'....Gang members were certainly present in many of the disturbances. In some cases they may have played an important role, though there is little indication that they were responsible for orchestrating the riots. Most importantly, the suggestion that 13% of people involved in riots were gang members – based on "intelligence" from those arrested – is almost certainly an overestimation. Rioters said they only occasionally saw people involved who they knew to be affiliated to gangs; in the main, respondents were struck by the breadth of people from all parts of their community who joined together. That sense of unity also affected the small numbers of gangs involved. They suspended rivalries for the duration of the disturbances. For those used to local hostilities – sometimes defined by postcode – it was an unprecedented sight...
The irony did not escape some of those involved. "You know it was the one time everyone was helping each other out. It had to be robbing Foot Locker!" said one 17-year-old who looted in Brixton. "I saw people from Brixton, different areas who would have literally hated each other but they was literally sticking together when they was going in there, like holding the doors for each other, like going in there getting stuff. I was thinking it was, 'What? I swear you don't even like each other and yet you're helping each other out?'" She added: "In the sickest way possible it felt good."
26-year-old Croydon man described seeing a crowd of young men from miles away arrive in the area. "These youths actually came all the way from New Cross," he said. He described his feelings as they got involved. "'I know that we are beefing, yeah, but for this moment in time, let's eat together.' Let me elaborate. Eating means, let's go and take advantage of this situation." (Guardian 6 December 2011)
Violent arrests in New Cross
"Around 3.30pm on Monday 8 August I was aware that things were starting to happen. I think I went on Twitter and had a look and there seemed to be a bit of stuff and I saw some mention of Peckham. What really alerted me: there was a massive amount of sirens, like I've never heard before. So I went out on my bike. I must have noticed that there was something happening in Lewisham. Just to see what's going on. To bear witness to it, as much as anything.
I met someone walking up and they said: 'You don't want to go down there; it's all kicking off.' There's a road, I think it's Lewisham High Street, that goes off from the town centre towards Catford. There was a line of police; they were just saying: 'You don't want to go down there.' There is a jeweller's right opposite the fire station in Lewisham and I saw some people trying to break the shutters – I think unsuccessfully. But they were trying quite hard. They were calm.
There was a few pockets of people who weren't involved in it at all. It was just sort of quite a good place for them to be, I think. Then a few people were attacking a bus that was trying to turn round because the police were stopping it going through. There was somebody attacking the window of the driver's side and … I sort of walked down and I tried to, rather than saying anything directly to anybody, I tried to say generally: 'That's probably not a very good idea. The bus driver's probably not the person you want to be attacking.'
On Lee High Road there was a group breaking into a small off-licence type shop. There was people going in, grabbing a two-litre bottle of Coke, walking out, putting it down, realising he didn't have something to go with it, so went back in, got a bottle of Lambrusco. And I'm thinking: 'Do they really need that?' … Again, not covered up, but there was no police in sight.
So I cycled back along New Cross Road and as I was going further along here, just by the Sainsbury's, suddenly there was a couple of vans with lights on. Instead of carrying on and turning right I thought I'd cut through the Sainsbury's. There was a young black man being arrested who was lying face down, cuffed, with one officer on top of him, completely motionless. So this man was lying on the ground, face down, and this other riot officer basically jumped on the back of his head with his knees. And he screamed. It was quite painful, obviously. I saw a stream of blood coming down. So I was absolutely incensed. And another one standing who was being arrested. And he was screaming about how he had been hit on the legs and he was in pain because he had been hit on the legs with a baton. So the officer arrested me for obstruction...' '(A self-employed man, 39, who was arrested for obstruction and remanded in custody, Guardian, 8 December 2011)
Women in the riots
'On the third night of riots, two 20-year-old women made their way from Brixton to Peckham, egged on by friends and pings on their BlackBerrys. Once there, they saw an abandoned police car. Within minutes a petrol bomb was sailing through its window."One of my friends … just said: 'Let's fuck it up,' because there was no one there, there was nothing to be seen, and all our faces were covered as well," said one of the women, who lives in Westminster. "We kind of just went in on it. And then one of my [male] friends came at the last minute and just petrol-bombed it. So, quite satisfying."
The women stood watching as flames engulfed the car. "It felt good, that police car, it felt really good," she said. Asked why she had attacked it, her friend, from Lambeth in south London, said: "We just thought like it was kind of, not for a good cause, but in the beginning it was to protest about the [ways] we're being treated by police and that nowadays."
...The young woman who had delighted in the anarchic moment when the abandoned police car in Peckham had been petrol-bombed, who felt "the government needed a waking call … they deserved it" said she felt no remorse about what they had done, hoping the "message" they had given would not be ignored.
"It felt like all us youths were pulling together, like just trying to make a point really. It's sad it got to the point where it did riot, where something had to be done for us to be kind of heard," said the 20-year-old from Lambeth. She added: "There were other ways we could've gone about it – it did get a bit out of hand at the end – but still, I think we were still heard. We were still recognised, like, and I think it was worth it." (Guardian, 9 December 2011).
In other local riot news, a 32 year old woman from Clapham was convicted last week of being a getaway driver for people taking a TV from Currys in New Cross during the riot. Three young men from the New Cross area, and another from Catford were previously jailed for burglarly in relation to the looting of that Currys.
update 19 January 2012: a 25 year old woman from Casella Road in New Cross has been jailed for attempted burglary for hitting the window of the Joseph Annell Beauty Salon (Lewisham) with a metal pole during the riots. A 31 year old woman from Downham was jailed for 13 months for the same incident (more details at East London Lines)