To begin to dissect the causes of the London riots, even on an elementary level, it is important to get a picture of the backdrop and immediate context that frame this wave of violence across the Capital.
It would appear the shooting of 29-year-old Mark Duggan by Police on Thursday 4th of August 2011 was the trigger for the riots. Initial media reports seemed to suggest that Mark had shot at the police and was subsequently killed in retaliation fire. However, various accounts in the preceding days not only served to cast shadows over the accuracy of that account, but also served to fuel a local community’s frustration and rage at the police and what many locals who knew Mark, perceived to be pertinent questions not being answered. Hence the peaceful protest on Saturday 6th August 2011.
I accept the right of Mark’s family to protest and ask questions (even if I don’t think the expectation of the police responding there and then was a realistic one), but what I don’t accept is the violence after, and how it is being intrinsically linked to the death of this young man, along with continuing socio-economic problems of the area of the riot – Tottenham – and other areas.
The sheer scale, speed and facts of the looting and rampage that have been re-enacted on our TV screens since the 6th of August 2011, do not speak to me of a disenfranchised and disadvantaged youth or working class communities frustrated & suffering from a lack of opportunities and neglect by an uncaring government. I don’t even accept that this was the thought behind the initial riots in Tottenham, because the motive for that protest was about a young black man being shot dead amidst unanswered questions. What I have seen is brazen criminal activity; burglary, looting and vandalism, the cause of which is a lack of respect for their own community, other people’s lives and livelihoods, and no fear of retribution from our law enforcers.
If the cause of the riots was really rooted in community and personal disaffection, poverty, oppression by police, lack of jobs, etc., looters thieving and looting from their own communities would not be constituting what appears to be a large proportion of the riots. They’d realise that looting their own neighbourhoods and waving their ‘gains’ in police faces, is quite clearly juxtaposed to the respect and ideals that they are seeking to reclaim. What we in fact have here, is an opportunistic few who when they saw a lack of clear leadership and direction in terms of dealing with the initial riots, had a ‘eureka’ moment (Not unsurprisingly. The Prime Minister and Mayor’s slow response says it all), realised they could get away with everything short of murder, and with startling efficiency mobilised themselves to go hard or go home.
Mark Duggan’s family are to be sympathised with as what was a reasonable desire on their part to understand the circumstances of his death, has been most foully hijacked, by thoughtless and selfish individuals, who’s primary concern was for their material gratification with little foresight to see the long-term implications, socially, economically and legislatively, of their violence on their own future and the future of others.
We must resist the temptation to provide any hint of legitimacy to these acts of recklessness and destruction. If you are poor, unemployed, frustrated at the lack of opportunities, or are feeling oppressed by police, an effective response to that situation is not to loot shops in the communities you live in and people work in, burn buildings people need to live in, and wreck cars. All because you can. Such a stifled mentality belongs in a stifled environment; jail.