Petrol bombs became the weapon of choice in rioting in Tottenham, North London, following the shooting death of 29 year old Mark Duggan, father of four, on Thursday.
Specialist firearms officers working with Operation Trident to deal with gun crime in the mixed but predominantly African and Caribbean community exchanged shots with Duggan, who was a passenger in a minicab. Four shots were fired, and a firearm was recovered from the minicab following the shooting death.
Police had stopped the cab, and were attempting to make an arrest. Some accounts of the incidents that led up to the riots that flared during the days that followed said that a “peaceful vigil” by Duggan’s family was “hijacked by mindless thugs.” Other reports are more specific.
For reasons unknown, 36 hours passed before the family of the dead man was allowed to pay respects, and to formally identify his body. At that time the family and a group of friends, all numbering about 14, were in the presence of, and receiving comfort from, police. The family and friends of Mark Duggan had waited peacefully for 36 hours to have their questions answered and to view the dead father’s body. Police said the delay was caused by the transfer of the case to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPPC). A street pastor, Nims Obunge, was with the family during the waiting. He warned that someone in their community, in their family, had died, and people couldn’t understand the delay of answers. He said they stood for five hours awaiting acknowledgement.
A few short hours after that initial viewing, at about 5 PM, some 300 persons had gathered outside Tottenham Police station, having marched from Broadwater Farm Estates. Broadwater Farm is a public housing area in Tottenham. The area was a central point of riots in 1985, when a police officer driving through had a window smashed.
At 8 PM a crowd had formed. Those present said that what escalated into a violent protest had begun peacefully. Officers had cordoned off the High Road and rerouted some street traffic. Unconfirmed reports say there was then some confrontation between a teenaged member of the group and the police. Soon bottles were being thrown. One of the police vehicles was set afire; a second police vehicle was pushed to mid road and it too was set aflame. Empty bottles were replaced with gasoline bombs, Molotov cocktails.
Police on horseback arrived. More bottles, fireworks, and other missiles were thrown by the now angry crowd. Before it ended, riots tore and burned through Tottenham. Patrol cars were destroyed. A double-decker bus was set on fire. A shopping mall with an Aldi supermarket and a carpet shop was trashed. In the course of the rampage, looters hauled booty in shopping carts, as buildings burned. Police and fire sirens sounded across the capitol. The night was filled with fire; flames lit up Tottenham, and 49 primary fires were reported, 250 emergency calls registered. No firefighter was injured, but some reported threats by rioters, to the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority. 26 police officers were injured, of which two remain hospitalized. Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, was “appalled at the scenes of violence and destruction in Tottenham.”