. Slowly, however, over an hour or so, the police drove the crowd back from Chalk Farm tube all the way up to the iconic Camden Lock rail bridge. The young people retreated down sidestreets but then came again with arms forked in the air and again throwing anything they could find, rolling dustbins like tripsy Donkey Kong barrels.
Along the way, shops and bars were smashed. Evans Cycles saw its front windows cracked, the man size hole big enough for bikes to be looted at ease. On a drivearound the back of Camden Town, Chalk Farm and Kentish Town, we saw police retrieving some of the stolen frames. Lots in Prince of Wales Road.
Sainsbury’s was duffed up, the Lock Tavern had broken windows and several more businesses were indiscriminately hacked. When the line was pushed as far back as LA1 fashion store, the shutters were peeled open like a roll of carpet and again a wall of glass was shattered. Within minutes the store had been ransacked, boys and girls, young men and women, helping themselves to trainers and clothes. The speed of the raid was pretty astonishing, like piranhas devouring an ankle of meat.
Back down the road, police remained in their spots, their containment policy not allowing them to drive forward as some would have liked. What must they have been thinking behind those safety visors? Later, they charged again. A wine bottle zipped past my head and smashed against the Stables Market wall. As the police shouted for everyone to move back, I turned to do just that. A scarf face called out: What are you doing? Hold your ground. Don’t be a pussy… He might have gone on but the police were already charging and Mr Bandana had himself turned on his heels.
This was a typical scene of a surreal night in Camden Town. Bins burned in Jamestown Road, dashing chases flew down Inverness Street and as reached as far as Gloucester Crescent. Then, it was in the High Street. Then Camden Road. Then Camden Street, where youngsters teamed hoods with ‘Scream’ masks. What was striking was the ages of some of them, some 13 year olds were surely among them too. A group of ‘spectators’, a circle of giggling girls outside American Apparel, must have been about that age. It was 1 am in the morning, later, but they had no need to be at home with their parents – or even to ring home.
Yet after this thoroughly depressing night, there were some touching responses that only inspired hope. As we (me, Dan Carrier and Tom Foot tweeted news of the disturbances), we found a strong, caring community speaking back to us online. There was an amazing number of messages, so often from people we have never met, urging us to stay safe. That’s not the sign of a society which doesn’t care. Then, the next day, today, volunteers in large numbers came out to sweep away shattered glass. By 10.30 am, the clean up was just about done, limiting the clues of what had gone on just hours before. Now, as we tried to tweet with a steady head last night to insulate readers from hype and exaggeration, Camden was not as badly hit as Croydon or Enfield, where fires caused enormous devastation. But what went on was not insignificant. The police admitted that it took until 5am to completely bring things to order in Camden. The clean-up , however, from people who care about this city, care about Camden, was another example of why, in the end, bad behaviour can’t win.
Once you cut away some of the political point-scoring (not too much of that thankfully in Camden, but it is rampant elsewhere), it is refreshing to find a community that can essentially bond together when the hour comes. If we could harness that unity at times when our town centres aren’t being vandalised, we’d surely be onto a winning track.