Burning buildings and police cars on Tottenham High Road; violence went on throughout the night of 6 August. Photograph: Steve Burton/Rex Features
The fires have been put out but the embers still burn hot in Tottenham after last night's explosion of destruction, looting and flame. The shocking cost to property and blameless residents' peace of mind is only starting to be counted. Have we seen the end of a purely local conflagration or just the end of the beginning of a long, late summer of riot and rage in that part of north London and elsewhere in the capital?
Instant punditry on such events is a perilous and often irresponsible pursuit, to be indulged only with caution until some cold, hard specifics have been nailed down. We do, though, have the evidence of history and contemporary reality to give grounds for deep anxiety about what may yet be to come. Last night's events exploded amid circumstances that create a kind of social tinderbox that needs just one fatal spark to ignite it.
Tottenham forms the core of the borough of Haringey, where a fast-rising total of well over 10,000 people are claiming jobseeker's allowance. In Tottenham itself, recent government figures showed there were 54 people chasing each registered employment vacancy. It would be wrong and unfair to damn the place as a slough of blight and turpitude, but the long, main Tottenham High Road provides few obvious outward signs of prosperity.
Despite a small fall in reported crime in the year to June 2011 compared with the previous 12 months, Haringey saw an increase in burglaries and an alarming rise in robberies against the person – up from 884 offences to 1,204.
In such a climate, an event such as the shooting dead by police of 29 year-old father of four Mark Duggan on Thursday night is more likely to provide in some minds, especially young ones, a pretext, a rationale or an opportunity to jettison any respect for the law or regard for fellow citizens and let rip.
Could the worst have been avoided? Might the police or the Independent Police Complaints Commission have made a better job of anticipating such trouble and so defusing it in advance? Such questions are already being asked, and not only on the streets. I don't know what the answers are, but feel grimly confident that such an awful, perfect storm of rumour, resentment and criminality could break in a dozen other parts of inner city London any day. These are nervous times."