by Guest Contributor Kadian Pow
I don’t live in London, so I will not pretend to write the story of what Londoners are feeling. I live in the nation’s second city, Birmingham—a less than two hour drive northwest of London. This is my perspective on London, Birmingham and other parts of the country.
On Thursday, Tottenham (borough of London) resident Mark Duggan was shot and killed by police. He was being investigated by police for some time. Though armed, reports claimed Duggan had surrendered his gun before shots were fired. On Saturday, his family—tired of waiting for answers about the circumstances of his death—marched to a local police station to speak to senior officers. On the way there, other people joined them. Police were slow to respond to the family’s request for information. The crowd became restless and a young girl was reportedly pushed back by police. It was speculation and rumour around this confrontation that sparked the initial rioting in Tottenham. The looting and arson that followed on ensuing nights had nothing to do with getting justice for Mark. His family is outraged at the behaviour and violence that has spread across London and the country.
We’ve been glued to the TV since Sunday morning when we woke up to news of the rioting in Tottenham on Saturday night. We were gobsmacked at the devastation, questioning why this was happening. On Sunday night when we learned that the violence had spread to other areas of London, I had a sinking feeling that the trouble would reach beyond the capital, and we would see it in Birmingham. In fact, I said as much in an email on Monday morning to my best friend in DC.
On Monday evening, we went to a free cinema preview on the edge of Birmingham city centre. In an unusual move, we decided to take the car and go to the nearby Tesco grocery store afterwards. The supermarket’s parking lot was unusually empty. It was 8:30 PM. As we approached the entrance another shopper arriving at his car told us the shop had closed early due to “trouble in town”. I pressed him about the exact location of the trouble, but he did not know. We decided to go to the Tesco Express at the end of our street in the Jewellery Quarter (a desirable residential area near the heart of the city). My sense of unease continued. I stayed outside in the small parking lot of the store to keep watch while my partner went inside to shop. I noticed a youth in dark clothing with his hood up, surreptitiously talking on his phone. I looked to my right and in the distance spotted about 10 other youths in similar dress approaching. I loudly admonished G to “Get the fuck out NOW!” I could feel myself welling up with anger because they dared to bring their violence and bravado to my neighbourhood. I think I had residual anger from having had all three of our bikes nicked by young kids just two weeks before. G did not heed my words, so I had to yell like a mad woman for her to get out. As I turned my back, the youth were just feet away from me. I saw one quickly take off his balaclava (ski mask) and dump it behind the bin near the entrance of the store. To my left two police vans had just arrived. I begged the youths not to bring trouble to my ‘hood then jumped in the car to quickly get away. Later that night from my side window, I could see police in riot gear parading up and down my street. Ours is the only residential building on a street otherwise littered with jewellery shops. It’s important to note that these youth were not rioters. The term “riot” usually implies political purpose. These youth had gathered with the intention to cause damage and steal.
BBM messages like these have been sent out to organize people:
“Everyone from all sides of London meet up at the heart of London (central) OXFORD CIRCUS!!, Bare SHOPS are gonna get smashed up so come get some (free stuff!!!) fuck the feds we will send them back with OUR riot! >:O Dead the ends and colour war for now so if you see a brother… SALUT! if you see a fed… SHOOT!”
Interestingly, the message above is also temporarily advocating squashing gang turf wars and racial tensions (“dead the ends and colour wars”) in the name of free stuff. These give you some indication of the motivations of those who organized the violent gangs. Their intentions: rain havoc through any violence possible and get free shit while doing so. This was supposedly their way of showing authorities that they could do whatever they want. And they did. Four nights on, they’re still at it. I must stress that any justification the rioters in Tottenham may have felt they had to rail against authority on Saturday night, cannot be claimed by offenders who spread this to other parts of the country. How shameful that social media has been used for this purpose. Recently, we’ve seen how mediums like Twitter were used to mobilize the people of Egypt (and other countries) in their quest for democracy. Read the Post An American in Birmingham: My Perspective on the London Riots