Fire destroys a Sony warehouse in Enfield in north London Aug. 9, 2011
Fire destroys a Sony warehouse in Enfield in north London Aug. 9, 2011. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

London is ablaze and after three days of violence rioters and looters have taken over what started off as a peaceful demonstration outside of Tottenham police station, following the death of Mark Duggan.

With conflicting reports about the young man's death surfacing, the ballistic tests from his shooting are expected to be published Tuesday and will help determine whether Duggan fired on police before he was shot by armed officers.

Media reports said shops in Camden, Clapham Junction, Hackney, Croydon,Enfield, and Lewisham were ransacked and the violence spread quickly through other areas of the capital and into the countryside, affecting cities like Birmingham, Nottingham, Leeds and Liverpool.

Cars were torched in the streets and crowds of mainly young people were entrenched in a standoff against the police.

Clearly, violence, robbery, looting, can't be tolerated as nor should any form of criminal behaviour. It's this criminal behaviour and the rapidity at which it spread through the capital that shocked many Londoners.

Reports of people attacked in the streets, of cars and buildings being set alight showed that what happened in the past few days wasn't a confrontation between just the police and the youths, clearly everyday people on the side-lines were affected in one way or another.

The surge of violence begs several questions: How did we reach such a stage of violence? What caused the violent attacks against the state and authorities? Criminality is unlawful, but criminality also has root causes, and it's these very same causes that need to be dealt with after the arrests and prosecutions of those who committed the crimes have taken place.

The level of violence reached in these past few days is abnormal, and outlines clear signs of a social breakdown. Since the coalition government has announced a backdrop of cuts and austerities measures, the country has been prone to a wave of unrest, from student protests to trade union marches. If the previous strikes and demonstrations aren't comparable to the violence that occurred in the past few days, clearly public discontent has been growing.

Local councils warned that the cuts would mainly affect the more dispossessed and the communities that were already struggling to cope with the impacts of the global recession. Clearly increasing levels of poverty and high unemployment don't create a good mix. Many of the youths that were in the streets in the past few days seem to have lost their faith in a decent future, instead turning to criminality, which due to the environment they often live in is something they have become quite familiar with.

Haringey, for example, the borough that includes Tottenham, has the fourth highest level of child poverty in London and an unemployment rate of 8.8%, double the national average, with one vacancy for every 54 seeking work in the borough.

The shooting of Mark Duggan also helped create a feeling of anger amongst young people from not only ethnic minorities but also poor backgrounds. It now appears that in contradiction to the initials reports, only police bullets were fired. The Independent Police Complaints Commission, which is investigating the shooting, initially said the 29-year old father of four was killed in an exchange of gunfire.

The relationship between the Metropolitan Police and Londoners from ethnic majorities has been shaken by problems for a long time. Youth community leaders have complained about the singling out of specific areas and individuals for monitoring, stop and search and daily harassment for years, but not much was done to try and alleviate the situation.

The increasing gap between the better and the worst off show that in the UK, the richest 10% are now 100 times better off than the poorest. The continued rise in personal debt levels and limited social mobility has also contributed to the problem. According to the OECD, social mobility in Britain is worse than any other developed country.

Sheer criminality shouldn't and can't be condoned but neither should the problems linked to its rise. While the looters stole by pure greed and not in opposition to the Duggan shooting, the extent of the damages and the level of violence and destruction that has been reached clearly points out to societal problems that are much deeper that just "a bunch of kids that were excited and wanted to take whatever they felt like having."

To read more on the subject, please click here: London Riots: Communities Need Unity Not More Violence