London riots: Tensions behind unrest revealed
- 7 August 2011
- From the section UK
Rioting has again erupted on the streets of Tottenham almost 26 years after the Broadwater Farm riot. But what lies beneath the latest violent outburst in this chequered corner of north London?
The majority of people trying to digest the scene of destruction along Tottenham's cordoned-off High Road on Sunday morning looked genuinely baffled.
Some were trying to get to church, others were still trying to get home from night shifts or nights out, and nearly all stood staring in disbelief at their disfigured high street.
With smoke from smouldering shops still visible overhead, residents stood in fragments of glass and bricks before burnt-out police cars and shops now razed to the ground.
The unrest hours earlier followed the fatal shooting by police of 29-year-old Mark Duggan last week, and a protest march to a High Road police station on Saturday evening in which they demanded "justice".
"I think this is inhuman, it's never meant to get to this extent... it's absolutely out of scale with what's happened here," said 23-year-old Richard Tawiah.
Adeyemi Adeagbo, who was blocked by police from getting through to his church for morning worship, said the rioters' protest was uncivilised.
Their reactions were fairly common, but so too was a sense of discontent and tension between the police and local youngsters.
South Bank University student Jake Manu, 28, said Mr Duggan's death and the subsequent lack of dialogue from the police triggered the riot.
But he said tensions - some racial - had been bubbling for a long time.
"The police never talk to us, they ignore us, they don't think we're human in this area," he said.
"We get pulled over all the time like criminals. If you're wearing a black hood, [if] you're a black man, they pull you over for no reason."
He said Tottenham had a bad reputation for drugs, with very few prospects for jobs, but not everyone behaved like the dealers and addicts.
"I'm from Tottenham, but I go to uni, I made myself good and got a job," he said.
"But if I wear like a hoody and walk in the road, they'll just call you, check you and search you - that's a breach of your human rights."
He added: "I'm not happy about the rioting, but I think it was necessary so that the people will know what's going on in this community and they'll learn from that."
The march for Mr Duggan began from the Broadwater Farm area, evoking memories of 6 October 1985.
It was at Broadwater Farm housing estate that a police officer was stabbed to death in riots triggered by the death of local resident Cynthia Jarrett.
Her heart had failed after police raided her home, adding to already existing racial tensions between local black youths and the largely white Metropolitan Police.
Youth worker Michelle Jackson, 43, said people were angry that the police were talking to the media but not to Mr Duggan's family.
She also said racial tensions between police and local youths had underpinned events.
"I knew the person that was shot, he's a really nice guy, and they're making him out to be some kind of gangster involved in guns and all that kind of stuff.
"You know sometimes you might get caught up in a situation, I'm not saying it's right," she said.
"I'm not saying that you should have a gun or a knife, but you might get caught up in a situation where you can't go to the police.
"The way the police treat black people is like we're nothing, they handle us really like we're nothing. They speak to the young people like they're nothing."
She said the police needed to engage more with youngsters.
"They pull us out of cars like we're drug dealers. The only reason why people did what they did is because this is the only way we're going to get heard," she said.
She said it was not just black people rioting, but people from all nationalities and ages.
Former accountant Alfred Griffith, 68, who has lived in the area for almost 30 years, said: "I have seen the behaviour of some of the police in this area and I haven't been happy about it.
"I think some behave in an arrogant manner that puts people's backs up."
The police firmly reject accusations that their actions were responsible for stoking Saturday's riot.
A Met statement said: "Haringey is diverse borough made up of many different communities.
"In Haringey, the use of stop and search is scrutinised by bodies such as the Independent Haringey Stop and Search Monitoring Group and the Independent Advisory Group, which include members of the local community.
"They advise Haringey Police on the use of stop and search, its impact on the local community and to ensure its use is justified.
"We welcome feedback from the community on the use of stop and search, and any other police tactic.
"If anyone feels they have been unfairly treated by police, they are entitled to make a complaint at a police station or online at www.met.police.uk."
Tottenham MP David Lammy also condemned the riots and said a community already hurting had had its "heart ripped out".
And in a reference to the Broadwater riots, he said those who remembered the "destructive conflicts" of the past would be determined not to return to them.
Police said the peaceful vigil for Mr Duggan was "hijacked" by "mindless thugs", and others said racial tensions had not underpinned the riots.
Norma Jones, 48, who works in human resources, said she saw people of all colours and creeds running along her road carrying carpets looted from a nearby shop.
"Looking out of my window last night, there were all nations running down the road with things in their hands," she said.
"What's happened last night is just people being crooks basically, it's criminal behaviour."
She said while the Broadwater Farm riot was seen as an uprising of mainly black youths, this riot was about young people generally and the police.
"Race may have a little part to play, but there are other issues in there as well," she said.
"It's young people and the police, but not a black and white thing at all."