This situation started on Friday, the result of the shooting of a Tottenham resident, Mark Duggan, by police during an Operation Trident raid. The man was armed but uncertainty over the details of the incident led local residents to march in protest to the local police station, to ask for dialogue with senior police. The community asked for dialogue with the police, and they were ignored. So they waited. they had intended to stay for an hour, but by the time they gave up, night had fallen, and a more unsavoury element - who did not call for dialogue with police, was waiting in the wings to take advantage of tensions.
The destruction of Tottenham on Saturday night was utter. Residents are comparing it to the Blitz. Looting was sadly already rife at this stage and riots spread to Wood Green apparently based upon the availability of suitable shops. Even at this stage, people were asking questions about police actions in the riots. Remember that these same has been violently kettling largely peaceful protestors for years - and yet they seemed perfectly happy to give the rioters the run of large areas of Tottenham High Road and the surrounding streets, where they lit fires, torching around 45 buildings which will now need to be demolished.
During Sunday, there was relative calm, and it was only towards the evening that we heard of riots beginning in Enfield. Police moved to disperse crowds, but not before Krispy Kreme and other businesses were burnt out. Again, the police seemed reticent to contain or control rioters, preferring to periodically disperse them. As a result, rioting in Enfield was more widespread but less intense than in Tottenham the night before. Riots were also reported in Camden, Islington, Dalston in Hackney, and even some in Oxford Street, where 50 youths ran amok for a short time. More significantly, the great grandaddy of rioting, Brixton, rolled up its' sleeves and kicked off big time, which was somewhat inevitable - Brixton rudeboys likely not wanting to be upstaged as uber-rowdies, and the Victoria Line tube linking Tottenham and Brixton conveniently. Thankfully around midnight extremely heavy rain put a dampener on proceedings and what could have been a very long night was called short. A bit like the cricket.
This leap South was probably significant for a few reasons; it mean that once and for all the vague hint of a link to the initial shooting, always weak if not tenuous, had now broken. In addition the ethnic tension element which certain supposed politicians were making was exposed as so much hot air. Nick Griffin ludicruously suggested that the Hasidic Jews and the Carribeans were joining forces to throw out the Saxons at one point - in reality the yids were there to makes sure the trouble didn't spread into Stamford Hill - one advantage to living in this area. Secondly, the great geographical barrier of London, the river, had been breached, and the radioactive badlands of South London, particularly the famously criminal South East, were likely to erupt. A lot of big-man reputations were riding on their doing so. Perhaps more worrying, Enfield's riots showed loose organisation and calculation that allowed rioters to maximise chaos and access to loot. there were suggestions that net-savvy anarchists were coordinating raids - no doubt to facilitate the impending crackdown upon internet freedom.
So if not motivated by anger at the death of a well-known and liked member of the community, what is driving this mob behaviour? Well, it is hard to fathom, but the factors are many and painful to recount. Young men (mainly, though girls seem to act as the ignition point in several riots including the first) are swaggering down the rubble-strewn streets like they invented it, and this braggadocio - the refuge of all men who have nothing else - plays a powerful role in keeping this conflict kindled. And the powerful sense of being done wrong is all the more dangerous because it is so inarticulate - people don't know what's wrong, they can't explain what's wrong, they don't understand why life has dealt them such a poor hand - but that just compounds the sense of aggrievement that they feel. And finally, I think that the way that successive government policies have shaped the provision and allocation of social housing has created a toxic stew of resentment and bitterness on the estates where the uneducated dross of society are cloistered and forgotten. We have, as a society, mistreated these people - just not quite as badly as they think we have.
Particularly as I have slept little in the past two days, I was hoping that the week would bring calm and Monday would bring a reduction in rioting, that it would peter out. However my perception is that tonights conflicts are actually worse. Hackney was already in the warm-up stages at 6.30pm, fighting breaking out in Mare St before spreading rapidly in all directions, engulfing London Fields, Dalston, and Clapton and despite our Hasidic friends, into Stamford Hill too. Only Stoke Newington High Street remains inviolate, due to the large numbers of Turkish Kurds owning shops and houses in the area - they're all in the street with bats, and down the way on Kingsland Road, they have clashed with the rampaging mob (or become it?) several times. A friend of mine is holed up in his flat in Clapton with his mother (visiting from Spain), as they were able to get a ride home, only to find their house on the front line, surrounded by burning cars and riot police. Camden has been sealed off by police - well, the Qatari royal family own most of it so we'd better look after it for them. Over in Chalk Farm, on the other hand, motorists are being targeted with bricks amid cries of `who's next?!'.
South London has been burning for hours now, particularly Croydon (where shootings have also been reported), Lewisham and Peckham. Catford reports rioting, Elephant and Castle is too - for all the difference that makes there. And, almost equally distantly, we now hear that Birmingham, which vied long in the 80s with the capital for title of `the UKs biggest toilet' before getting the top slot, has begun to fall into the grip of disorder too. No one knows where this will end, least of all the police or the perpetrators of the violence. I have already considered leaving town, but I want to be there for my community. There are so many old people in my area, too frightened to leave their homes, and I want to be here in case they need help. I am trying to contact the pastor of the local church to secure it as refuge if things take a turn for the worst here, but have heard nothing - and perhaps unsurprisingly, as he lives in Tottenham too.
Amazingly, news punters are already asking when the army will be called in - only minutes after humanoid David Cameron announced that he would be calling short his vacation in cloud cuckoo land, as did Boris Johnson (neither thought it particularly necessary until they saw how much such sanguinity was pissing everyone off). Whatever. They are going to crack the whip, deliberalise the internet, and do nothing to alleviate the conditions in which these thugs spawn. And that's the thing - the left is easily accused of preaching tolerance, and a few do, but really, people from all degrees of the political spectrum must recognise that it is intolerance which is required - we must not tolerate this behaviour, and we must no longer tolerate the conditions which propagate this behaviour. Too many of this generation of young people have been lost to our indolence, or willingness to close our eyes and ignore the parlous conditions that so many of our young people experience, and we have failed abymsally to take up the challenge of showing people the value of socially responsible living. We must strive to prevent another generation from falling this low.
There's a saying from the antiestablishment scene of the early 90s -"there are two things that can stop a riot - rain or a rave". The words of Tool have never been more appropriate - I'm praying for rain.