Following on from the recent Wonderland documentary My Child the Rioter, I noticed that Kc Okolo’s ‘novel’ about the London riots, ‘Third Party, Fire and Theft: The London Riots’ was available on the Kindle.
The ‘novel’ alternates between two viewpoints, one a bystander of the riots, and the other, ‘Joel’ a willing participant as events in London spiral out of control over four days. Skillfully weaved, this is a thought provoking and ‘real’ account of Summer 2011. I say ‘real’ as some bits are fiction, most is real and it treads a like between novel and reconstruction.
It is clear from the accounts within the novel, that events were moving faster than the Police could keep up because of Twitter and Blackberry Messenger. There is a wonderful sequence where these are described by older MP’s and Councillors as if they are ‘alien’ – to them they are, but to a clued-up generation, they were able to take control this way by creating a smartphone-fed information-led state. Whether reports of violence were falsified, or simply spread like the touchpaper being lit over these digital winds, they helped to outfox the Police and news networks
‘Joel’ describes his feelings at taking part in the riots as something ‘there for a long time.. not unfamiliar to him.. he didn’t fully acknowledge or understand its presence’ – this is one explanation as to the cause of the riots – a way of articulating a feeling of social injustice. Certainly in his raid on Currys, he smashes glass cabinets because he can, he has control, and he can make his difference here subverting the natural order of things.
A mob mentality took over – like animals into the ark two by two, a ‘Noah’s Ark’ mentality, if one person rushes towards or away from a situation, everyone else does. One of our narrators is caught up in groups rushing up and down Tottenham High Street for no apparent reason, similarly, the waves of looters entering into shops, specifically those not covering their faces, like Danielle Corns in My Child the Rioter, who do not necessarily know, or care what they are doing, but simply do it because everyone else is.
The efficiency of the rioters is something that startles the narrator, but as opposed to organised, it may simply be how streetwise the youths are. Many of the rioters are shown as very wise of ways to avoid the Police, even though hatred of them runs deep. Black youths specifically are weary of the stop and search tactics employed by the Police – something only a few steps from a Big Brother state. Some buildings are shown to be burnt to destroy evidence – does this account for the destruction of property, or is the Noah’s Ark mentality repeated here? For many innocent youths of an ethnic minority, increased suspicion from the Police is going to be another human cost of the riots.
Great care is taken to draw distinctions between different groups of people. In Tottenham, there is the mob and the people, accidentally mixed together by nature of this not being planned, then over the days there are the rioters, moving to the organised mobs who actively search out retail parks to loot and versus the anger of the general public observing opposing those within their communities who actively try to rebuild them no sooner than they are knocked down.
There isn’t much care for people’s property or lives here. The evolution of hitting the bigger corporate stores comes later – after much of the damage to ordinary trader’s livelihoods had been done. ‘Joel’s’ story also sees him ruining his relationship with his girlfriend, Derrick and Nathan allowing the indignity of their mother’s being handcuffed by the Police.
The fragmentation of society is shown aptly here. There is a complex picture behind how events escalated over those few days, and as to why. Unlike My Child the Rioter, there are attempts to rationalise the reasons behind the riots. A very difficult thing to attempt since there is more than one reason how events began. One group sees themselves as modern day Robin Hoods – the scene where ‘Joel’ divides up the looted goods equally showing the civilised side to the riots. They don’t need to take, or steal, but the redistribution of wealth and taking something from society is more important to them than anything after the MP’s expenses and phone hacking scandals.
The slow response of the Police in Tottenham allowed the riots to move in waves, from isolated pockets of opportunistic faceless youths, to all out planned mob hits, the shooting of Mark Duggan easily forgotten to the distress of his family in the process. But the initial flashpoint in Tottenham burst open a tinderbox of emotions, which Third Party only scratches the surface of.
If you want to an eyewitness account of how the riots spiralled out of control and what people were thinking, I would recommend this book. I came into it sceptical of what I might find, where the sympathies of the author would lie, and the ominous statement in the foreword that some events had been left out bracing me for the potential that the book would be OTT. However, Third Party gives an honest impression of what it might have been like to been at the periphery and involved in the riots. A worthy and thought provoking read for anyone trying to understand why last summer happened.
The Fiction Stroker gives Third Party, Fire and Theft: The London Riots four strokes out of five.