Britain, Crime, London Riots 2011, Police

What the Tottenham riots have shown us

Tottenham Riot

Aftermath of the Tottenham Riot

The police are being criticised for the killing of “gangster” Mark Duggan. Claire Porthouse presents the case that the police were right to shoot Duggan and that the rioters were wrong and unjustified in their actions.

The Tottenham riots have done nothing to protest against the police shooting on Thursday; instead, all the ‘protestors’ have done is to outline, very clearly, why the police are so badly needed in this country.

Tottenham erupted into violent riots after a police shooting in which a civilian, Mark Duggan, was killed on Thursday. Shop windows were smashed and the businesses looted, cars were overturned and set ablaze, and petrol bombs and projectiles were thrown at riot police called in to disperse the crowds. The BBC’s latest report stated that dozens have been injured, 40 people remain in police custody, and two police officers are still in hospital after at least eight were injured in trying to control the violence.

The shooting which provoked the riots was of Mark Duggan. Although the Independent Police Complains Commission (IPCC) is still investigating the incident, it is thought that Duggan had a weapon. Eyewitnesses said that the police officer repeatedly told him to stop, before opening fire and killing him. It is still being investigated whether the initial report – that Duggan shot the police officer first – is true. Either way, Duggan was killed and an armed police officer was taken to hospital.

If we assume that the reports were true, and that Duggan did open fire first, then the police officer returning fire is not only legal and advisable, but entirely the right thing to do. An armed man shooting at people is a threat that must be immediately dealt with.

Should the police officer have shot to kill? Anyone who has handled guns in a high-risk and dangerous scenario will tell you that it is simply not that easy: you do not have the time to carefully aim for non-lethal areas, and as the target is most probably in motion, it is incredibly difficult to hit anything but the largest area: the torso. Regardless, there is no such thing as a risk-free shot involving bullets: they cause extreme stress and damage to the body, and a bullet anywhere could kill a man, whether the area is considered to be non-lethal or not. If Duggan was armed and firing his weapon, then the police officer was right to shoot him: the fact that Duggan died may be unfortunate (depending on one’s point of view on the death penalty) but is the preferable option to his killing innocent members of the public.

If we assume the reports were incorrect, and that Duggan did not fire first, then the territory of whether the police officer was right becomes a little more difficult and perhaps the IPCC has something to properly investigate and handle. In which case, that is what the IPCC – and the British judicial system – is there to do.

If the police officer was wrong to have shot Duggan, then public outrage is understandable, but rioting is inexcusable. The proper response would have been to exert pressure on the IPCC investigation, and if the police officer was found to have acted incorrectly, to exert pressure on the judiciary system to punish the transgression in an appropriate manner. The expression of outrage should have been in the media or in peaceful protests – both of which are legal and morally acceptable ways to express opinion.

Rioting is neither legal nor morally acceptable.

The Tottenham riots destroyed cars: what did the car owners have to do with Mark Duggan’s shooting? Companies such as Boots and Argos had shops destroyed and looted by ‘protestors’ despite neither store having anything to do with the shooting. Petrol bombs were thrown at riot police: the division of police officers in London to various stations and roles means that the majority of the riot police dispatched to handle the protests would not have known the officer involved in the shooting. Even if they did, that is no reason to throw a petrol bomb. Eight officers were injured in doing their jobs, and two of those eight remain in hospital. Were they involved in the shooting on Thursday? It is very unlikely.

In an expression of outrage against the police, the rioters have shown us exactly why we need the police. If the public cannot be trusted to express their opinions in legal, safe and acceptable ways, then the state must protect the rest of the public from them – and the only option aside from the police is the army. Whether the Duggan shooting was justified or not, the rioting that it provoked was not justifiable, and has only proven once again why the police, armed or otherwise, are so necessary to keeping the peace and keeping the rest of the British public safe.

About cjporthouse

I am a freelance researcher, writer and editor in Sheffield, with a keen interest in defence, security, intelligence and conflict. I am looking to move onto postgraduate study in counter-terrorism and national security in the next couple of years.


4 thoughts on “What the Tottenham riots have shown us

  1. Claire, there is a lack of public trust in the police and the IPCC that has shone through in all of these events. The initial protest at the Police Station was not misguided (obviously all of the rioting was). The delay in cases dealt with by the IPCC and reprimands handed down to the Police is insufficient, bordering on being an outrage.

    Lawlessness amongst the police and the authorities can not be accepted. It is a breakdown in public trust which led to the protest which escalated into the riots. A lack of respect for the police meant that people felt they were able to and inspired to wreak violence and looting. Such antipathy for the police does not occur overnight.

    Posted by seanmchale1986 | August 9, 2011, 7:40 pm
    • Police cars are now being clapped down the street by the public and ordinary citizens are going out of their homes to serve police constables tea and coffee. So I don’t think there’s uniform public mistrust of the police. In fact, the public reaction against rioters and looters has probably raised the public standing of the police, if anything.

      Posted by A.P. Schrader | August 11, 2011, 1:00 pm
  2. Claire, I agree with you one hundred per cent. People making excuses on the behalf of a criminal thug who earned the attention of armed police officers deserve neither rebuttal nor air time on respectable air waves. If any group are the victims here, it is the police who’ve gotten nothing but hatred for simply representing the authority of the state.

    Posted by danieldeanwillis | August 10, 2011, 1:34 am


  1. Pingback: A review of the August riots « Politics on Toast - August 14, 2011

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