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Real Life Stories
By: Abiola Lawal
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Taking a closer look at the terrifying events and consequences of the UK riots

Thursday 4th August 2011
Mark Duggan, a 29 year old father of four, was gunned down by police in the back of a minicab. At first the police claimed he had been shooting at them at random, later enquiries by The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) found that these claims were false. It was initially reported that Mr Duggan shot at police, but ballistic tests later found that a bullet which lodged itself in one officer's radio was in fact police issue.
 
Saturday 6th August 2011
Duggan's family, friends and people in the local community where he lived went on a peaceful protest outside Tottenham police station asking why had a young father of four been shot and killed by those who are supposed to be out on the streets to serve and protect. Someone from the police force needed to take responsibility for this crime. The police did not respond and the crowds started getting larger.
 
Hordes of young people from the local community and surrounding boroughs came out to join the protest, but quickly things got out of hand and turned into a full blown attack against the police. With little to no reaction from the police the crowds became enraged, their anger palpable in the air. Things were about to blow up! Within hours the Tottenham High Road had turned into a war zone with cars ablaze, buildings burning, crowds shouting and people literally running for their lives as the angry mob took over.
 
One local woman from the area later told me “I was frightened, there was so much noise and anger they were reckless. You didn't know what was going to happen next, if they were going to turn on you at any minute.”
 
Two police patrol cars, a passenger bus and several shops were attacked and set alight as more violence erupted. A local landmark of Tottenham was also set alight by rioting arsonists. Built for the London Co-operative Society in 1930 the Union Point building once included the furniture store, Carpet Right on the ground floor and 26 shared ownership flats in the upper storeys, they were all completely destroyed by the fire. People lost their homes, possessions and memories. But they weren't the police, so why were they targeted?
 
Then came the looting - numerous shops & business were looted around Tottenham Hale spreading to Wood Green. These rioters turned into outright thieves breaking into shop fronts with abandon and grabbing what they wanted with no regard for the law. CCTV footage showed how brazen the looters were as they tried on stolen trainers and clothes. As one lady in Hackney put it: "We're not all gathering together for a cause, we're running down Foot Locker."
 
It became apparent that the rioters were no longer marching for answers about Duggan's death but were in fact out to commit crimes. Shops were looted and raided, local businesses were completely destroyed. A local shopkeeper originally from Somalia stated: “I never thought I would see anything like this in London, it looks like I'm back in the streets of Mogadishu, back in the war!” London's mayor, Boris Johnson, who cut short a holiday in Canada to return to the UK on 9 August, said: "I'm appalled at the scenes of violence and destruction in Tottenham."
 
The rioting took over the news on our TV screens. Social networks were all alive with messages and news on the riots - it had become a 'trending' topic. Social media networks were later blamed for aiding the rioters communicate with each other, owing to the speed at which they gathered and caused chaos - it was no longer the word on the street but the word on your Tweet.
 
That was not the end, no one could have predicted what ensued.
 
Sunday 7th August 2011
Enfield, Brixton and Streatham were the next London areas to be hit by rioters - they had spread the word to bring violence, mayhem & madness on once peaceful streets.  This had become a gang led attack on London boroughs and neighbourhoods. A popular text was spread amongst these gang communities: If you see a brother SALUTE if you see a fed SHOOT! However, the police were not the only ones getting attacked – local communities were the worst hit. Shops, homes, cars, people were all under attack.
 
Monday 8th August 2011
Hackney, Peckham, Lewisham, Croydon - basically the whole of London were slowly being set upon and attacked. More shops were destroyed including the House of Reeves, a famous Croydon landmark which survived both world wars was completely burnt to the ground. This building was not a police station. A young man was shot dead in his car in Croydon - he was not a police officer. An Ealing man was beaten up and later died from his injuries in hospital - he was not a police officer.
 
When Malaysian student Ashraf Raziq, 20, was seen bleeding after being punched in the jaw during the riots - hooded youths initially pretended to help him, then went through his rucksack, stealing his mobile phone, a Sony PSP game handset and wallet in Barking East London. It was pretty evident that all of this was crime led and Duggan's death was no longer a factor.
 
London riots spread to rest of UK
What was once named the Tottenham riots became the London riots and then the UK riots, it felt like a violent whirlwind taking over Great Britain.
 
Birmingham was the next target, then Liverpool was hit and Bristol followed by Nottingham. CCTV footage of the Bullring in Birmingham city centre shows the police running down the rioters. It seems they were much more prepared than police in London and more willing to take action. When Manchester and Salford were hit in the North of England, the police definitely took on a more hands-on approach wielding batons and charging after rioters in an attempt to control the spread of what was turning into an epidemic. The human cost continued to rise when 3 men were killed in Birmingham whilst protecting their shops and community. A car sped into the trio at an alarming speed, intent on hitting its target. All 3 men later died in hospital from severe injuries.
 
