'This Is London, How Could This Happen?'


Tottenham feels like a frontier town from the Wild West. A cool breeze drifts through the empty streets and gently knocks bits of rubbish and debris. Residents stand idly by, unsure what to do.

A few grocery shops and corner stores are open, but mostly the owners stand outside with friends and colleagues to survey the damage after two nights of rioting over the weekend; and commiserate with each other for their losses.

The riots began here in Tottenham after a Metropolitan Police officer shot dead Mark Duggan last Thursday. What began as a peaceful rally from the housing estate where Duggan lived to the police station rapidly escalated into violence and chaos as rioters set fire to buildings and looted stores.

Since then London has seen a frenzied surge of looting across many of its outer boroughs; from Brixton in the south all the way to the north west.

Photo by Paul Farrell

But Tottenham Road remains the epicentre of the violence and is the most devastated part of London for the moment.

Lorna Junglu, who lives opposite the fire station, says it’s the final straw for her family. She tells New Matilda, "Tottenham has not had the best of reputations and now it’s even worse. My family just said look we’re just going to find somewhere else to live. It’s gone from bad to worse."

Most of Tottenham high street, where the most extensive damage was done, is still cordoned off with police tape. Swarms of Met officers in their electric yellow hazard coats stand guard and take reports on the kilometre-long crime scene, all the while keeping frustrated residents at bay.


Photo by Paul Farrell

Some of the residents who live within the current crime scene had been unable to enter or leave their houses for two days. Lorna says her cousin, who lives opposite where the now infamous burning bus was set ablaze, was still unable to leave her house yesterday.

"They were housebound, they were not allowed to leave the house at all. They couldn’t really get food in. They weren’t even allowed to get anything in because it was still a crime scene area."

As the rioting continues to spread across many parts of London, what led to such a dramatic escalation of violence?

Some Tottenham residents say the conflict runs deeper than the death of Mark Duggan. The owner of the Mount Pleasant Supermarket (who did not wish to be named), a block away from the housing estate where Duggan lived, says that bigger businesses were targeted because people are facing steadily more difficult living conditions in the current European economic crisis.


Photo by Paul Farrell

"They would never touch us because these are our neighbours. They’re good people there at the estate, and they were just angry and frustrated with what is happening," he said.

But others say the consistently excessive use of force by the Metropolitan Police finally boiled over with the death of Duggan. Some reports indicate that the subsequent rioting in Hackney was the result of two police officers excessively using the emergency ‘stop and search’ powers that have been granted now in many parts of London.

But the British Home Secretary strongly denies there are other factors at play, and in a brief press conference on Monday evening said simply, and aggressively, that what is happening in London was nothing more than "criminality".

The causes of the weekend’s events in London will continue to be subject to much scrutiny — but what is clear is that many shop owners have had their livelihoods destroyed, and many residents feel terrorised and unsafe in what now feels like a lawless city.

Phot by Paul Farrell

Damon Wilson, another Tottenham resident, slowly shook his head as he surveyed the damage to the high street.

"My daughter was just terrified. You see all these awful things happen across the world and you just don’t expect it to happen here. This is London, how could this happen?"

As the sun sets in Tottenham now, the few shops that are open quickly shut. Some put wooden boards up against their windows. Despite the police presence now in Tottenham the escalation in violence across London has made people very, very scared.


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