Anarchy in the UK

These days, every major news story comes with a single iconic photograph. For the riots in Britain, that photo was not that of looting hooligans, burning centuries-old buildings or clean-up afterwards; instead, it captured a human tragedy of one Polish émigré, who has been in the UK for only five months.

On Monday night, 32-year old Monika Konczyk, had chosen to stay inside her one-bedroom flat above a row of shops because of rioting and looting outside. She did not have any possessions with her when she jumped, and her flat has been completely destroyed.

Amy Weston, a photographer with London’s WENN photo agency, captured this iconic moment on the Church Street, Croydon. She remembers the chaotic times:

By the time I drove toward it, I could already see the fires from my windscreen. There were six or seven people screaming and crying outside, and they looked like they lived at the flats that were burning. A man in a white shirt was screaming that a girl was at the window and that she was ready to jump. He ran toward her, but riot police had appeared and pulled him back, and they went to her instead.

As soon as she dropped, the crowds pushed back and there was no way to see what happened to her. I remember hearing people screaming that there were more people in the building. The crowds started getting angry with each other, with one group blaming another group for starting the fire. I couldn’t get to my car, so I had to walk, wrapping my camera in my clothes to avoid being mugged.”

The photograph quickly went viral on Twitter and was featured on the front pages of many British newspapers, including the Times, the Sun and the Daily Telegraph.

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Anatomy of A Jump

Hug A Hoody

Hug it or hate it, hoody remains a potent and divisive symbol 

In 2007, David Cameron, then the opposition leader, was visiting one of the most deprived estates in Manchester when a teenager ran up behind him and made a hand gesture to shoot him to impress his friends (more on that story). The photo of 17-year old Ryan Florence in a hoodie was reprinted on many frontpages — all the more ironic because only a year before, Cameron had made his famous speeches arguing that hoodies were “more defensive than offensive”.  “Hug A Hoody” — to use Labour’s then dismissive view — was a defining moment of his journey towards a softer liberalism.

But in the last few days, we have come very far from those heady days; we need to reexamine hoodies and their status in the ganglands. When the history of the last few days is debated, written, and analysed, understanding gangland culture will be more important than prejudicial fingering the usual suspects of unemployment, disenfranchisement, poverty, materialism, and racial tensions.

Of over a thousand people arrested, many were in their early teens and the youngest was 11. They stood for nothing; like Florence, they view hooliganism as a rite of passage, a youthful act of rebellion, a snub towards authorities. Sooner or later, most of them grow out of this phase. A handful, however, fails to reform. They becomes hardened gangmembers and anarchists who in turn recruit another generation of impressionable teens as their foot soldiers. Through promises of drugs, social acceptance and protection, they manipulate others, and this weekend, they have shown their power once again by outmanoeuvring police with their urban guerrilla tactics. Their symbol? Hoodies.

Yesterday, in a speech that echoed the sentiments towards kilts after the Jacobin Rebellion, the former Deputy PM John Prescott entertained a hoodie ban. Defensive, offensive or not, hoodies are oppressive. In Hood Rat, a haunting expose of London’s gang culture by Gavin Knight wrote, “Not everyone in a hoody is a gang member, some are just teenagers wearing hoodies, but the line is deliberately kept blurred”. In many inner-cities, teenagers feel they have to wear one for their own survival. They are terrified, trapped, intimidated by older gang members. Hoodies have such cultural power that they become their own unique kind of weapon.

 And for this reason alone, this house believes that they should be banned.