For many Americans, the memory of the riots that took place in cities like Chicago, California and Detroit in the 1960’s is a harsh reminder of the turbulent struggle for civil rights that Blacks in this country endured.
It is rare, however, that one mentions the same uproarious action that took place in the UK years ago or, for that matter, the ones that have taken place over the past two weeks.
On Thursday, Aug. 4 2011, 29-year old Mark Duggan was stopped in a taxi by police on a London street. The policemen were said to be intercepting retaliation by Duggan for his cousin’s murder but ultimately killed the young man with a gunshot wound to the chest. Duggan who was engaged and had three children was a resident of Tottenham, a predominantly Afro-Caribbean community.
News of Duggan’s death sparked members of the community to stage a march, which eventually went sour and turned into multiple riots, store looting and fires.
Simone Wilson, Duggan’s fiancé, said she never knew her partner to be in a gang and definitely blames the police. An anchor for London’s local news Channel 4 commented, “Some community leaders in Tottenham are adamant. The riots were not the first police operation that went pear-shaped and where the potential consequences were only barely thought through.”
Wilson said that now the riots have nothing to do with Duggan’s death, it is something else. She said that “it has gotten out of control,” and worries about the innocent men, women and children that have been hurt as a result.
When asked how she felt about the chaos, 21-year old Dami Oloni said, “Personally, I just think that everything got out of hand.”
“This isn’t the first time that something like this has happened. The one thing I do like is that they [community] spoke up about it.”
Although she recalls hearing about the previous riots, Oloni, a resident of Enfield, London, does not remember them being as bad or as close to home.
On Aug 12, BBC published an article entitled, “What Los Angeles Can Teach the UK on Riot Control.”
In an attempt to stop the mass dissent in the Tottenham and surrounding areas, Prime Minister David Cameron is consulting with Bill Bratton, an American police chief who served in both New York and Los Angeles. He is noted in the article as a key contributor to the reduction of crime after the 1992 riots in LA, which were sparked by the verdict of the Rodney King trial.
Not to be remiss, the Sean Bell murder trial, which occurred in 2009, also sheds light on a situation that has taken place hundreds of miles away from the US. Some of the same circumstances apply to both Duggan and Bell who left behind fiancés, and children such as the uncertainty behind the fatal shootings.
David Cameron, the Prime Minister of the UK, was on vacation at the time yet in his absence other leaders were called upon.
Marcus Dowe, a writer and broadcaster who has lived in London for 50 years, told the BBC that he was not at all surprised by what transpired.
“I don’t call it rioting, I call it an insurrection…of the masses of the people. It is happening in Syria, it is happening in Clapham, it’s happening in Liverpool, it’s happening in Port-au-Spain, Trinidad, and that is the nature of the historical moment,” said Dowe with fire in his speech.
Oloni and her friends began a trend on twitter #prayforlondon and said that at one point the riots were “literally a couple of blocks away” from where she lives.
The policemen may have been ill equipped for such a collective uprising but the young student, whose family is originally from Nigeria, gave them some credit.
“I think they handled it the way they usually do…basically all the leaders of the country were on holiday and did not come back until two days later. It became embarrassing because it was like ‘where are the leaders of this country?’ They’re not here.”
“This was over a four-day period. It was a situation that could have easily been resolved,” she said.
Lucy Mans, a television researcher living in Finsbury Park, London, also came in close contact with danger during the riots.
“I do definitely now feel a lot safer, especially with so much police presence on the streets. I was evacuated from my work place twice in two days and told to go to the 2nd floor of the shopping centre that my offices were located in.”
While London works to regain its order and restore some sense of safety in the streets of the city, it seems that they may also have to reintroduce a feeling of trust between the government and the community who have mixed emotions about the way the rebellion is being handled.