From The Grio — A few months ago, the world watched, enthralled, as Prince William married his beloved Princess Kate at London’s Westminster Abbey. Today, London is burning. The pomp and ceremony of the royal wedding long forgotten, for the past three days London has been under attack from some of its own inhabitants, as violent rioting has spread from North to South, East to West.

The violence — sparked by the killing of Jamaican-British man Mark Duggan by police last week — has even spread far beyond London as young people have taken to the streets in other major cities like Birmingham and Bristol.

The riots have been ferocious. Buildings have been burned down, shopping centers looted, police and firemen attacked. People are afraid for their lives and their livelihoods; Londoners are now angrily calling for the army to step in and a state of emergency to be declared. The footage is depressing and disheartening; it is sad to see the lawlessness and wanton violence, stealing, looting and thuggery that is being captured on video cameras and mobile phones.

What’s even sadder, however, is that I — as a black British female — am not surprised. Neither are my other black British friends who I have spoken to who now reside in the US. This has been a long time coming.It’s even why some left in the first place.


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The shooting of 29-year-old Mark Duggan on Thursday August 2nd was the catalyst for this violence. Duggan was shot and killed in Tottenham, a deprived part of North London with a large black population by a specialist unit of London’s police force called Operation Trident. In Tottenham, tensions between the police and young people young black men in particular have been high for years. In fact, the area is well known for a major riot that took place in 1985. The Broadwater Farm riots, as they are known, also occurred in response to controversial incidents involving police and black people.

NBC News correspondent Martin Fletcher: A tale of two Britains

Operation Trident which was set up in 1998 to specifically deal with gun crime related to drug activity within London’s black community — is itself controversial among some sections of the black community. Even though Trident was set up by black activists to tackle so-called black-on-black killings, few of the police officers within the unit are black, and some see Trident as being just another way in which the police can oppress young black men who are already disproportionately targeted for criminal behavior.

Mark Duggan’s death seemed to touch a raw nerve, coming just months after another controversial police-related death of yet another black man, a British reggae artist known as Smiley Culture. A peaceful protest about Duggan’s death turned violent. From then on, the violence has escalated.

Conflicting reports from police have also fueled the troubles. At first, the police said that Duggan died in an exchange of fire, suggesting that he was shooting at them. Today’s post-mortem examination shows that Duggan died from a single bullet to the chest.

There is so much behind these riots that its hard to know where to begin. The main issue is that England and Londoners refuses to deal in any substantive way with its pressing issues. This violence is as a result of, among other things, unexamined racial issues, a crumbling sense of community among black people with no real leadership, unresolved class issues, social exclusion coupled with a lack of opportunities, a deep recession in addition to an extremely high cost of living, a new government who has been cutting back on services for youth, disenfranchised young people, and a dependency culture all rolled into one. As we’ve seen, this is a deeply dangerous combination.

Nobody in England likes to talk about race. Londoners prefer to pretend or perhaps they really believe — that the city is a melting pot, where everyone lives side by side in peace and harmony. They often chide America for they consider to be America’s intense obsession with the topic, not realizing that it is America’s willingness to talk about race that may account for the fact that it is home to many of the most successful black people in the western world.

Statistics will tell you that while, superficially, people of all races may live side by side in inner city areas (as they certainly don’t in London’s wealthier areas), there is a major lack of opportunity for them. Black people are underrepresented in all areas of public British life from politics, to economics; educationally, we lag far behind, and we are overrepresented in crime and incarceration.

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