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Who runs this town?

August 9, 2011

For the past few nights London has been a strange place to live, with random boroughs and roads seeing infernos, looting and thuggish standoffs with the police. 

Much has been written about the riots, and much is yet to still be written. But on Sunday morning I woke to the sound of a helicopter circling over Tottenham and this was the scene less than a mile away from my house…

A burnt-out police car in Tottenham after the first night of riots in London

This was a police car that had been set on fire after the first night of riots in Tottenham

Yesterday as Croydon kicked off and 24-hour news channels filled with rolling footage of local businesses going up in flames I was scared for where this would lead. The riots had stopped me from heading out on planned runs. Like pretty much everyone in this area, I stayed inside – even West Green Road, normally bustling with families and exotic produce spilling on to the pavements, was closed for business behind metal shutters.

Today in the office, with a police helicopter circling audibly and sporadic bursts of police sirens speeding through Holborn, a colleague received a phone call from his son. Cycling down Caledonian Road, a group of 20 youths had forced him off his bike, kicked and punched him and taken his bicycle. He was phoning having been checked out in A&E. Later we had an email telling us to leave the office by 5pm. Rumours were circling that it was kicking off in Oxford Street and at Liverpool Street Station.

It was a beautiful afternoon and I hadn’t run since Friday. Who runs this town? I thought. I do, dammit. At 5:15 I got changed into my running kit, determined that I wasn’t going to let this nonsense get in the way of my life. Brazenly I headed out to Embankment, cutting into the Square Mile at Bank, towards Liverpool Street Station. Stopping at traffic lights at The Strand I stood by a man carrying a boxed flat-screen TV. I gave him a suspicious look, which I think he spotted. He was in his thirties and wearing a shirt. Pretty sure he wasn’t a looter…

Carrying along Embankment I saw a lot of other commuter runners, and even as I passed Liverpool Street Station – where there was a decent police presence and no trouble – I wasn’t the only one running home. Heading back up through Shoreditch, Dalston, Stoke Newington, Stamford Hill and back into Seven Sisters I saw other runners, police and communities out and about. No youths covering their faces, no worrying atmosphere, but lots of shops shutting early.

London as a whole doesn’t support these needless, selfish and destructive riots. Runners are a community and we’ve as much right as anyone to be out on the streets without fear of getting caught up in trouble. Running the streets is a way of standing up to these cowards. It shows we’re not afraid; that we’ll carry on going whatever. Who runs this town? We do, dammit.

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