Many of you in the US are probably just hearing about the rioting that has taken place between Saturday evening and right at this moment in the Northern and (now spread to) Southern of “suburbs” London. There are accounts of similar violence occurring in Birmingham and Leeds which is about 2-3 hours North of here by train. Since I have been pretty much glued to twitter and news reports about this since yesterday morning, I’m going to give you a brief summary and my reaction to what’s going on. I am going to attempt to be as unbiased as possible in my reporting of the different sides, but I will be giving you my opinions.
Whether or not the riots and looting were really caused by Mark Duggan’s death, that’s where it all began. Last Thursday evening, Mark Duggan was shot and killed by police. Investigations are ongoing and some of what the police said occurred now seem a little less likely. Police were carrying out a pre-planned operation as part of their action against gun crime. This involved pulling over a taxi cab to arrest someone inside of it. The current reports say that the police exchanged gunfire with someone in the cab and Mark Duggan was that person. During this fire fight he was shot and killed, a police officer was also injured, but has left the hospital within a few hours. These were the “facts” or at least as much as the media reported before Saturday.
Who was Mark Duggan? It’s hard to say–he’s either a criminal gang member or a well respected peaceful member of the community (and father of four). Here are a couple articles so you can read the different sides: one and two. To be honest, I think its something in the middle. He grew up in a rough and poor neighborhood (a bit more about the areas all this is happening in later), so most likely he’s not completely free from associations with people, but I do not believe he was a full out gangster–of course I’m a very non-judgmental person and I know a bit more information than you do right now. On to fixing that!
So Mark is dead. The police on Friday and Saturday (during the day) seem to go about their usual investigation duties. Interestingly the IPPC (Independent Police Complaints Commission) were on the scene with hours of it occurring, which is apparently unusual. Saturday afternoon/early evening Mark Duggan’s family and close friends held a peaceful protest outside of the police station in hopes of getting the police to give them more information about what happened. Apparently, many of his relatives only knew about his death after they saw it reported on tv. The police refused to comment at that time. More people began to show up, some allegedly with oil cans and other materials. There is an unconfirmed story that a 16 year old girl pleaded with the police for information then threw something at them–some say stone, some say leaflet. She was then pounded into the ground by 15 police shields (again this is the unconfirmed story) and was pushed back down when she started to get up. Her friend pulled her away. That was when things got real. Mark Duggan’s family apparently left the scene and two police cars were flipped which began the Saturday night riot in Tottenham.
Tottenham (and many of the other areas I will mention tonight) is a very poor area with a history of relative deprivation and racial conflict (these areas are mixed, but do have a large black population). It is important to have all that in the back of your mind as you read the news stories and form your own opinion, either way this level of violence is uncalled for, but perhaps (on this night) some level of rioting was understandable. Rumors abounded of Mark being handcuffed and executed, etc. Whether these rumors were “planned” in some way remains unclear, but more about the level of planning later. During this time preliminary reports from forensics said that the bullet found embedded in the injured officer’s radio (thought to be from Duggan’s gun) was police issue. This completely changes the way police have reported the incident occurred and no further information has been released.
I won’t go into detail about what happened there are lots of news stories for that, but I will say that multiple buildings and vehicles were completely burned, stores looted, and minor injuries (I haven’t seen any reports of major ones at this time). Some accusations of the police not acting quickly enough to the riot or the fires have been made. The riots were brought under control in the early hours of the morning Sunday.
Sunday Night–Enfield, Edmonton, Brixton
Skip forward to last night, this again started around early evening–for exact times look in some of the news stories linked throughout (I’m encouraging you to read multiple sources). Riots and looting of the same variety began in an area just north of Tottenham, Enfield. After a few hours as this began to heat up, this violence was said to spread east towards Edmonton. Again much of this seemed to be about burning cars, buildings and looting. While I was not there and reports are still coming out about this, I believe that there were less fires than in Tottenham but Enfield was just as violent (my opinion from reading live tweets and news blogs until 1 am last night). By 10 pm last night the violence had spread to more areas North of London as well as Brixton, South of London, where a festival (read: lots of people) had been held earlier that day. There were also reports of “more minor” looting in West London and even in Oxford Circus (the street I have mentioned a few times on this blog).
