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London riots in Tottenham raise alarm

Some observers say more unrest is to be expected in poor areas hit hard by government cutbacks. The violence erupted after the death of a resident during a police operation.

August 07, 2011|By Janet Stobart, Los Angeles Times
  • A Tottenham, London, building smolders the day after rioting broke out over the death of resident Mark Duggan, 29, during a police operation last week.
A Tottenham, London, building smolders the day after rioting broke out… (Dan Kitwood, Getty Images )

Reporting from London — Community leaders on Sunday condemned the worst outbreak of violence and looting in London in a quarter-century, but some observers said more such unrest was likely in low-income areas hit hard by a sharp cutback in government services.

A march in the Tottenham area of north London to protest the shooting of 29-year-old Mark Duggan in a police operation to control firearms two days earlier turned violent late Saturday. Buildings were looted and torched, 26 police officers and three civilians were injured, and 55 arrests were made. Several families were left homeless.

It was regarded as the worst mob violence in London since disturbances in the nearby Broadwater Farm area 25 years ago, in which a police officer was hacked to death.

Photos: Riots in London

Duggan's brother, Shaun Hall, said he understood the anger over unemployment and government cutbacks, but called for an end to the violence. "I know people are frustrated; they're angry out there at the moment. But I would say please try and hold it down. Please don't make this about my brother's life."

A leader of the district governing council blamed a small group for the violence, which she said undermined decades of community efforts to rebuild. "The people of Tottenham deserves far better than the pain and damage inflicted by a minority of mindless troublemakers," said Claire Kober.

Tottenham's representative in Parliament, David Lammy of the Labor Party, also condemned the looting.

"The community deserves answers to what happened on Thursday night, but they don't deserve this," he said in a telephone interview. "Last night seemed to be an attack on the community — jewelers, hairdressers, the post office, independent shops."

The businesses lost in the violence belonged to local people, not chains, he said.

Tottenham is home to an ethnically mixed population including Asians and North Africans, as well as people of Middle Eastern and Caribbean backgrounds. Despite improvements since riots in 1985, many feel that it has been unfairly hit by cutbacks in government services, and that it has failed to benefit from plans to invest in areas near the site of the 2012 Olympic Summer Games.

Police were called Sunday to the nearby district of Enfield, where youths broke shop windows.

David Hill, a blogger and commentator for the Guardian newspaper, suggested that Tottenham could be a catalyst for violence elsewhere in the city.

"I don't know what the answers are, but feel grimly confident that such an awful, perfect storm of rumor, resentment and criminality could break in a dozen other parts of inner-city London any day," he wrote in the Guardian. "These are nervous times."

The shooting incident is under investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which has the legal responsibility to inquire into any death caused by police action. The police are conducting their own inquiry into the riots.

Photos: Riots in London

Stobart is a news assistant in The Times' London bureau.

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