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Amid the chaos of reporting breaking news, it can be difficult to answer the questions who, what, where, when and how. During the four days of rioting in London in 2011, it was the “who” that caused the most problems for the mainstream media.
Text by: Brittaney Carter      Country: England

n the London neighborhood of Hackney, a man stands in blue and white tennis shoes, ripped jeans, and a black hooded jacket that covers his entire head and face. A curious onlooker asks him where he is heading. You cannot see his facial expression, but you can hear the rage in his voice when he replies, “I’m looking to smash up something.” Ironically, there is a telephone booth behind him with an advertisement that says “Help Yourself.” He is part of a group of rioters who intend to do just that.

It is the second day of rioting in London neighborhoods like Hackney and Tottenham, which share a border. That onlooker asking the questions is Uche Chukwu, editor of the UK urban news and pop culture blogs letsgodeeper.com and pappzd.com. He is there because he wants to find out why people are rioting, which is something he says he cannot do just by watching the news. “The media have been very careful to not actually give the rioters a voice. It’s just been condemn, condemn, condemn.”

The story of what became known as the London riots began with an incident on August 4 in the northern London neighborhood of Tottenham, an area known for its high crime statistics. On that evening, police botched an arrest that resulted in the shooting death of Mark Duggan, who was taking a taxi home. Duggan was 29 years old and a father of three. His family and friends say that although he had at one time had been in trouble with the police, unlawfulness was not in his nature. However, his Facebook profile included a photo of him in a t-shirt with the name of a particular gang, Star Gang, on it. The circumstances of Duggan’s death were murky at best, with police first saying he fired at least one shot at them and later retracting that statement.

All of these facts seemed to fade in comparison, however, to the fact that Mark Duggan was a black man killed by police.

Duggan’s death resulted in peaceful protests at the Tottenham police station on August 6, mostly by family and friends who were demanding concrete answers from the police about how Duggan died. But those protests soon spiraled into violent riots. Two days later, Chukwu decided to do his own survey of the damage and headed to the London neighborhood of Hackney to record history in the making.

Chukwu explains that what started in Tottenham spread to other London neighborhoods, such as Hackney, Brixton and Clapham. As far north as Enfield and as far south as Croydon, young people set fire to buildings and cars and threw bricks at police. They smashed storefront windows, forced their way inside and took what they could. They stole everything from clothing to electronics.

Because of the cirumstances surrounding Duggan’s death, the media was quick to highlight racial tension as the cause of the riots. “The press was handling it as if it were a ‘black thing,’ and to me it wasn’t,” Chukwu says. When he stopped reading and watching the accounts of the riots and set out to record his own, he says he came to a different conclusion. “We also saw a lot of white faces coming out of stores, but the press didn’t want to focus on that. And then people on Twitter started to say, ‘It’s everybody. It’s white people. It’s Asian people. It’s black people.’”

Some media outlets also tried to portray the riots as a “youth thing,” which was not entirely true, either. The youngest generation of Londoners took the brunt of the blame for the “smash and grab” groups in part because they may have been the first subset of the population to organize the riots via communications technology like Blackberry Messenger. It only fueled the mainstream insistence that gang culture is a growing problem among London youth.

Scott Forbes, a UK youth activist and founder of Global Forum 40 disagrees. He saw the rioting happen firsthand. “This isn’t a case of young people joining gangs; it is a social issue that has been ignored for years and continues to be ignored,” he says. “These are young people with no real outlook on life. They’re living in some of the most impoverished estates in the UK.”

To further dispute the claim these incidents were carried out by young people, London-based news agency Reuters reported that in some neighborhoods, older adults either looted alongside teenagers or watched them destroy the city.

Where teenage unrest or pure greed could not be cited as motivation for stealing and plundering, anger over diminishing economic opportunities could. Recent cuts in public services have affected lower-income neighborhoods and the unemployed both financially and mentally.

Despite these recent economic changes, many Londoners who watched parts of their city burn to the ground are angry at the rioters. Responding to people who say the riots were fueled by economic inequality, Chukwu says, “All of us have financial issues. We are currently facing the highest rate of graduate unemployment that we’ve seen in a long, long time. But that doesn’t justify the behavior. There are a lot of people who didn’t riot.”

The unrest continued until August 10 when the city began to calm itself. In the aftermath, police reported more than 2,000 arrests, and more than 100 police were injured. Prime Minister David Cameron promised and delivered a swift response by the legal justice system, and nearly 1,000 of the people arrested had already appeared in court by the end of August. Cameron’s “zero tolerance” response to lawbreakers gave many Londoners a feeling of vindication after they watched helplessly as their city burned for four days.

Well-known Caribbean-British author and activist Darcus Howe puts these events in a more historical context. In an interview with BBC News, he makes it clear that he doesn’t condone the riots but relates them to what he characterizes as the arbitrary execution of the “stop and search” policy by London police. He comments, “I don’t call it rioting. I call it an insurrection of the masses of the people. It is happening in Syria. It is happening in Clapton. It is happening in Liverpool. It is happening in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad,” he says. “And that is the nature of this historical moment.”

For any person trying to find one specific cause for the riots or one specific group to blame, his task is doomed before he even begins. The riots that took place in London were caused by a number of factors, among them racial tension, youthful unrest and poverty. No one cause plays a greater role than the other, but like Chukwu and Forbes and Howe suggest, they continued to be largely ignored by the mainstream.

And when that happened, the city burned.


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Easy Summary

The story of the London riots began on August 4, 2011 in the northern London neighborhood of Tottenham. This is an area known for its high crime statistics. On August 4, police messed up an arrest that resulted in the death of Mark Duggan. Duggan was 29 years old and a father of three.

After Duggan’s death there were peaceful protests at the Tottenham police station on August 6, by family and friends who wanted answers from the police about how Duggan died. But those protests turned into violent riots. .

The media quickly highlighted racial tension as the cause of the riots. Other media outlets also tried to show the riots as a ‘youth thing’. Neither of these causes is entirely true. In some neighborhoods, adults robbed and vandalized along with the teenagers or watched them destroy the city.

The protests continued until August 10 when the city began to calm itself. Police reported that during the protests more than 2,000 were arrested, and more than 100 police were injured. Prime Minister David Cameron promised a quick response by the legal justice system. Nearly 1,000 of the people arrested had already appeared in court by the end of August.

It is very hard to say that there was one specific cause of the riots. The riots that took place in London were caused by a number of things, including racial tension, youthful unrest and poverty. No one cause plays a greater role than the other.

 

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Who were the London rioters

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Grammar in Use

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Elementary Contractions.

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Vocabulary

The London Rioters.

Crime.

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