The view shared amongst communities in London is that the Metropolitan Police was impotent. Many recalled Broadwater Farm 25 years ago, the scene of ugly and violent riots after the death of Cynthia Jarrett, an Afro-Caribbean woman, who died during a police search of her home. They wondered what happened to the lessons which were supposedly learnt back then.
 
The speed and ferociousness of the violence alarmed everyone, and most especially the emergency services who seemed ill equipped to handle the violence as it spread all over the UK. The police admit that they were stretched beyond their limits and obviously had to protect their men “Lives come first”.
 
People were left homeless, jobless and livelihoods completely destroyed. Local communities in many inner-city areas that bore the brunt of the riots could have completely been destroyed in the face of such turmoil. However, many in the community joined forces to clear the carnage and provide support to those who had become unwitting victims. Local community centres and churches housed those who had lost their homes. Donation drives were set up to collect food, clothing and anything that could help those who had lost everything.
 
Prime Minister David Cameron condemned the "sickening scenes of people looting, vandalising, thieving, robbing" and told rioters "You will feel the full force of the law. And if you are old enough to commit these crimes, you are old enough to face the punishment."
 
Racial Profiling
To most TV viewers this was the work of black/ethnic minority criminals - judging by the faces of those caught in the CCTV snapshots plastered across our screens. What ensued in the face of these riots was the kind of racism we haven't seen in a long time. Every prejudice that is usually censored or kept behind closed doors was brought to the fore. The English Defence League came out in some areas of South East London to supposedly protect their areas - instead some young black men were attacked. They were sitting on a bus minding their own business not smashing in the windows of Ladbrokes.
 
TV Historian, David Starkey felt free to air his racist views on a special news talk report on the BBC - claiming that "the whites have become black". He then went on to say that violence and criminality is part of the black culture and has now spread throughout the UK as young people "think it’s cool". This kind of racial profiling was one of the main triggers of the riot in the first place, where tension between local black youths and the largely white Metropolitan Police is constantly high. I can admit that certain elements of what is now regarded as "black culture" are aggressive, ghettoized and based on the premise of gang culture. But this is not my culture and I am black. It is the culture of certain pockets of our younger generation who have grown up believing what a hip hop record has told them, what the graffiti on their estate has told them, what their useless gang of friends has told them, what years of being stopped and searched by the police has told them about their identity. Being black should not be synonymous with being a criminal.
 
Why?
Many argued that the one of the main causes of the riots is poverty and lack of investment in the youths of today. The youth and economically challenged people who are constantly marginalised and ignored are angry and ready to do damage. They have been left to rot for so long that now the rot is so widespread we can no longer ignore it. These criminals are now joining hands to destroy their own neighbourhoods just to stick it to the man. But who is the man? The local Pakistani corner shop owner who has no insurance? The young Polish woman who had to jump from a burning building, the Malaysian student who got his jaw smashed?
 
The police were claimed to be the main targets of these rioters, but so far the majority of victims have been local members of the communities - hit by ruthless and opportunistic criminals. None of the casualties were police officers or government officials, this is not to say that any violence is correct. But if there was an obvious target as we assumed there was when it all started in Tottenham, this would not have turned into national social crisis.
 
Throughout all of this Duggan's family released statements proclaiming their disgust and rejection of the riots, they were not in their son's name. I completely agree.
 
This is not about race, poverty or the failings of inept police this about the moral decline of our social framework. Quoting Russell Brand: "Why am I surprised that these young people behave destructively, "mindlessly", motivated only by self-interest? How should we describe the actions of the city bankers who brought our economy to its knees in 2010? Altruistic? Mindful? Kind? But then again, they do wear suits, so they deserve to be bailed out, perhaps that's why not one of them has been imprisoned. And they got away with a lot more than a few fucking pairs of trainers". Well said Russell.
 
Our society is built on a framework of greed and a "get what you can get" mentality. People are selfish in ways never seen before. If it wasn't for those broom handling folk in Clapham the Tuesday morning after the Monday riots, our belief in the great society would have suffered detrimentally. They and many others across London stepped in to help clear up the carnage left behind. Thanks guys.
 
In a public speech on 15 August, David Cameron rallied for support to mend a "broken society" in "moral collapse" – broad societal change themes common to his party's election campaign theme of Broken Britain.
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