London Riots: is it only about looting or shall we look for the reasons behind it?

Published 2011-08-09 17:18:19

The world looks on as media outlets report that London is burning. Rioting and looting that took place over the weekend have continued and spread out from the poorer sections of London to as far away as Birmingham, Liverpool, & Bristol.

What Happened

The event appears to have started after the shooting of Mark Duggan, a 29-year-old father of four, who was fatally shot last Thursday night in North London's Tottenham Hale section. It appears Duggan was a passenger in a minicab that was stopped as part of an initiative to recover illegal guns in the area. Details remain vague, but it appears an illegal firearm was found at the scene and shots rang out, though The Guardian asserts that ballistic reports now show that all of the gunfire came from police. A peaceful protest was planned for Friday evening with the family wanting to meet with police officials to get answers, but the protester's pleas were unanswered. It was at this point that frustrations boiled over and the protests turned violent. This is the worst outbreak of social unrest in Britain in 25 years since the Broadwater Farm riots.

Houses, cars, and businesses have been burned as looters and rioters make their way through the city. In the Croydon neighborhood, fire erupted Monday night engulfing the 140-year-old Reeves furniture store, a south London landmark. Over 250 people had been arrested over the past three days, but unrest remains high. Primarily, the participants have been groups of young people, often minorities who are covered by hoods and masks and say they are fed up by the treatment they receive by police and the government. However, many rioters seem to have no cause other than mayhem. "Come join the fun!" shouted one youth in the east London suburb of Hackney.

Stories From the Street

Between 8am on Monday morning and 8am on Tuesday, the Metropolitan police had received almost 400 percent more 999 calls than normal. Stories range from the simply bizarre to the horrifying.

The staff at The Ledbury, a 2 Michelin Star restaurant in London's Notting Hill, fought off multiple attacks. Looters stormed in and began robbing patrons until the staff stepped in,
"...rushing up from the kitchen with rolling pins, fry baskets, and other dangerous kitchen tools and scared off the looters...When word came that the looters were coming back a second time, they ushered us into the bathrooms and told us to lock the doors. A few minutes later, they led us into the wine cellar and told us to lock ourselves in there."

Matthew Fernon had just arrived from Australia in the last 12 hours before the rioters overtook the bar he was working at.
"They pushed bins on the road, pulled bollards out of the ground and started smashing buildings with them," Mr Fernon said. "I've only been here for a day, so - 'Welcome to Bromley'," he joked.

Graham Reeves of the House of Reeves on Croydon found the family store in smoldering ruins. It has been run by his family for decades. His 80-year old father was hysterical when he heard the news.
"No one's stolen anything," Graham Reeves said. "They just burnt it down."

EasyExpat Admin is also in London and reports,
"BBC said this morning that the police used big trucks with police walking behind it successfully in my area. I don't know if it is propaganda or mis-information but the looting started around 9pm, no more than 20 policemen before 11pm and those trucks arrived at midnight; see photo below (00:47 exactly)."

London Riots: Police cars and forces arriving at midnight.
Picture taken: 9/08/11 @00:47

Media Attention

As the news streams images of buildings on fire and opportunists looting storefronts, Twitter messages of expats abroad and in London speak of frustration, anger, and confusion. It is hard to know what exactly is going on and what to believe. The BBC News provided an article about the coverage the event is receiving from around the world.

"Die Welt
London is ablaze and struggling against the violence which has spilled over. Prime Minister David Cameron broke off his holiday and convened the national security council to address the situation. Overnight into Tuesday, the wave of clashes in the British capital reached its peak so far with an inferno of flames in multiple parts of the city. "

Isna students news agency (in English)
"Iran called for London police to exercise self-restraint in dealing with protesters in Tottenham, north of London. Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast referred to Saturday night's massive protests in Tottenham, which came following [the killing] of a young black man by Scotland Yard police and called for the UK government to avoid any police's harsh treatment with protesters."

Washington Post
"Some, including former London mayor Ken Livingstone, suggested that the Tottenham riot was an unleashing of pent-up resentment over the weak economy, high unemployment rates and historically deep budget cuts that are decreasing government funding for poor communities and grass-roots charities. He blamed a sense that young Britons are facing "the bleakest future."

EasyExpat Admin also has some thoughts on the recent happenings:
"Sad to say but in a way - although not an excuse - there are explanations: people see for the last 3 years that traders are losing billions, banks are collapsing; then the state is rescuing... and then later the poor are asked to pay with reduced services, less allowance, more unemployment, prices and VAT rises. Looting is not the solution (more opportunism) but the fact is that you have definitely anger around."

What's Going to Happen?

The rioting continues, but questions about the cause and effects have already sprung up. Among the causes are the intense cutbacks in social programs, cutbacks and demoralization of the police force, and severe economic strain - all in the face of the looming $15 billion extravaganza of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games.

In an ill-timed break, Prime Minister David Cameron was on vacation to Italy. He returned to London to chair an emergency cabinet meeting to handle the crisis. He also recalled Parliament from its summer recess. It remains to be seen what immediate effects the government can effect. To quell the current disruptions the number of police on the streets has been tripled today.

Riot cleanup has already begun in many neighborhoods, hasty to repair the damage to their homes and businesses. The Twitter handle @Riotcleanup with updates on efforts and locations that are being worked on. One Twitter user, @i_am_elo Elo, suggests
"Wouldn't it be wonderful if @riotcleanup evolved into a monthly London borough clean up to help schools, parks, youth centres..." (although that's what Tories called the Big Society, or opponents criticise as being a free replacement of public services by volunteers for free).

Stay Safe

Almost all the damage has been to property, but people should be aware of the dangers and protect themselves.

Stay home. Simon Hughes, a national lawmaker from an inner London neighborhood, urges citizens, "Nobody should go out on the streets unless they have business to do so".

Guard your belongings. There has been muggings and personal theft. Try to avoid carrying a handbag or valuables. People should watch their wallet, and if they want to be extra cautious, they can wear a money belt.

Be aware of your surroundings. You should always be aware of what is going on around, especially in a big city, and especially when there are disturbances. Trust your gut, if something doesn't feel right, it is probably is not.

Carry copies. Make copies of your important documents, like your passport, to carry with you just in case.

Know the local emergency information. EasyExpat offers a FAQ of emergency numbers to use around the world. The emergency number for the UK is 999.

Have an emergency plan. Always have a second exit route planned. Also, check travel warning website for current information.

Let friends and family know where you are going. Keeping people informed of where you are staying, destinations, route you will take, and have a way to contact you can help avoid problems in case of emergency.

On the EasyExpat Forums we have opened a discussion for people to discuss their impressions, thoughts and feelings about the London Riots. If anything can be gained from these events, hopefully a stronger sense of community and a better understanding of how and why these events occur can be established.

What are your impressions, thoughts and feelings about the London Riots?

What possible solutions can you think of?

What direction should the UK be moving for the future?

Feel free to share what you are thinking in our forums.


Author: EasyExpat
Community Manager

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For other discussions, advice, question, point of view, get together, etc...: please use the forum.