About the London riots

How the rioting started:

What began as a gathering of around 200 protesters demanding answers over the death of Mark Duggan, who was shot dead by police on Thursday, culminated 12 hours later in a full-scale riot that saw brazen looting spread across north-London suburbs.
The crowd that gathered outside Tottenham police station at 5.30pm were by all accounts peaceful. The protesters consisted of local residents, community leaders, and some of Duggan’s relatives, including his fiancee, Semone Wilson.

Protesters complained that police and the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), which is investigating Duggan’s death, were not communicating with them.

Wilson, they said, had been forced to call the IPCC to identify the body; other relatives first discovered Duggan had been killed when they saw his photograph on the news.

With apparently limited communication, the vacuum filled with rumour.

There were stories of Duggan having been shot after being handcuffed; others said he had sent a message to friends 15 minutes before he was killed, saying he had been cornered but was safe.

There were chants of “we want answers” but those present said the protest was good-natured. The demonstration, which organisers expected to last no more than an hour, was initially fronted by women, who surrounded Wilson, who had three children with 29-year-old Duggan.

What happened over the next four hours is subject to debate, but what is clear is that tensions gradually escalated, as police made only limited attempts to talk to the demonstrators.

Channel 4 News spoke to Duggan’s partner:

Since Thursday, rioting and looting has spread to many parts of London and now other cities in Britain.

Some residents of Hackney, in north London, describe how the Metropolitan police discriminate between blacks and whites:

Shop owners in east London defend their businesses from looters:

London’s mayor, Borris Johnson, gets a skeptical response from Londoners frustrated by the police’s inability to control the rioting and looting that has taken place over the last few days.

At the New York Times, Robert Mackey gathers some of the responses from Egyptians interested in but perplexed by what’s happening in London:

As the riots in London continued for a third night on Monday, Egyptian bloggers, watching events unfold on live television, debated the meaning of the violent confrontations between young people and the police, which reminded some of them of their own pitched battles on the streets of Cairo a few months ago.

Just a few minutes after one CNN correspondent, Dan Rivers, was forced to scurry behind police lines — as bottles were thrown at him and his cameraman in the south London neighborhood of Peckham — the reporter suggested that the riots had seemed to gain a kind of “momentum” through social networking. The dynamic, Mr. Rivers said, reminded him of the way protests had built and spread through cities in the Middle East earlier this year.

Watching Mr. Rivers report from Peckham, an Egyptian blogger and activist who writes as Zeinobia commented, “The CNN reporter in London is acting as if he is in war zone.” Moments later, she added, “Oh, God, they are attacking the CNN crew in London and it was a live action.”

Trying to get her head around the mayhem, Zeinobia — who took part in the protests that forced Hosni Mubarak from power — asked her followers on Twitter to explain what was happening. A Cairo radio anchor, who writes as LinaNileFM on the social network, responded, “Riots broke out in North London over a police shooting, started peacefully then turned violent with cars and buildings burnt down.”

As she switched between coverage of London’s riots on CNN and Al Jazeera, Zeinobia wrote, “To be honest I do not understand why protesters would set shops and houses on fire.”

Sarah Carr writes:

As a dual British-Egyptian citizen 2011 has been an interesting year to say the least. The inevitable comparisons are being drawn between the revolution and the riots. There has been annoying smugness from some Egyptian commentators about how civilised the Egyptian revolution was compared to the barbarians in London, and how well Egyptians responded to the security situation compared with Londoners.

Firstly, the majority of protesters who took to the streets in January were motivated by a cause and outnumbered opportunist looters. Secondly, who relies on the police in Egypt anyway? They’re a bunch of useless murderers. In London the police are more trusted despite also killing people with alarming regularity. People have little experience of defending themselves (interestingly, and perhaps supporting this theory, Turkish-Kurdish shop owners in north London fought off looters. I know very little about community-policing relations in Kurdish areas of Turkey but I suspect that the police aren’t on speed dial).

In summary I’m confused, and I wish I was in London so I could ask the kids what the fuck they’re doing and why. The media is showing us hour after hour of Outraged Upstanding Citizen all saying the same thing because Upstanding Citizens tend to hit journalists less. There is an echoing void when it comes to the other side of the story, a void that is being filled with image after horrible image and calls for looters to be flogged in public squares and theorising about the legitimate social political grievances that drove them to commit inexcusable acts. Both camps are as bad as each other.

Martin Luther King said that a riot is the language of the unheard, but Ralph Waldo Emmerson said what you do speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying. The media is not even trying to listen.

Journalists covering the riots also face challenges.

Photographers covering the London riots appear to be bearing the brunt of violence against journalists, with several serious incidents of beatings and muggings over the last three days.

Photojournalists covering conflict and civil disorder often find themselves in the worst danger, as they have to get close to the story to do their job and stand out because of their equipment.

One war reporter, who has just returned from the frontline in Libya, was mugged by three hooded looters outside Currys in Brixton on Sunday night with £2,500 of video equipment stolen.

Another photographer was kicked to the ground and beaten by four youths on the Pembury Estate in Hackney on Tuesday, while in Birmingham two photographers were mugged, one suffering a vicious attack by an angry mob of more than a dozen.

Dave Hill writes:

As always with urban riots, Tottenham and its aftermath have produced political rock-throwing. A familiar polarisation can be witnessed in mainstream and social media alike. From the right comes condemnation of the criminality, uncritical support for the police and a snorting contempt for any attempt to diagnose the events with reference to their wider social and economic context: unemployment, poverty, historic tensions with the Met and so on. From the left comes, yes, an insistence that the events cannot be truly understood without reference to that wider social and economic context, an insistence that the police must be held to account, and so on.

