Last weekend, I got into a conversation with the son of an old friend. He’s a nice middle-class boy, mid-twenties, who plays in a band and has lots of tats and piercings. We got into a conversation about summer festivals. I was telling him about a wonderful one I’d been to — the Curious Arts Festival — and then I asked him, ‘You been to anything exciting?’ ‘Yeah,’ he said with a grin, ‘I went to a riot in east London.’
The riot, I discovered, had been a protest for Rashan Charles, a 20-year-old black man from east London who died after being chased and apprehended by a police officer in Dalston. It was a horrible death, the circumstances of which are still being investigated. His family appealed for calm, but that did not put off the protesters who saw an opportunity. Wheelie bins were used as barricades and then set alight; fireworks were launched towards police. It was clearly an ugly and scary scene.
What was interesting was that the young man I spoke to made it sound like the social event of the season. He waxed lyrical about the ‘energy’, ‘excitement’ and ‘buzz’ of the event, as if it had been Glastonbury or a great rock gig. This young man is a casualty of what can be called riot chic: the fashionable belief that political violence is a legitimate and necessary form of social protest. And kind of fun and cool too.
Riot chic is a global phenomenon, which is funny seeing as most of it is directed against globalisation. It can be seen in the anti-Trump movement in America, which has often turned violent, as well as the Black Lives Matter protests, which started off as anger at police violence but which have resulted in fights and vandalism across America.