Rioters Burn London in Rage After Fatal Police Shooting

The city deals with racial and economic tensions after worst riots in years

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Massive riots gripped London late Saturday, leading to the injury of 26 officers and 42 arrests.Vehicles and buildings were set on fire, and the metropolitan police faced “extreme violence” in Tottenham, an area to the north of the city, Bloomberg reports. Rioters threw petrol bombs at police and buildings, the BBC reports, and there were 49 fires in the area, including a bus and two police vehicles. Buildings and cars were in some cases fully gutted by the fire, and left smoldering shells. Local business were looted by adults and teenagers until police took control of the area around 1am, according to Guardian.

This is how it began: A 29-year-old black man named Mark Duggan was killed on Thursday after police stopped the taxi that he was traveling in. It's unclear how or why he died during this stop, and the incident is under investigation. By all accounts it was a "regrettable" death. Apparently a police officer was also shot during the incident, but only had minor injuries after the bullet reportedly lodged in the radio, according to Guardian.

A peaceful protest over Duggan was taking place, with over 300 people, when, in the words of a Metropolitan Police Commander Adrian Hanstock, it was "hijacked by a small number of criminal elements, who used that for their own gain." He went on to call the riots "unacceptable," as did Prime Minister David Cameron. However, the BBC reports that "unconfirmed reports say the incident was sparked off by a confrontation between a teenage protester and a police officer."

Reuters reports that the riots did not take place far from where one of Britain's most notorious race riots occurred in 1985, when police officer Keith Blakelock was hacked to death on the deprived Broadwater Farm housing estate during widespread disturbances. With regard to the most recent violence, Commander Hanstock said that things have changed since the riots at Broadwater Farm in 1985. "There have been problems in the past, but I wouldn't say there is animosity," he said, according to the Independent.

But other residents tell a different story. One 18-year-old man told the Independent, "Police know what they should have done, they should have come to speak to the community themselves. They don't care. You don't get no opportunities around here," he went on. "The police stop you because you're black. They stop you because you're wearing a hood." Another woman told Reuters, "Tottenham is a deprived area. Unemployment is very, very high ... they are frustrated."

Former London Mayor Ken Livingstone told the Independent: "While the first priority is to restore peace, to ensure the safety of everyone now and in the future it is also necessary to have a serious discussion about why this has happened. I am concerned that there is growing social dislocation in London and a threat that the police will be forced into escalating conflict with some London communities. We do not want to go back to the 1980s."

But President of the Police Superintendents' Association Derek Barnett accused the media of giving too much attention to people who condone rioting. He said, according to the Independent: "It is disappointing that such great attention is being paid in the media to those who see fit to condone such acts of atrocious behavior. What we saw last night is plain and simply criminal. There can be no excuses and those responsible should realize that they will be brought to justice for their actions."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.