Following the initially peaceful protests of a fatal police shooting of 29 year old man on August 6th, the deprived area of Tottenham in London erupted into a night of violence and rioting. The rioting was aimed at the police and also involved vandalism, looting and setting fire to buildings and cars. The riots also spread to other deprived areas of London the following night.
An inquiry into the shooting has not happened yet so it it is too early to speculate on who was to blame, but anyone who knows Tottenham will not be surprised at the weekend's events - it is a tragically impoverished area with a history of rioting, vicious gang culture and highly dysfunctional community. It is the poorest borough in London, it has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country, and is a hot spot for crack-cocaine trafficking. According to the Telegraph:
Police have for decades fought in vain to counter the area’s numerous postcode gangs – most notably Tottenham Mandem – whose feuding and drugs wars have resulted in scores of deaths.
In the past year alone, the Metropolitan Police has had to tackle 88 gun crime offences in the area – down from 141 the year before – and dealt with eight murders. The borough sees around 5,000 violent offences committed annually.
This is an astonishingly high crime rate even for London, already the most crime ridden city in Europe. I have passed through Tottenham on numerous occasions and consider it to be one of the most menacing parts of the world I have ever been to. There is an undercurrent of hostility and violence simmering beneath the surface, and a general sense of social and physical neglect. And that was just during the day time.
There is no doubt that rioting and violence is no way to respond to perceived injustice from the police, but it is most certainly understandable given the state of the area. While politicians and the police will be quick to condemn the rioters, people don't just wake up one morning and decide to burn police cars, loot shops and destroy public property.
That type of behavior is a result of many years of social alienation, frustration and anger. A decent society should produce normal, happy and productive citizens. When you get angry and destructive citizens, something is clearly wrong.
Hopefully, the violence and looting will stop. What the city does in the aftermath is something completely different. If it wants to prevent riots like this again, it will have to take a long hard look at the society it has created for many of its citizens.