I can’t believe my eyes, watching the live news; I am witnessing my father’s neighbourhood being ripped apart. Burning police cars, hooligans running riot, and geared up police storm the High Road. It’s like watching a crime thriller only this time it is real and on our doorstep.
I ring my father and ask what’s going on. He says mobsters are everywhere and can see smoke in the sky. It has been going on since 7pm. He’d been up to the High Road and saw a burning car, onlookers, and no police around. I tell him to lock all the doors and not to leave the house.
As the night unfolds so does the violence. A bus explodes, police vans and cars alight, and our little high street shops are ransacked, torched and go up in flames. The florist, carpet shop, newsagent’s, post office and jeweller’s all burn to ash.
I feel anger rising up inside me. Why are they allowing this to happen? The police are there now (after 3 hours of no show!), but stand in line while yobs wreck the place.
They’ve lost control, or rather they never gained control. They are also outnumbered. By midnight the mob has swelled in size. Delinquents from all over London have descended to join the fight.
TV crews have to leave to save themselves. We see a BBC reporter being shoved around while hooded youths stone another police car.
I keep ringing my dad to make sure the crazed attackers aren’t targeting residential streets. “I’m fine, it’s calm here” he replies.
But then a reporter says families are fleeing due to rioters breaking into their homes. I’m scared, scared that our house will be next, and tell my father to leave everything and phone me straight away if they come his way.
I head to bed, worried, tense, and in complete shock of what I have just seen on the TV.
In the morning, I speak to my father.
“Everything’s fine but I’m exhausted,” he says.
“They ransacked the retail park in Tottenham Hale too, looting everything they could get their hands on.”
“How did that happen? Where were the police?” I ask.
“They were all on the High Road, no one was in the retail park to control the situation”.
“I’m coming over.”
Walking down Seven Sisters Road, life is bustling along as usual. But as you reach Tottenham High Road a burned out car marks the riot territory. There are rows of TV vans with reporters, tape and police barring the way. I walk up to the police barrier and a man in high visibility asks what I am doing.
“That’s my high street!” I reply angrily.
“Yes I know but you’ll have to walk round the back.”
I see a beautiful African lady dressed all in white holding the hand of her little boy, also in white, heading round the back way.
The sight makes me sad- sad because that little boy had to sleep through a tornado of violence. But I am also in awe, as despite the devastation, mother and son have put on their best clothes and are heading to church. Their white robes are a peaceful light amongst the shattered shadows.
Along the back road it feels like I’m on a sightseeing tour. A group of people follow the same path; some boys on bikes shout out “Here’s the burned bus; up there’s the burnt post office and then we have to see the burned carpet shop!”
As I stop to take photos I am dumbfounded by the level of damage. At every glimpse up to the main road a sight of ashen debris awaits. The smell of smoke fills the air; the sound of helicopters buzzes above, and everyone is gasping at what’s around them. Tottenham resembles a warzone.
“This is terrible! You have to get whoever’s done this,” says a man to an officer standing watch.
“Yes sir, we are going to look through all the CCTV, we’ll find the culprits. It might take a while but we will get there in the end.”
“But why didn’t you stop it yesterday when you had the chance!” demands the man.
“We couldn’t do anything because of the numbers; we can’t arrest 100 people on the spot.”
“People get away with too much in this country!” replies the man shaking his head.
The carpet shop on the corner is still fuming with smoke. It is a deadened shell. I can make out on its turret the numbers 1930. This building which survived the Blitz has been reduced to cinders not by war or accident, but by the hands of madness, hate and brutality. Standing in front of this huge charcoal carcase, you feel afraid. This is the legacy of violence.
If London gangs can bring down a building which even war could not destroy, there’s no hope for us; we are at the mercy of savage animals hungry for blood and carnage. But what’s even more terrifying is that no force strong enough was present to stop the rampaging herd.
“I like your camera,” says a boy standing next to me as I stand like a zombie in front of this frightful scene.
“Thank you. Do you live round here?”
“Yes, I live over there with my mum,” he says pointing up the High Road.
“Did you see anything yesterday?” I ask.
“Yes, I saw a big ball of fire; I was really scared.”
“It’s really sad – people lived in this building,” he tells me as we both look on.
“Very sad,” I reply.
Walking home, trying to digest the awful reality of Tottenham’s gaping wounds, I rattled myself to understand why anyone would want to do such a thing. But I find no answer, no justification. I can only think that the people who have gutted, trampled, burnt, smashed, stoned, terrified, and ravaged to pieces a London community are far from being human.
Their trail of destruction along Tottenham High Road, doesn’t just send a chill down your spine, it turns your stomach inside out. It is utterly revolting.