As the disturbances of Summer 2011 spread from London to several cities across the country, Leicester experienced its first night of unrest. The following short film & article discuss the public response and how this affects the instigators of the violent looting and arson.
29 year old Mark Duggan was shot dead by Police in Tottenham – an area of the London borough of Haringey, on Thursday 4th August 2011. Two days later, the grieving family of the father of three children and 300 members of the public then held a peaceful gathering at a local Police station, seeking further information into the circumstances surrounding Duggan’s death.
There had been a history of conflict between the community and authorities as illustrated by riots four years after Duggan was born in 1985. These riots had similarly been prompted by public deaths for which the Police were blamed, but the rioting had also resulted in the death of a Policeman. Community relations with the Police were reported to have substantially improved over the following years, although interaction with the authorities remained high. Haringey is currently among the worst 4 boroughs in London for infant mortality, low attainment of under 16’s and households in temporary accommodation.
Even though barely 48 hours had passed since the death and the investigation had barely begun, the Tottenham community were reported to be suspicious of the Police and eager for communication. Whether the Police were too slow in communicating with the family, or the Police were overzealous in their treatment of the people present, or those present were intent on violence, the gathering soon erupted into a riot.
On the first night of rioting in Tottenham, London Ambulance Service reported that 10 people were treated and 9 had been taken to hospital. 26 police officers were injured and 8 were taken to hospital, at least one of them with head injuries. 61 people were arrested after a double-decker bus, two Police cars and a shop were set on fire while other shops were also looted.
On the second night of rioting on Sunday, disturbances spread to several of the capital’s boroughs, from Brixton in the south to Enfield and Islington in the north and Walthamstow to the east. 9 officers were injured including 3 who were hit by a speeding car and over 100 arrests were made. More shops were looted and set alight.
Monday night – the third night, saw the most extreme and widespread violence and criminal activity yet. 300 people gathered in Hackney – hurling petrol bombs, torching cars and shops and homes. 500 people gathered in Peckham where similar actions were observed. In Croydon, a string of cars and buildings were set alight. A 26-year-old man was injured in a shooting and later died, while Reeves, a family furniture business that has stood in the area for more than 100 years, was gutted following a massive blaze. A woman was filmed jumping from a building which had been set alight by rioters. Violence spread like the plague throughout Ealing, Fulham, Hammersmith, Clapham, Bethnal Green, Lewisham, Woolwich, Camden, Chalk Farm and Enfield.
It seemed as if the entire capital had turned into hell – and like the first and second night of rioting, almost every criminal action was broadcast in detail to the millions of people who sat up late into the night watching the rolling news. The most shocking footage and images were replayed again and again and again and again and again and again. It was impossible not to be moved by what was happening. Hollywood had been trying for years to make such an astounding blockbuster but the British public were playing it out in real life.
Unsurprisingly, violence then erupted in Liverpool, Birmingham and Bristol. Social networking sites were ablaze with rumours of riots in every town and city across the country. It wasn’t just London that was burning, it was the hearts and the minds of millions.
On Tuesday there wasn’t a single person who didn’t know what had happened overnight. They had either watched it themselves or were told the most fantastical stories by their friends and work colleagues. On Tuesday night although the violence seemed to decrease in London, it escalated elsewhere and started in several more cities.
The death of Mark Duggan seemed so far away.
Why had a minority of city dwellers suddenly turned into animals? Why did a lot of the animals appear to be under 18 years old? The vicarious viewers were quick to condemn those that had rampaged through the streets – destroying lives and livelihoods, destroying homes and communities. Anyone who hadn’t been running through the streets immediately ascertained that they were superior.
The activities of the rioters were labelled senseless. The rioters were labelled as scrotes and thugs and told to go and fight in Afghanistan if they wanted to prove how brave they are. Cries and questions were made as to why anyone would want to disturb the perfect way of life that prevailed across the country. An extremely condescending ‘not on my doorstep’ attitude prevailed.
No questions were raised as to whether it was ok for people to be glued to their screens watching every flame, listening to every squeal of a siren. It was ok to be addicted to such violence – because the viewers were just watching. Only watching……… The viewers were in no way perpetrating the glorification of the images they were watching. The viewers weren’t texting their friends, or writing on Facebook, or musing about the whole thing on Twitter.
Even with the recession, with the rising unemployment and cuts in public services, was this violence unexpected?
There have been many calls for help from groups that feel alienated such as the EDL as far back as December 2009, but communities had responded with calm and logic. Students also soon began to call for help, also resorting to violence in frustration. Earlier this year in March, a protest by people objecting to government proposed cuts was marred by violence.
These events are not a reason or an excuse for the awful scenes that are currently being witnessed on the streets – but the tension has been rising. It looks like the lid has finally blown off the kettle. The people that are looting, that are destroying life and property may be doing it because they are copycats. But who are they copying – the original crowd of 300 who were much more emotionally invested in the death of Mark Duggan or are they copying everyone else?
People are worried about the financial state of the society within which they live. Some express this by going on protests and trying to change the society in which they live, some express this by attacking anyone who tries to change the society in which they live – believing that things will remain just fine forever.
Either way – the raw emotions that arise from the addictive viewing of rolling news channels and the raw emotions caused by the recession are passed from person to person like a lightning bolt though social media. Individuals within a society are much more closely linked so it’s not actually that much of a surprise when raw emotions pass quickly and cluster together within a small section of any society.
It’s just dangerous when something like the scenes that are currently being witnessed around the country occur and the majority of the population say it’s got nothing to do with them.
The rioters already feel so alienated and far removed from society that they don’t have to play by the rules any more. There has been much speculation as to the reasons for this alienation. Unfortunately or fortunately, current technology means that the rioters can still communicate with everyone. Don’t let them become a dumping ground for emotions. Don’t let them become even more alienated after they read the condescending statements about what they’ve done.
The lid has already blown off the kettle – please don’t let the boiler explode.
They are not ghost rioters, they are people just like you and me.