I’m not going to list all of the regions that were affected here in part because most of my readers come from the US and won’t know where they are and in part because when I heard about all of them via twitter and such last night things were unconfirmed. Last night’s riots seemed most serious in the three areas I mentioned above–Enfield, Edmonton (where a teenager was stabbed), and Brixton. Those areas are still cleaning up and many of the streets, highways and public transportation stops have been blocked off of those areas for investigation. The riots that happened last night seemed to be more about criminality and looting than the previous night in Tottenham (my opinion). I do believe it is possible that a contingent of the Tottenham rioters were doing it “for” Mark and against the (mostly) white police they have had historical issues with. I do not think this was as much the case last night, I think many of those youth are fighting to loot and to “succeed” over the police. Some more reports on what happened last night and police action: one and two; timeline/map. These riots seemed to slow after 1 am (some say because that’s when public transportation closed) and seemed to have finally been taken under control by 3 am.
Monday Night–Hackney, Croydon, and ??
Unfortunately this continues tonight. I still hear the sirens from my flat often (I’m near 2 hospitals and 2 police stations), but it is not as constant as it was last night (it went from 9 pm until after 1 am straight). Most people that I encountered today (here in central London) had no idea that the riots even occurred. Television news reports did not cover it last night, so unless you saw it on-line and then researched it like I did it was hard to know what was going on. It was strange for it to be “the day after.” I think that’s why its even more surprising to me (but I suppose realistic) that riots are occurring in other areas tonight–some North and some South of London as well as in Birmingham and Leed, UK (the level of looting and violence here remains unconfirmed). Here are some articles and reactions so far: one, two and three.
A reporter for the Guardian Paul Lewis has been “in the field” in the middle of these riots for the last three nights (almost no sleep in 72 hours) and live tweeting what he sees. He has said that what is occurring at this moment in Hackney is worse than Enfield last night and what he’s seeing on the news from Croydon make him believe that the low injury rate may be ending.
Current initiatives to stop the riots include working with Blackberry to see how they can assist–much of the riot seems to have been planned using BBM and twitter. If needed, I’ll post an update on here about what happens tonight, I hope nothing so major occurs that requires that. I would recommend the Guardian and the Telegraph for coverage, both have had live blogs the last two nights.
I’ve given you my opinions and feelings throughout the post, but coming from a Peace/Conflict Resolution degree I have a few more things to say.
First my own feelings. I am disturbed. My anger and addiction to reading all the live updates have been covering this feeling up for the last 24 hours, but overall I am very disturbed that so much violence can be happening for so long in a place I live, in a place like London. Even though its bad to say, one of my first thoughts was ‘things like this don’t happen in places like London.’ I have studied wars in Africa and seen text and social media used to spark violence (we have also seen it spark good demonstrations recently), but somehow my privileged mind could not compute that it was happening here. So yes, those are my overall feelings–disturbed, sad, slightly angry and scared (I am safe though everyone all the occurrences so far have been pretty far away).
Now for some more general thoughts about this….
I do think it is possible that some police officers have been slacking on the jobs slightly–the first night–due to racial histories and a belief that Duggan was guilty. Now, I think that many police officers, especially those that have been out in this for the last 3 days, have gotten angry. Both of these things are causing the violence to increase. The reporter I mentioned earlier (Paul Lewis) was threatened by a cop who didn’t believe he was a journalist—that’s what I mean by anger leading to more violence.
I personally think that Duggan’s death was an operation gone wrong. Whether or not he was the man police meant to arrest (even that has not been released, nor what happened to the cabbie driving the car), I believe that his death was wrongful. It does not, with the facts I have at this moment, seem like he exchanged gunfire with police. There was a non-police issue gun found at the scene, but there are mixed views on where that gun came from. Either way, Mark’s family deserved better treatment by police.
I’m not convinced that better treatment and information from police about Duggan’s death would have changed the riots. The pattern of the rioting on Saturday and Sunday night (and perhaps tonight) are very similar making it seem more certain that these riots have been planned. Some rioting youth have also been quoted as saying that they’ve been planning this for a long time or have been waiting for a long time. The use of BBM and twitter to spread rumors, scare people and encourage them to join is also another form of evidence for this theory. Apparently, How-to-Avoid-Getting-Arrested leaflets have been found at on of last night’s scenes of rioting.
I think that’s all I will say for now. I hope you find this useful and that I have included enough links for you to find out more. If another reaction comes to me or if something very serious occurs tonight I may update this post. Overall I am glad that the police seem to be out in full force tonight keeping me and so many others safe. I am appalled by the needless violence and criminality that is being perpetuated. I am also keeping a close eye on the Mark Duggan investigation, finding out the truth (“right” or “wrong”) about his death is important and should not be covered up by these riots.