London burned. But just days before the city went up in flames and riots spread throughout England, I was walking the streets of Tottenham, the district where the uprising began, with Member of Parliament (MP) David Lammy. He was speaking to his constituents about jobs, schools, housing and immigration requirements. Little did I imagine that the neighborhood would soon be reduced to rubble after a city policeman fatally shot an armed resident, a 29-year old black man named Mark Duggan, on August 4.
This past summer, I interned in the office of MP Lammy, who represents Tottenham, one of the poorest and most racially diverse districts of London. Some 200 languages are spoken in the neighborhood where the streets are lined with dilapidated public housing and small shops.
One of my tasks this summer was to take notes while MP Lammy held “advice surgeries” in the neighborhood. He listened to stories of England’s modern “hard times,” and explained to his constituents how to obtain health care, find legal counsel, cope with unemployment and secure their immigration status. All the while, I took notes of the proceedings.
But on the last day of my internship, August 5, Tottenham began to seethe after the police shooting. One of my final duties was to call the press and explain that MP Lammy was at the scene and available for interviews.
A day later, as I waited for my plane to take off from Heathrow, I heard that rioting had broken out in Tottenham after a vigil marking Duggan’s death. The neighborhood was in flames; looting was widespread. Perhaps it would have been different if the arsonists had talked to MP Lammy and heeded his advice about violence in Tottenham’s streets.