When Mark Duggan was shot dead by armed police officers on Thursday, few could have guessed the action would have led to some of the worst riots in recent British history.While London still has relatively little gun crime compared to a major US city, the shooting seemed to be the unfortunate consequence of an arrest gone wrong.
Duggan, a 29 year old father of four, was initially suspected to have shot at police officers first when they tried to arrest him from the back of a minicab.
The officers were acting as part of Operation Trident, an imitative that deals with gun crime in London’s large Afro-Caribbean community. A bullet was found lodged in a police radio that appeared to have been fired by Duggan and had narrowly avoided killing an officer.
However, for Duggan’s friend and family, this scenario seemed too unlikely.
He was a father of four. Why would he try and shoot his way out of a situation with a number of armed police officers? He was also sitting in the back of a taxi, hardly an ideal place to make an escape from.
Further, the family were angry about how they had been treated. Duggan’s photo had been plastered on British papers before the family had been informed – their friend and relative branded a “gangster” by the tabloids. The family had to phone the police to request a chance to identify the body, and they felt they had been ignored by staff the police station.
On Saturday, supporters of Duggan’s family marched on Tottenham Police Station. They demanded answers, yet the protests began peacefully enough.
Around 10.20pm protestors began throwing bottles at the police vans, apparently sparked by a confrontation between a teenager and a police officer. Unconfirmed reports say that a 17 year old girl was pushed to the ground by riot police and beaten with batons.
At 11pm, the violence fully erupted. Police cars and a double decker bus were set alight, and a number of high street stores were looted. The London Fire Brigade eventually dealt with 49 “primary” fires by 4:30am, and their firemen were threatened at the scene.
55 people were arrested, with 26 police officers injured in the violence. There is some concern that a number of dead bodies may be found in some of the burnt out buildings.
On Sunday night, the violence spread. Nearby areas such as Enfield saw violence, while other traditionally Afro-Caribbean areas such as Brixton were also hit by violence. Police officers faced what they call a “small and mobile” group intent on looting and starting fires in various parts of the city, apparently aided by social media. Eventually a further 100 people were arrested on Sunday night.
Mark Duggan’s family have distanced themselves from the riots, but they threaten to be dragged further into the controversy after reports came out yesterday that the bullet lodged in the police radio may have been fired by a police officer.
The violence has been some of the worst in London for 20 years, and hit many by surprise — “race riots” had been a frequent feature of London life in the second half of the last century but recently had been overshadowed by the problem of the integration of Islamic communities.
However, it seems that describing the riots as a “race riot” may ultimately be short sighted. Looking at video from the scenes it seems clear that the riots by no means exclusively black — the Guardian’s Paul Lewis noted that members of London’s Hasidic Jewish community were there, jeering the police.
Yet many saw the violence was waiting to happen, that the areas were a “tinder box” waiting for a spark. Today areas of the capital remain closed for the day and police are still anticipating more violence to come.
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