Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Riots

I’m sure by now everyone’s heard of the London riots that took place last week, starting on August 6th. They originated in Tottenham Hale (just North of London on the way to Standsted airport) over the death of Mark Duggan who was shot and killed by a police officer. His family and the public wanted to understand why he was shot. And the police weren’t forthcoming.

This has become the iconic picture of the Tottenham Hale Riots

Mark Duggan is described by some as an upstanding father of four, and by others as a drug-dealing gang member. It’s hard not to form your own opinion when the pictures circulating of him always included blingy gang signs. But who am I to judge. A father is dead, the police didn’t provide much information and the youth of this already downtrodden neighborhood acted out by vandalizing, setting fire to, and looting the very community in which they lived. And sadly, that was just the beginning.

Rioting broke out all over London and after days of uncontrolled chaos, cops throughout the nation were sent to the capital. Only to have riots erupt in several major cities outside of London…Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham and more.

The scariest part was that the riots were happening all over the place. They started in Tottenham Hale but each morning you would wake up and hear of another nearby neighborhood torn apart.  I was sent home early from work one day, and so were many of my friends. On that evening, most restaurants and shops also closed their doors early, fearing the worst. It was an eerie feeling walking the streets of your neighborhood  at 5:00p at night, everything’s closed and there aren’t many people around. We all wanted to be inside our homes safe and sound.

On Sunday afternoon while waiting for the bus, I saw a “hooded gang”, a group of 10 people around 16 to 17 years old who were wearing hooded sweatshirts and handkerchiefs to cover their faces. I didn’t see them doing anything but I’m sure they found trouble somewhere along the way. On Monday, two very popular Notting Hill gastropubs were raided and the patrons were forced to hand over jewelry, cell phones and money. By Tuesday, nothing was open in the area and I heard helicopters hovering overhead from morning til night.

Contrary to many American cities, London is comprised of mostly independent shops…..small groceries, cafes, cute restaurants, furniture stores, antiques, boutique clothing stores, etc. Many of these shops are owned by immigrants who started it up generations ago. The kids grow up there and it becomes a staple in the community. It gives London its character. I feel most for the shop owners. They had their stores burnt down, their goods stolen, their windows broken. Years of hard work just ripped apart by teenagers, many of whom were laughing and having a good time along the way.

It seems that the worst is behind us. The rioting has subsided and we’re now dealing with the aftermath. Five people are dead. The jails are bursting with over 1400 people who have been arrested in connection with the violence and looting. Parents are handing over their kids to the police after seeing footage on TV or photos online. The government is considering the halting of benefits  to those found guilty of violent crimes.

Of course one of the biggest questions that remains still is ‘why’. Why did this last for days on end? Why did people who don’t even know Mark Duggan suddenly feel compelled to get involved? Some say it’s the divide between the middle and lower class, the multiple generations of urban poverty, the hopeless feeling of “I have nothing to lose”, the underground gang problems, a lack of morality among the young generation, hatred toward the police in some communities. For all these reasons, the rioting could easily flare up again as it has many years ago.

For every person that has torn a community apart, there seems to be even more people out there who are trying to put it all back together. London has really come together to rebuild. In Clapham, hundreds of people turned up with brooms to clean up the streets. There is a blog created where anyone can post clear pictures they captured during the riots so that the public can help identify the wrongdoers.  The Twitter group @riotcleanup has over 12,000 followers.  It’s not going to pay for the estimated 325 million pounds of damage but it’s a start.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this. I am so busy I haven't even been following the news. I appreciate the update and your perspective. Be safe.


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