Biggest moments of 2011 #13 Anarchy in the UK
Five days of crime and chaos. Beginning in London and later spreading to other parts of England.
The temperature first started to rise on August 4, when police shot dead Mark Duggan, a 29-year-old from Tottenham, one of London’s poorest areas. Then, on August 6, an at-first peaceful demonstration in Tottenham over the shooting turned violent.
The situation spun out of control. Petrol bombs were thrown at police, fires were lit, looters pillaged shop after shop, home after home. Over the following days, looting and rioting spread throughout London, and then throughout the country.
What happened next
Thousands and thousands of police were deployed to defend the city. London shopowners and residents banded together to protect their homes and businesses. An army of brooms hit the streets to clean up.
Order returned, eventually. But Brits - and people throughout the world - were taken aback. Why had the country been hit by a new Blitz, one of lawlessness? What had brought out the worst instincts of humanity in so many people, so spontaneously?
UK Prime Minister David Cameron said at the time: “Pockets of our society are not just broken but are frankly sick.” But what did that mean?
We soon found out that it wasn’t just the poor and those without the hope of a better life who took to the streets, who burned and smashed and pillaged. It wasn’t just people “showing the rich we do what we want”, although there were many of those.
Amongst those who were hauled in front of the courts in the aftermath of the riots were university students, a rich businessman’s daughter, an organic chef, a ballerina, a teaching assistant who works with poor and troubled students. A boy aged 11.
What we learned
The riots didn’t just happen because Britain was “Broken”. The riots didn’t just happen because opportunists wanted to get their hands on big screen TVs. They didn’t just happen because some kids had been raised poorly. It wasn’t just about the haves and have-nots.
We learned that the riots were caused by a million dissatisfactions. Some individual. Some systemic.
What we can take away from the response of many Britons to the riots is that with the worst of humanity, comes the best.
How The Punch covered it
I kicked off our coverage of the riots by explaining that there were two Londons: one that is more than ready for the Olympic flame, and the other that was in flames. Here’s a recent, on the ground piece from a reporter at the UK newspaper exploring that theory in much greater depth.
If one word could be used to describe our coverage of the riots it is: Comprehensive. We explored all the theories of what was behind the riots. A Broken Britain. Class warfare. A lack of smacks. Nihilism. Consumerism being wot dunnit.
Why did we look at so many perspectives? Because a lot of inflammable things were poured on this fire. It only required a spark to start it.
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