From Saturday 6th to Tuesday 10th August 2011, some parts of London and other cities in England witnessed widespread rioting, looting and arson. It all started on 4th August when Metropolitan Police firearms officers shot and killed Mark Duggan in Tottenham, North London and on 6th August, his family and friends held a peaceful march to the local police station. The crowd did not get any response from the police and as a result, a few people in the crowd began to the police in anger.
That quickly turned into rioting in Tottenham and then spread to several parts of London and some part of England. The well-targeted looting and arson attacks were on an unprecedented level. With significant increase in police numbers, arrest of several culprits and threat of stronger police tactics, the riots ceased on 10th August 2011.
By the end of the riots, about £200 million worth of property had been damaged (several of them SME & family owned businesses), five people have died (about 16 more injured) and as of 15th August, over 3100 people have been arrested & more than 1,000 charged with some sentenced.
That is just one part of the England riots and it is the most talked about part. But the focus of this article is on the other part and that is the response of ordinary citizens to the riots. I believe there are lessons for us Nigerians in our effort to build a developed Nigeria.
During and immediately after the riots, many citizens mobilised to undertake various activities to restore normalcy in their community and to ensure the rioters were brought to book. They did not wait for government to support them or sponsor their activities, in fact government has so far promised rebuilding funds but most of the immediate work has been undertaken by volunteer citizens.
Here are few of the activities:
Community Clean up: In many of the affected areas, ordinary citizens came out in good numbers with their own tools to clean up the mess. They didn’t say it government’s responsibility but rather they said, it is our community and we will participate in fixing it. They also used this as an opportunity to send a message to the rioters that their actions were not acceptable and the people cared about their community.
In the same way, we can come together in our communities to clean areas that we expect the government to clean. When government fails and the problems are ours to bear, we must act as a community to clean up our environment. This will make us healthier, improve sanitation, eliminate or reduce flooding and encourage better behaviour amongst members of the community.
Mobilisation of People: It has been said that the same social media outlets (Twitter, Facebook and Blackberry Messenger) that were used to mobilise the rioters were also used to mobilise people for the various restoration exercises. About 87,000 people responded to one activity or another.
There is tremendous power when people mobilise for action. When we undertake mobilisation exercises in our community, we can use the collective will of the people for various positive actions that will build our community and nation.
Voluntary Donations: When people saw the destruction on TV, some preferred to sit on their comfy chairs and complain about how society is broken but others responded with actions. People donated money to those who lost shops (for example, a barber in Tottenham had over £15000 raised for the refitting of his shop); food items & clothes were donated to those who lost homes and were staying in town halls or emergency centres; various people volunteered their expertise to support the victims (for example, a law firm volunteered free services to assist victims claim compensation); people volunteered their time to cook meals for the homeless people, distribute what the public donated and provide support to the victims; and many other donations were witnessed.
Again, they could have said it was government’s responsibility and in the recession we have nothing to give but no, they expressed compassion rather than just pity. We cannot only pity victims of flooding, crime, demolition of illegal structures and all other disasters but we must show compassion by participating in meeting at least the short & medium term needs of the victims.
These acts of compassion do build a strong community and a strong community is the platform for building a developed nation
Police Support: Many people supported the police efforts to arrest the rioters. People used social media sites to publish the CCTV images of the rioters (over 900,000 joined such groups), citizens reported their friends & neighbours to the police and even several parents reported their children to the police (some personally took their children to the police station).
When crime had been committed, people took responsibility to ensure that the culprits were arrested, tried and jailed irrespective of their relationship with the culprit. Community takes precedence over individual and if we in Nigeria continue to protect our friends & family when they’ve committed crime and sometimes harass or bribe the police, so many crimes will go unpunished. When that happens, crimes would be on the rise and it’s so funny because most times we become the next victim.
Besides, when there is a strong community support for culprits to be arrested, tried and jailed, the police and the judiciary will take the process seriously. We also send a clear message to each other than crime is not acceptable in our community. This may help to reduce the high praise we give to people who have make money through illegitimate means
Peace Marches & Rallies: For a nation that is accused of being broken and racially divided, communities came out en masse for peace marches & rallies to make clear statement that the riots were not acceptable. Many communities in the UK have become to individualistic but these riots helped to recreate communal bonds amongst diverse groups in the community and the peace marches & rallies were a good reflection of this.
It is time for us to come together in our communities and use marches & rallies to strengthen our bonds but also use it as a platform to send a united message to corrupt government officials who neglect the community and to law enforcement agencies who do deals with those who damage our communities. We need to make them recognise, we can build and sustain a strong community that will not be taken for granted
It can be seen that something good is coming out of these terrible events and that is the need to make our communities stronger. When they are strong, we can address some of the issues within the community instead of leaving it in solely in the hands of government or wait for it to get out of hand.
Community is the only means to repair a broken or build an underdeveloped society because a nation stands or falls on the strength of her communities. We have seen in the UK Riots that things went out of hand when communities have been weakened and we have seen also that communities (not government) was the first platform for the rebuilding effort.
We have to accept responsibility for our nation first and then join hands with others in our neighbourhood to build strong communities. If our community suffers, we all suffer and if she is strengthened, we all benefit.