In 2011, I was working fairly regularly (every week) in The Netherlands. For a few weeks of that year, it seemed the safest place to be.
The Times summed up the events I’m referring to very succinctly:
Protests after police shot dead Mark Duggan, a 29-year-old black man, escalated into an orgy of violence, arson and looting that spread around the country, leading to five deaths. Researchers have struggled to give a full account of how a small, peaceful demonstration kindled such unrest within a few days.
I remember getting a text from my brother, in Manchester, telling me about how the riots had spread there.
I have two memories of the events. One was that it seemed to not stop. I expected it to be hours, maybe a day, but it felt (from reading the news) that it was going to keep on going. The second was that all the people looting shops didn’t realise the indirect cost to them of what they were doing although, in fairness, their tax and insurance contributions in future probably still aren’t valued as much as their 40 inch flat screen.
University of Sussex research of reports of the riot and interviews with rioters sought to find why things escalated, and they found a few reasons. Firstly, there was a sense of “community spirit” – everyone coming together to set fire to shops. I like a bonfire as much as the next person but there’s a time and a place. The middle of TK Maxx isn’t it. There was also the indication that the shooting of Duggan was tipping point.
The interesting one for me, though, was that one reason for the escalation was because officers did not respond with force when protests turned violent, nor did they recover one of their cars when it was set on fire on Tottenham High Road.
There’s a certain irony that a protest against perceived police brutality escalated due to perceived police weakness. Ironic, but also not very useful because when your reason for doing something is both sides of the argument, how can it be stopped and what are you actually hoping to achieve? A 40 inch flat screen rather than the greater good?