Mark Duggan, a father of four from North London, was shot dead by police on Thursday 4th August. Like every death in police incidents, it immediately became a case that the Independent Police Complaints Commission would investigate. However, whilst the legal procedure was set in motion, social media speculation quickly gathered momentum. Rumours abounded: Duggan was unarmed; he was shot, execution style. In fact, he was actually carrying an illegal firearm and he was shot in a minicab as officers attempted to arrest him. The inquiry continues and, whilst it is clear that Duggan was no angel, it is tragic that four innocent children will have to grow up without their father.
No-one could have predicted what would follow. On the following Saturday, a peaceful protest against the killing swelled in numbers and grew violent, with mobs rioting with police, looting and setting fire to cars and properties in Tottenham. Copycat disturbances London over the next two days quickly spread to other parts of England, as police resources were stretched to breaking point by gangs of rioters as young as 10 years old.
Most heartbreaking to see in the blanket news coverage, were the victims of the robberies, looting and arson. The most iconic image for many was the sight of the House of Reeves family furniture store, set ablaze and burned to the ground, all within 40 minutes. A business with 144 years of history in a historic building was gone. And for what reason?
Some have claimed that the root cause of the riots is poverty and a widening gap between classes. It’s true to assert that there has never been a worse time to be a youth, with a record level of unemployment. But were disaffected youths the main instigators in the mayhem? What about the young children – why did their parents let them out in such times? What about the older people who led the gangs and kept lookout? If poverty was the cause, why were people videoing the riots on their smartphones or brazenly loading up their cars with stolen goods? The debate will undoubtedly rage on for many weeks, but one thing is certain: innocent, hard-working people suffered at the hands of inexcusable mindless thuggery and opportunism.
Worldwide media coverage was extensive, ranging from the continental Europeans nervously looking over their shoulders, to the Chinese claiming that the disorder was a symptom of capitalism, to the outright bizarre press releases of the Iranians; first pleading for British police to show restraint (sure thing… much better to use covert plain-clothes militia, right?), before offering to send a team of human rights ‘examiners’ (well, they don’t examine anything at home I guess) and then threatening to close its British embassy (mind the door on your way out). Nice to see that they are laughing at our expense. Watch out for their tour of comedy clubs near you!
But there were some positives to rise out of the ashes. First was the heartwarming, and very English sight of a lady serving cups of tea to the police, using a riot shield as a tray! Then communities rose up, co-ordinated by the same social media websites and mobile technology implicated in mobilising the rioters. Brooms at the ready, hundreds of volunteers cleaned up their broken communities. And contrary to what many business owners thought, a spokesman for bookstore Waterstones commented: “We’ll stay open. If they steal some books they might learn something”. There’s nothing like some gallows humour!
Prime Minister David Cameron has promised tough action for future troublemakers. He has vowed that the fightback starts now. Could this civil unrest be the wake-up call that spurs politicians into tackling the causes of a broken society? And will genuine solutions be found? For those anti-social deviants who have no respect for anyone and engage in criminal acts, will they feel the full force of the law? Will honest citizens take more interest in their local communities and forge stronger bonds? Only time will tell if lessons have been learned, but we can only hope that the victims of the riots will not have suffered in vain. If the photograph bellow is any indication, we are on the right track.