But not everyone was caught by surprise.
Sixty-eight-year-old Darcus Howe, a West Indian broadcaster and former editor of the magazine “Race Today,” told BBC in an interview Tuesday that he has for some time now been certain that “something very serious was going to take place in this country.”
Howe, who lives in South London, paints a sobering picture of London today:
Our political leaders had no idea, our police had no idea. But if you look at young blacks and young whites with a discerning eye and a careful hearing, they have been telling us, and we would not listen what is happening in this country to them.
The BBC anchor interviewing Howe doesn’t quite know how to take Howe’s comments.
“Does this mean you condone what happened in your community?” the anchor says, interrupting Howe mid-sentence.
Howe tells the anchor to “have some respect.”
Watch the video below:
The anchor tells Howe there is “no excuse” for the riots and adopts what Democracy Now correspondent Anjali Kamat calls a “sanctimonious tone.” Baratunde, a political blogger and comedian, says the BBC anchor was “astoundingly unprofessional and rude.”
“Maybe she was so distraught by the violence that she lost her professionalism, but that is just the moment in which professionalism is most demanded,” Baratunde wrote in an email. “She spoke over him, attempted to put words in his mouth and generally lost control.”
But the interview may also may reveal something larger: the roots of London’s riots.
The riots began Saturday night following the fatal shooting Thursday of a black resident by police investigating gun crimes. The riots then spread across London, mostly to poor neighborhoods. “Disenfranchised youths,” the media has written consistently, have been responsible for most of the looting.
So was London’s riots sparked by race issues? Or class issues?
In the BBC interview, Howe references the racially charged riots of 1981 in Brixton, London.
While the 1980s period of institutional police racism in the U.K. is mostly over, other problems remain, writes Clive Bloom in an op-ed in the Financial Times this week.
“Relations with young black men, and especially those who are economically disadvantaged, have actually worsened,” Bloom says.
The fact that the looting has taken place at stores like Foot Locker and Nando’s, “the shopping places of Britain’s new underclass,” Bloom argues, show that the London riots have been sparked by class issues.
There are others, however, that might not agree. Another video being shared online shows an elderly West Indian woman in Hackney from one of the first nights of looting. She shouts to the crowds: “Get real black people, get real. If we’re fighting for a cause, let’s fight for a [expletive] cause.”