Anarchy gripped parts of London on Saturday night as hundreds of rioters and looters set entire buildings on fire, launched fireworks at police and ran unchallenged through the streets with armfuls of stolen goods.
The riots began as a peaceful protest against the death of Mark Duggan, a 29-year-old man and father of four, who was killed Thursday in Tottenham by officers from the Trident unit of the Metropolitan Police, which investigates gun crime, according to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, an external government body which regulates the police. News reports suggested that around 300 people had gathered outside the local police station by early Saturday evening.
But by 10:20 p.m. local time, the protest had turned violent. Two empty police cars were burned and officers were “subject to bottles and other missiles being thrown at them by the crowd,” according to a statement released by the police. Police said that eight officers had been hospitalized in clashes, one with head injuries. The BBC reported that ten other people had been treated for injuries and that nine had been taken to a hospital.
By 3 a.m., it appeared that parts of the riot zone had spiraled out of police control. An enormous fire raged in a blocklong building, with no sign of police or fire department intervention, even while residents raced to drive their cars away as the building’s windows exploded and glass rained down on them. Giant fires raged in allies, unabated.
As the sun rose over north London Sunday morning, several buildings in the Tottenham area were still on fire. The blackened wrecks of a double-decker bus and several cars smoldered, and the streets were littered with smashed glass and stolen goods.
In nearby Wood Green, looters still browsed – one man could be seen examining vitamin supplements at a health food store – and the sidewalk was littered with discarded items.
The riot escalated into a pitched battle between lines of riot police officers, some on horses, and hundreds of mostly young black men, in small gangs of four or five, many with hooded sweatshirts pulled over their heads and bandannas over their faces. The young men arrived in clumps, on foot, by bicycle or on mopeds. Tottenham is an area of mostly poor minorities; a significant portion of the population is black. “How many black people have to die around here?” asked one of the youths, referring to Mr. Duggan. He gave his name as Pablo. “I hate the police,” he said.
Though lines of police on horses, and with dogs, charged the main street outside the police station to push rioters back, there were significant pockets of violence which they could not reach.
In a warren of side streets, thick smoke filled the air, and the sounds of police helicopters merged with breaking glass, small explosions from blazes in several buildings and the sounds of groups attacking houses and trash cans in search of missiles to throw at police. Some wielded glass bottles and baseball bats, another a table leg, and one man swung an aluminium crutch.
Residents of one street drove their cars away from a block-long blaze in panic. Michael John, 27, a construction worker, explained that the youths were just angry. “They want justice,” he said. The parents of Mr. Duggan, he added “deserve some peace of mind.”
Throughout the night, Ravi Somaiya, reporting for The New York Times, captured the events on his Twitter feed.
Simultaneously, a scene of astounding anarchy unfolded at a shopping center several miles away in Wood Green, but was not detected by news media, nor, it seemed, the authorities, until several hours later. Clothing and hangers littered the street as young looters smashed the doors and ransacked nearly every shop, carrying off bagfuls of goods from stores like H&M, The Body Shop and GNC, with the ease of strolling shoppers. Police were nowhere in sight as 30 to 40 young men and women laid waste to the mall.
Maria Robinson, a resident, described the unfolding chaos in an unsettlingaudio clip on The BBC’s Web site.
“The police are hiding. I actually saw a group of police officers run through an alley away from a group of people that are running towards them,” Ms. Robinson says on the clip. “The police seem very frightened of the situation at the moment.”
The riots bore echoes of clashes between police and Tottenham residents in 1985, following the death of a woman, Cynthia Jarrett, whose heart failed after police raided her home. A police officer, Keith Blakelock, was stabbed to death, and dozens were injured, during those riots in the Broadwater housing estate.
It was not immediately clear whether this weekend’s riots were at an end, or merely at a lull. “Our absolute aim,” said Stephen Watson, the police commander in charge of the operation, in a statement “is to restore normality.”