Our Borough awoke yesterday morning to news of looting and violence on our streets overnight, following similar disturbances in Tottenham and Enfield on Saturday.
Last Thursday, in Tottenham, a father of four – Mark Duggan – lost his life during a police operation. As his MP, my good friend and colleague, David Lammy has said, the IPCC must get to the bottom of what happened that day. Mr Duggan’s family subsequently organised a peaceful protest on Saturday only for it to be hijacked by a few thugs leading to widespread violence in the Tottenham constituency.
I, along with my other colleagues, Tessa Jowell and Kate Hoey, represent the three constituencies covering the Brixton area. On Sunday night, a minority of people used the tragic situation in Tottenham as an excuse to loot local businesses and wreck havoc on the streets of Brixton and along parts of Streatham High Road too. The motives of those responsible for this were completely opportunistic and their actions totally unacceptable.
There can be no excuse for such acts and the context in which the unrest occurred here in Lambeth is in no way comparable to the situation in Tottenham where the police are accused of shooting dead a member of that community in the last seven days – it would be a mistake to claim otherwise.
A number of people have also sought to draw parallels between the violence and looting of the last twenty four hours and the Brixton riots of the 1980s. Again, I believe this would be a mistake – police community relations then were at an all time low and we have made a huge amount of progress since. Police community relations in Lambeth now are not perfect (and probably never will be), yet we are in a far better place: there is frequent dialogue and partnership working; Safer Neighbourhood Teams and Panels operate in every ward; and, important institutions like the excellent Lambeth Community Police Consultative Group (CPCG) are regularly consulted.
There will be those who ask, what possesses people to engage in such criminality, to loot, to engage in violence? What is it about their circumstances that fail to inspire them to choose a different course? We should seek answers and address the root causes but this in no way excuses theft and violence.
Questions will also be asked about whether the response of the police was all it could have been and they are currently reviewing the deployment of their resources. We must remain calm and allow them the space to do this.
Finally, in my view many have been too quick to attribute the criminality we saw to young people without waiting for the full facts to emerge or for the police to complete their enquiries and determine who to charge. My understanding is that people of all ages were involved in stealing from the Curry’s in Brixton for example.
It is ordinary people’s lives who have been harmed by these events; the independent shopkeepers who have had their premises looted whom I have spoken to, the people who have struggled to get to work due to the disruption caused and the people who have been afraid to leave their homes. We stand beside them with a clear message that our community will not stand for this. We will work to bring the perpetrators to justice – they do not speak for us. We live in a wonderful community and we will not allow them to drag us down.
Chuka Umunna MP
Member of Parliament for Streatham
covering Streatham and parts of Clapham, Balham, Tulse Hill and Brixton