After London riots, faith groups work for peace

Published August 8, 2011

A child looks into the remains of a police car set aflame and burned during riots in Tottenham, north London. Photo: Reuters/Luke MacGregor

London Faith leaders, politicians and youth workers in Tottenham, north London, on Aug.8 were planning a united response to a weekend of riots that left two dozen families homeless, 35 policemen injured and dozens of businesses destroyed.

A street march called "Vigil of Hope" was scheduled for the evening of Aug.8, but there was some question as to whether police would allow it to take place. Police said that 170 people have been arrested after two nights of unrest that saw stores looted, buildings and cars burned and confrontations with riot police.

The rioting first erupted on Aug.6, after a peaceful demonstration had taken place to protest the killing by police of a local man named Mark Duggan last week. Scotland Yard has said Duggan was the target of a "pre-planned operation" and officers have been quoted as saying they came under fire in the incident. On Aug. 7, there were further outbreaks of crowd violence and vandalism in central and south London. On Aug.8, there were more incidents reported in Tottenham, nearby
Hackney and other parts of London.

"The atmosphere is one of shock," said the Rev. Valentin Dedji of St. Mark’s Methodist Church in Tottenham. "They have started a clear up but it will take a long time. Twenty-five families who lived in flats on top of the Allied Carpet shop, which was destroyed, are homeless … they had to leave their homes in their pyjamas and knock on doors asking for help. They have lost everything."

The planned vigil on Aug. 8 was organized by Church of England, Roman Catholic, Methodist, United Reformed, Pentecostal and Independent churches. Representatives from the Muslim and Jewish faiths were also planning to attend, along with local politicians.

Church of England parishes in Tottenham are helping people affected by the violence. St. Mary the Virgin is distributing meals and providing hot water and phone charging facilities to those who were left without electricity.

"These events cannot be allowed to define the Tottenham we know and love. Many of us have worked in this community for many years and we know the loving, generous and openhearted people with whom we share our daily lives are not the rioters who have destroyed so much. What has happened will not conquer the hope which is set before us. We will continue to share that hope with our neighbours and friends as we move to rebuild in Tottenham," said Bishop Peter Wheatley of Edmonton, Anglican Diocese of London.

"Together, our churches already run a multitude of activities supporting all members of the community, irrespective of their faith, and these efforts will be continued and where possible extended," he said.

Dedji noted that ecumenical links are strong in the community. "The problem now will be to rebuild our community … we will pray and work together." On Aug. 7, he said, "we couldn’t even get to church … I spent nearly four hours on the street. One lawyer’s office has been smashed up. The road is still littered with personal documents … It is as if they are trying to destroy the fabric of our society. I have been exercising my ministry here for eleven years and I know many of these
people were not locals."

Alvin Carpio, a social worker at St. Ignatius Catholic Church in Stamford Hill, said, "the images on the television screens showed young men throwing bricks and setting cars on fire, but these are a minority group." Alvin blamed unemployment and poverty for the riots.

He recalled that as part of a listening exercise in the area involving some 10,000 conversations, street safety, community relations and unemployment had emerged as the areas of most concern.

The Rev. Nims Obunge, pastor of the Freedom’s Ark Church, who has been
helping Duggan’s family, said youth unemployment is very high and the community was "crying out for justice."


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