(Published in The New Indian Express, School Edition, on 6 September, 2011, retrieved from http://expressbuzz.com/school/riots-that-ravaged-england/311090.html)
NOTE: The following article is not opinion. It's an account of the England riots, written in simple language for the school edition of The New Indian Express.
It’s hard to believe that a peaceful march in a London neighbourhood, protesting against the death of one man, turned into the most violent riots England has seen in decades. But, fuelled by unemployment, youngsters across the country went on a rampage of violence and plunder over the next week.
This August was a nightmare for families and business owners in England, as rioters looted shops, burnt homes, and attacked people. Heritage buildings were set on fire, and people wounded and murdered.
After a stringent police crackdown, more than 3000 people have been arrested, and trials are on. Most of the rioters are in their teens and twenties. British Prime Minister David Cameron made it clear that young rioters wouldn’t be let off easily, saying, “If you are old enough to commit these crimes, you are old enough to face the punishment.” He also said families must share the blame for their upbringing, and could be thrown out of their government-owned homes if members of the household were found to have participated in the riots.
How Did the Riots Begin?
On 4 August 2011, Mark Duggan was shot dead in Tottenham by police. The 29-year-old is thought to have been a gangster. He was wanted as part of Operation Trident, launched to investigate gun crime among Afro-Caribbeans.
There were differing reports on what actually happened. Some said Duggan had fired at police, as a bullet was found stuck in a police radio. But then, reports came out saying initial tests showed that all the bullets found at the scene belonged to the police. Though an illegal weapon was recovered from Duggan, it may not have been used.
Friends and relatives of Duggan said he was unarmed, and on 6 August, conducted a march to Tottenham police station, demanding justice. More than 100 people participated in the protest, and waited outside the police station, asking to speak to a senior officer. Later in the evening, more people joined in, apparently with weapons. Soon after, rioting broke out in Tottenham.
The Copycat Riots
However, Duggan’s death could hardly be the cause for riots spreading across London within hours, and to other parts of England, including Manchester, Birmingham, Nottingham, Leicester and Liverpool. Hundreds of youth took to the streets, ransacking shops for goods. Most stores stayed closed for days.
As it became clear that the situation was out of control, British Prime Minister David Cameron cut short his holiday in Italy. Mayor of London Boris Johnson, and several ministers and MPs, followed suit and an emergency session of Parliament was called on August 11. Police leave was cancelled, backup was rushed to troubled areas, and a crackdown on rioters began.
However, five people died and tens were wounded in the violence. Property damage is estimated at more than £200 million. While London quietened down in a couple of days, police had trouble containing the riots in other cities.
The Riot Deaths
Two men from London and three from Birmingham were killed in the riots.
On 8 August, a 26-year-old man identified as Trevor Ellis from Brixton Hill died in Croydon. Some reports said he had taken part in the looting, but his family denied it.
On the same day, 68-year-old Richard Mannington Bowes was attacked while trying to put out a fire in Ealing. He sustained a head injury. The assault was caught on CCTV, and also witnessed by police officers. But a mob prevented officers from reaching him till it was too late. He slipped into a coma and passed away in hospital three days later. Three people – including the mother of one of the mobsters – were charged in connection with Bowes’ murder.
On 10 August, three young men – Haroon Jahan (21) and brothers Shahzad Ali (30) and Abdul Musavir (31) were mowed down by a car in Birmingham, reportedly while trying to protect their neighbourhood from the vandals. Three people were later charged with murder.
What’s Happening Now?
Cameron promised a clampdown on the rioters, and an “all out war on gangs and gang culture.” A police investigation into the riots, named Operation Withern, was launched. A gang taskforce has also been put in place.
According to the Ministry of Justice, over half of the 3000 people arrested have already appeared in courts, which have been working overtime to deal with the cases. At least 300 juvenile offenders have been produced in court.
