'It felt like the world turned upside down', Hackney MP remembers 2011 London riots
Diane Abbott, MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington
- Credit: PA
I remember the 2011 riots vividly. This is partly because they began in Tottenham, close to Hackney the area that I live in and represent.
I remember going out on to the streets, soon after the riots and looting started. I wanted to see what I could observe safely and take in the atmosphere.
The riots had been triggered by the death of Mark Duggan; a local man who had been shot dead by the police on August 4.
Overnight looting took place, first in Tottenham Hale retail park and then in nearby Wood Green. It was startling to see the images of rioting and looting in shopping centres that were well known to me, where I had shopped.
It felt like the world turned upside down, as if anything could happen.
In the days that followed, rioting and looting swept through London taking in Hackney, Brixton, Walthamstow, Peckham, Enfield, Battersea, Croydon Ealing, Barking, Woolwich, Lewisham, and East Ham.
The rioting went on to erupt in towns and cities across England. It was the worst bout of civil unrest in a generation. And the systematic looting was new.
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The Tory government of the time were quick to write off the riots as mere criminality. The Home Secretary at the time Theresa May said: “I think this is about sheer criminality. That is what we have seen on the streets.The violence we’ve seen, the looting we’ve seen – this is sheer criminality."
And this analysis was echoed by some journalists and police officers.
But it was obvious at the time that the origins of the riots were more complex than just criminality.
If you spoke to the young people who had been out on the street it was clear one issue was policing and the way that the police interacted with young people.
The Guardian newspaper and the London School of Economics collaborated on a major piece of research on the riots with the title “Reading the Riots”.
Of the 270 people interviewed for that piece of research, 85 per cent said that policing was an “important” or “very important” factor in why the riots happened.
It is worrying that a decade later this Tory government does not seem to have learnt the lessons of the 2011 riots. We have to hope that disorder does not erupt in the same way again