The Racial Roots of the London Riots

The Racial Roots of the London Riots

In some ways, what’s happening in London looks a lot like what happened in the Rodney King riots.

Published August 9, 2011

For three days and nights now, London has been rocked by rioting and looting. On Saturday, police shot and killed Mark Duggan, a 29-year-old Black father of four. Duggan had been carrying a “blank-firing” gun rigged to shoot live rounds, but eyewitnesses and ballistic reports say that Duggan didn’t fire on police before they killed him. Duggan’s unjustified shooting has been enough to set off the worst London riots in 25 years.


If you’re thinking this sounds a lot like Los Angeles’ Rodney King riots—a major city run amok after police clash with a young Black man—you’re right. In fact, similar to the King riots, there’s a lot of racial tension at the root of what’s currently going on in London, racial tension the British government will have to reckon with when the rioters are finally dispersed and the fires put out.


The area where the riots started is called Tottenham, and for years it’s had one of the densest populations of Afro-Caribbean people in London. Later, African immigrants streamed in as well. Tottenham has the highest unemployment rate in London, and the 8th highest in all of the U.K. All that joblessness leads to a lot of poverty and a lot of angry, idle young people. In other words, it’s the perfect scenario for a riot to start.

Beyond that, relations between Tottenham’s population and the British police have been icy for years. In 1985, a police home raid resulted in a woman dropping dead from cardiac problems. Rioters went nuts for days in what is now called the “Broadwater Farm riot,” even going so far as to stab a police officer to death as he tried to protect firemen.


Thus far, only one person has died in this latest round of London riots (more than 50 had died when the dust settled on the King riots). One would hope that his death, and that of Duggan, won’t be in vain. The poverty-fed rage of the rioters needs to be addressed before this kind of misplaced aggression and thuggery happens again.


Written by Cord Jefferson


Latest in news