True Mancunians love and respect Manchester
I remember very clearly the IRA bomb in Manchester. Neighbours had to be evacuated from Marks and Spencer and I remember walking through the city weeks afterwards and there still being signs of devastation everywhere I looked.
More recently – it seems like nothing now – parts of Manchester were trashed by football fans, annoyed that the big screens that had been set up failed to work. Walking to work the next day, the streets smelled strongly of urine and I had never seen the Northern Quarter in such a mess.
Today was incomparable. As terrible as those prior events were, the heartless reactions were just that – a reaction to something. Today was different. It was off the scale of mindlessness. And that is what made it all the more frightful to watch unfold all around.
Two days ago I sat, gobsmacked as I watched on television my friend’s car in a blaze in Hackney. That was when this all began to feel real as opposed to one of those awful things that comes with the silent reassurance that you’re not involved in any way. But as with everything, I didn’t think for a moment that it would happen here. How naive.
I work at the BBC building on Oxford Road, where although people love a gossip and a bit of drama, there was a very dismissive attitude as the rumour mill, powered by Twitter, began to churn. I saw bits and pieces early on in the afternoon… pictures of riot police vehicles arriving in Manchester’s Piccadilly Gardens and lines of police in nearby Salford. There was certainly evidence that there was a strong police presence but no real signs of trouble or danger. Greater Manchester Police assured, again over Twitter, that if there was anything to report, they would. But you know, Chinese whispers, plus the fact that things were actually starting to happen. Our office remained all in working order but every computer screen I passed had the tell-tale Twitter screen or Facebook feed of a paranoid person. Tension mounted slowly but steadily. No fear whatsoever, just a strangeness.
At 5:30 I received a text message from a friend who works at the Bank of New York in Piccadilly Gardens. Her mum had picked her up and they had to jump red lights to avoid a massive gang of masked youths armed with baseball bats coming towards the city centre from Salford. She told me the roads were gridlocked and that more and more people were heading towards the centre of town.
By 6pm it sounded like most buildings around us, including Manchester University buildings, had been cleared, so we too were told to leave in groups if walking. To be quite honest, I and the two girls I walked home with were excited. The atmosphere was tense but not intimidatingly so, there was still that lovely laid back-ness that I love about Manchester. People had been trying all day to get #Manchesteragainstriots trending. We, as a community, felt strong.
I got home safely and rushed up to my vantage point, the roof. I was met by roof neighbours and we shared some wine, chatting excitedly about what was happening. At that time still, there were riot police, horses, the works everywhere – but nothing much else, no action.
Then the long crescendo. Small groups that had been milling around almost inconspicuously slowly bred. Side roads full of youngsters filtered onto main streets through the centre and into Piccadilly Gardens. Stupidly, my neighbour and I decided it would be a good idea (well, not quite), the budding journalist in me wanted to get out there and talk to people.
Walking along Oldham Street, we saw riot police gathering. They had a strong line not letting anyone pass towards Market Street, where we could see blue lights and Miss Selfridge spewing out smoke and flames. Turning left instead, we walked towards the next junction where again we were held. At this point it seemed there were more people there to watch than to cause trouble, but seeing twenty, maybe thirty police in full riot gear charging past didn’t exactly settle me. Standing by a railing, I felt nervous that if anyone rushed towards us, we’d definitely be crushed. There was nowhere else to go though, so when the inevitable yelling and charging started, we both just turned and ran amongst the stampede. Not long later, adrenaline now pumping, we decided we’d better go back to the safety of our roof.
From there I looked on in pure disbelief as children, yes CHILDREN ran around joining in what was quickly becoming an uncontrollable attack on Manchester. The sound of sirens, shouting, chanting, banging, car alarms, burglar alarms and corragated iron being ripped and kicked echoed throughout the streets down below. Gangs upon gangs of men, women, girls and boys, black and white and asian and whatever else, were breaking into independent shops, helping themsleves to trainers, clothes, gadgets and widescreen TVs bigger than the swines that were stealing them. Oxfam was raided. OXFAM.
Greater Manchester Police did an admirable job of controlling as much as they could of the chaos, but when thoughtless, fearless hooligans throw bottles at police lines, stones at police dogs and have friends ready to drive them from one area to another, the possibility of taking control back is about as small as the brains of these idiots.
Trouble came in waves. They collected and looted and collected and looted and then one would whistle, they’d scatter and a second later the tough police lines were back in place. I have no idea really how effective this was at stopping the violent behaviour or merely moving it on; I hope the former but suspect the latter.
What angers me so much is that here in Manchester, these vandals were, in the main, rebels without a cause. They were much younger on average than those I had seen in Tottenham, Hackney et al. They weren’t angry, they weren’t trying to make a political point, they weren’t targeting authorities; they were cruel, heartless, disgusting people thinking only about themselves and displaying that in the most appalling way I have ever witnessed.
All the big names were trashed, the high street shops smashed to pieces and banks too, but from where I was standing, I could see them attacking independent shops, charity shops and music shops. These businesses won’t recover, these are peoples’ entire lives. The longer I watched, the more sick I felt that anyone could do this.
Manchester is a proud place. True Mancunians love and respect Manchester. Tonight it felt like people were punching into Manchester’s heart and soul, ripping them out and twisting them in front of our eyes as we sat helpless. Just a load of lost, loathing Twitterers.
Things are quiet now. Riot police outside my flat said they would stay all night and since then I haven’t heard any trouble. But who knows what tomorrow will bring?
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