The police have put up pictures of offenders online, with details of their crimes and sentences, “to send a clear message to those involved that you will not get away with it.” (This gallery is available at http://www.flickr.com/photos/
Doing the Math
Source: Ministry of Justice, UK
BY THE NUMBERS
Of those produced in court, this number were minors
Were remanded in custody
Source: Ministry of Justice, UK
Across England, most of the rioters – nearly three-quarters – were charged with looting, while about a quarter were charged with causing violence and disorder.
The riots may have been sparked off by the death of one man, but lack of jobs and closure of youth clubs are being seen as reasons for the havoc. Here’s a look at the official figures released in mid-August:
Source: Office of National Statistics, UK
The Anti-Social Network
Several reports said riots had been coordinated by gangs, using social networking sites and as BlackBerry Messenger. Police even considered shutting down the BlackBerry service to hamper the violence. But Research In Motion (RIM), the maker of the BlackBerry, said it would cooperate with the police and help track down offenders. People have also been charged with inciting violence using Twitter and Facebook.
However, technology has also helped police. CCTV images of rioters wanted in connection with robbery, as well as people whom police would like to question, have been released since August 10.
On August 8, a video of a Malaysian student, Asyraf Haziq, being robbed after he was helped to his feet by a gang, became a rage on YouTube. Soon after, a man was arrested.
And Then There Were Some...
Amid all the chaos, were instances of bravery, honesty, and even wry humour.
The bookstore Waterstones brought smiles to Londoners with this notice on August 10: "We are staying open, and if they steal our books, they might learn something."
As gangs invaded Southall, hundreds of Sikhs and other people of Indian origin gathered outside the oldest and largest gurdwara in the country, Guru Singh Sabha, protecting it from mobs for more than two days.
The group, which numbered over 700, arrived holding swords, kirpans and hockey sticks, chanting 'Jo bole so nihal, sat sri akal'. Hooded youngsters were seen in the neighbourhood, but did not approach the temple.
In Manchester, a couple turned in their 14-year-old son to the police after recognising him from a newspaper picture of a supermarket being looted. The boy had stolen a £1 packet of chewing gum, and was let off after a stern warning.
As courts dealt with rioters, people were left to come to terms with the losses they had incurred. Some did it through Post-it notes, and others through charity games.
In Birmingham, the families of the three riot victims told presspersons that an international football game between India and Pakistan would be held on September 3 in their memory, with proceeds going to a foundation set up in their names.
From Manchester to London, ‘peace walls’ have cropped up, with residents sticking coloured Post-it notes on the walls of vandalised shopping centres and stores, carrying messages of love and peace.
Mark Duggan, 29, is shot dead by police in Tottenham.
Duggan’s body is identified; family and friends take out a ‘peaceful protest’. Later, this turns violent, with rioters aiming bottles at patrol cars. Looting is reported through the night. Shops are set alight, rioters throw petrol bombs at police, and a double-decker bus is burnt.
The Guardian newspaper quotes a source saying the bullet found in a police radio after Duggan's death was police issue. Police announce the launch of Operation Withern to investigate the riots in Tottenham. As riots spread to other parts of London, including the posh West End, police struggle to cope. Other parts of England rush police backup to London, and more than 50 arrests are made.
Riots spread to other cities, including Liverpool, Birmingham and Bristol. More than 2000 fires are reported in less than 24 hours. Trevor Ellis becomes the first riot victim, Richard Bowes is attacked in London, and a video of Asyraf Haziq being robbed goes viral on YouTube. Prime Minister David Cameron announces he will cut short his holiday.
Cameron returns, and announces a massive increase in police numbers and the recall of Parliament. Meanwhile, riots spread to Manchester and Nottingham, where mobs attack police stations and vehicles. In London, a group of Indian origin Britons stave off vandals at a gurdwara.
3 men of Asian origin are killed in Birmingham.
A day after announcing that courts will stay open all night to clear cases, Cameron gives police powers to strip off masks and scarves if they suspect wearers of planning criminal activity. He also admits there are questions to be answered over the shooting of Mark Duggan.
The London Metropolitan Police, Greater Manchester Police, Merseyside Police, West Midlands Police and Nottinghamshire Police arrest thousands of rioters