At the same time, the trail of destruction after three nights of mob rule in sectors of the capital and other British cities left the nation confronting an over-arching question: Why?
On a street corner in Hackney, site of some of the worst riots Monday, Sivaharan Kanbiah, a 39-year-old Sri Lankan immigrant, stood shell-shocked outside his ransacked convenience store as residents packed bags and fled in fear. “You work all your life, and in one night, they come and destroy it,” he said. “They did not just steal everything. They tore out the ceiling. They broke up the floor. They ripped out the shelves. I don’t understand such hate.”
He paused, turned to one side, silently gathering himself. He voice cracked as he continued: “I have a wife, two children and a mother to support. Now I have no way to do it. They took my life, and I can’t replace it. We’ll be turned out on the street. I want to know why. Why?”
There were no easy answers.
The rioting was triggered by the fatal police shooting last week of a black North London resident. But many observers say that incident alone could not explain the multiracial rampage of burning and looting across the sprawling capital.
Some voices saw a culprit in growing inequality, poor police relations with minorities and especially the Conservative-led government’s austerity drive that was robbing disenfranchised youths of educational subsidies and youth centers as the economy teetered on the verge of recession.
In London, a handful of looters who spoke out talked of a lack of respect for the young and the poor, raging against an increasingly affluent city that had left them behind. The violence, they said, fueled them with a sense of empowerment.
“This did not come from nowhere,” said Diane Abbott, an opposition Labor Party lawmaker from Hackney, where shops closed and public buildings were evacuated at midday. The neighborhood is not far from the Olympic Park being built for next year’s Games.
Abbott denounced the violence but said that the “public sector is the biggest employer in Hackney. Now you have kids wondering if their mum will have a job. It’s not all about race. But it is about rich and poor.”
Yet most of the austerity measures — which the government would now be challenged to complete — have yet to come into effect, leading some to question whether they truly played a role. And just as many voices blamed a weak police response and a breakdown of family values years in the making for giving rise to a class of directionless youths.