I’m in the latter camp, but do I also condemn the burning and looting? Yes, stupid, I do. I find it hateful, depressing, selfish, contemptuous, vicious and frightening. My, possibly paranoid, sense that delinquent youths all across the inner city are emboldened by the current mood has ratcheted up my parental anxiety an unwelcome notch or two.

I have no problem with condemnation, only with condemnation in isolation. That is because condemnation on its own is far too easy – so easy, in some mouths, that it becomes a sort of narcissistic vigilantism: my condemnation is bigger than your condemnation; your smaller condemnation condemns you as a secret non-condemner and therefore a closet excuser and justifier, etcetera. The other problem with condemnation unadorned is that it’s a dead end. You condemn. Then what? You have to look for some solutions. Condemning alone is not enough.

Gavin Knight says the riots are not the work of organized gangs:

Following the London riots, the media have been quick to say the looting was the work of an organised gang of thugs, even a network of gangs working together. The truth is more complex. Mark Duggan was a member of the Star gang. Made up of less than 10 members, it had a notorious reputation for being armed, dealing Class A drugs and intent on making money. It was affiliated to larger, older gangs in the area known as the Tottenham Man Dem or the Farm Boys, with around 30 members each from different generations.

Given the cut-off nature of Broadwater Farm Estate, the gang members there are close-knit. They do not attack members of their own community. They all grew up together and remain in touch with previous generations. They also protect the estate like a fortress against rivals like Edmonton in the north, the Wood Green “Mob” to the west.

In Tottenham, as in other parts of inner cities in the UK, one of the key trends is the lowering of the age group involved in gang activity. Younger and younger kids are becoming involved. It is likely that young kids from outside the area, alerted by BlackBerry instant messages, arrived to loot the shops. One eyewitness from the community told me how he was driving in the area with his family and could see young kids he recognised but they were “so angry and emotional” he decided not to engage with them. “They saw the burning car and it gave them an adrenaline rush. They were spurred on by a chance to put one over on the police, maybe for the only time in their lives.”

Some kids who looted Foot Locker later boasted about the boxes of trainers they had in their house. They do not fit the profile of organised senior gang members. A source close to the gang community, with a background in armed robbery, told me: “If senior gang members were involved, they would not be interested in just trainers and TVs. They’d take out the bank, the safes and tills from H&M and Foot Locker. They would break into the bookies.”

While Britain’s political leaders struggle in finding an effective and meaningful response to the last few days unrest, ordinary Londoners have decided to arm themselves — with brooms.

Dan Thompson writes:

Watching London burn. That’s something that my grandad, a Peckham boy, would never have expected to see again. Having worked with communities in Brixton and Kilburn with the Empty Shops Network, it’s not something I’d ever expected to see. London’s not that kind of place any more.

I’d spent the weekend at Adhocracy in Bethnal Green, an event all about standing up, taking control and building a DIY culture. After that, doing nothing wasn’t an option. So I tweeted the most practical thing I could think of: let’s get brooms, bin bags and a dustpan and brush. Let’s start the clean-up ourselves.

This was late on Monday evening, and I was at home in Worthing. I still am. I haven’t left the laptop for more than a few minutes, and the phone has been ringing without a break. I’ve been up most of the night, surfing a wave of London pride and helping people team up, find the resources and get on to the streets. It started with singer-songwriter Emmy The Great at 8.30am in Westbourne Grove. Musicians have been busy all day – Sam Duckworth, aka Get Cape, set up the Twitter account @riotcleanup (70,000 followers last time I looked) and Kate Nash and the Kaiser Chiefs’ lead singer, Ricky Wilson, have been on the streets of Clapham. Out there, right now, hundreds of people are waving brooms in the air. Boris Johnson has visited. Government ministers have phoned me to see how they can help. People have created websites, Facebook pages, their own small local groups.

The action has changed things. People have said they woke up this morning feeling fear, but they now feel optimistic. There’s talk of reclaiming the streets from violence just by being there and talking. The broom, raised aloft, and cups of tea carried on riot shields have become today’s iconic images. How British. How beautifully British. And how very, very London. People have even produced “Keep Calm and Clear Up” posters. It’s a movement.

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2 thoughts on “About the London riots

  1. Colm O' Toole

    And the award for “best response to the London riots” goes to…..Iran.


    “Iran has called on the British police to exercise restraint against people protesting over the killing of a black man in London.” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokeman.

    “We advise the monarchical regime of Britain to respect the rights of its people by avoiding savage behaviour,” Fars quoted Seyed Hossein Naqavi, an Iranian MP.

    Payback is a b*tch. One lesson the UK government seems to never learn.

  2. London Riot in Dub

    In the Independent letters page today : Spot on comment.

    ” Is it so spurious to suggest that an economic and political system that stresses materialist wealth, which constantly exposes us to increasingly sophisticated and ubiquitous advertising, yet which oversees the breakdown of communities and the impoverishment of millions in order to increase the wealth of a minority of individuals and businesses, might be responsible for creating the sorts of individuals who have taken to the streets?

    We do not need to argue that these people were explicitly politicised, or fighting for some sort of social justice – on the contrary, we can draw the opposite conclusions. Many of these people appear to have been acting selfishly, competitively, and without thought for the consequences of their actions. If only they had a middle-man in a developing country to do their looting, they would make fine capitalists.

    When riots like this take place, it is spurious to suggest the social context is not to blame. I do not condone much of what I have seen, but it is perfectly understandable, when we reflect upon the sort of society more respectable thieves in suits have created for us.”


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