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Riots Spread Across Britain, Triggered by Socio-Economic Despair and Police Brutality

August 9, 2011

Police out in force as riots spread across Britain .

August 9, 2011

By News Wires (text)


Riots flared in English cities and towns on Tuesday night as London waited anxiously to see if thousands of police deployed on its streets could head off the youths who had rampaged across the capital virtually unchecked for three nights.

In Salford, part of greater Manchester in northwest England, rioters threw bricks at police and set fire to buildings. A BBC cameraman was assaulted.

Television pictures showed flames leaping from shops and cars in Salford and Manchester, and plumes of thick black smoke billowing across roads.

In central Manchester, police said a clothes shop was set alight. “I can confirm a shop is on fire and 200 youths that gathered in the city centre have been chased by riot police and dispersed. Seven arrests have been made so far,” a spokesman for Greater Manchester Police said.

Further south in West Bromwich and Wolverhampton, cars were burned and stores raided.

In London, commuters hurried home early, shops shut and many shopkeepers boarded their windows as the city prepared nervously for more of the violence that had erupted in neighbourhoods across London and spread to other cities. Police promised to nearly triple their deployment on the streets.

Community leaders said the violence in London, the worst for decades in the huge, multi-ethnic capital, was rooted in growing disparities in wealth and opportunity.

Gangs have ransacked stores, carting off clothes, shoes and electronic goods, torched cars, shops and homes — causing tens of millions of pounds of damage — and taunted the police.

Prime Minister David Cameron, who cut short a family holiday in Tuscany to deal with the crisis, told reporters: “This is criminality pure and simple and it has to be confronted and defeated.”

“People should be in no doubt that we will do everything necessary to restore order to Britain’s streets,” he said after a meeting of the government’s crisis committee, COBRA.

Another such meeting was set for Wednesday. Cameron also recalled parliament from its summer recess, a rare move.

Cameron said 16,000 police officers would be on the streets on Tuesday night, compared to the 6,000 out on Monday night. London has a population of 7.8 million.

Struggling economy

The unrest poses a new challenge to Cameron as Britain’s economy struggles to grow while his government slashes public spending and raises taxes to cut a yawning budget deficit — moves that some commentators say have aggravated the plight of young people in inner cities.

It also shows the world an ugly side of London less than a year before it hosts the 2012 Olympic Games, an event that officials hope will serve as a showcase for the city in the way that April’s royal wedding did.

“This morning was a dark morning to wake to in London. No one should wake in this wonderful city of ours to see such scenes of devastation and violence,” said Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Steve Kavanagh.

Police arrested more than 200 people overnight and a total of 450 over the three nights, filling the city’s cells to capacity. More than 100 police officers were injured.

A 26-year-old man died after being shot in Croydon, south of London, the first fatality of the riots.

Many Londoners feared another night of trouble. Sales of baseball bats and police batons shot up more than 5,000 percent in the last 24 hours on Amazon’s British website.

In Hackney, scene of some of the worst rioting on Monday, groups of yellow-vested police were visible everywhere.

Youth gangs were reported to be coordinating their movements though social networks — particularly secure-access Blackberry Messenger groups — and targeting shops.

Local member of parliament David Lammy said he was asking Blackberry to suspend its messaging service.

The police have been accused of failing to bring the situation under control by going in softly to spare local sensibilities. On Tuesday, London’s police said they would consider using rubber or plastic bullets.

The first riots broke out on Saturday in north London’s Tottenham district, when a peaceful protest over the police shooting of a suspect two days earlier led to violence.

Pressure on police

Police are likely to come under fresh pressure over that incident after a watchdog said on Tuesday there was no evidence that a handgun retrieved at the scene had been fired. Reports initially suggested Mark Duggan had shot at police.

Tottenham includes areas with the highest unemployment rates in London. It also has a history of racial tension with local young people, especially blacks, resenting police behaviour.

“It’s us versus them, the police, the system,” said one youth at a grim housing estate in the London district of Hackney, the epicentre of Monday night’s rioting.

“They call it looting and criminality. It’s not that. There’s a real hatred against the system.” His friends, some covering their faces with hoods, nodded in agreement.

Other Londoners tried to clear up the mess.

Hundreds of volunteers carrying brooms, dustpans, rubber gloves and black bags gathered on Tuesday morning in Clapham, south of the River Thames, to help clean up.

Hackney’s Mare Street, scene of serious disorder on Monday night, was largely back to normal by morning, with traffic flowing and the streets swept clean. A few shops had smashed windows boarded up, including a betting shop and a cafe.

The London 2012 Organising Committee hosted an International Olympic Committee visit “as planned” on Tuesday and said the violence would not hurt preparations for the Olympics.

However, other sporting events suffered. England cancelled Wednesday’s international soccer friendly with the Netherlands and three club games were also called off.

The ramifications also extended into international finance at a time when world markets are in turmoil.

“Just a few days ago we were talking about sterling as a new safe haven but these riots taking place are another blemish that must have soured anyone’s taste for the currency,” said Neil Mellor, currency strategist at Bank of New York Mellon.

Britain's burning: what's behind the riots?

August 9, 2011

By FRANCE 24 (text)

As the smoke still billows from buildings across London and Britons digest the destruction and damage to property after three consecutive nights of violence, questions are being asked as to why the riots had broken out.

But a number of London-based sociologists say the discontent has been simmering for decades and attribute the recent rioting to a combination of factors such as a disenfranchised youth, socio-economic despair and lack of confidence in public institutions, particularly the Metropolitan police.

"The surprise was not the riots but the scale with which they are taking place", said Dr Chris Greer, a sociologist at City University in London. "Now that the violence has spread to cities unrelated to the original incident, it appears to be symptomatic of a wider social problem".

The current riots were sparked by the police mishandling of the death of Mark Duggan.

Duggan, a father-of-four, was shot by police last Thursday in Tottenham, north London as part of a “pre-planned” arrest.

On The Observers Observer in London: riots "weren't completely unexpected"

A peaceful demonstration protesting the killing on Saturday turned violent and looting followed. An inquest Tuesday found that he died of a single gunshot wound to the chest and the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) concluded Tuesday that there is no evidence that Duggan shot at police. The overall investigation is ongoing.

Furthermore, Duggan’s family report that they have received “offhand and abrupt” treatment from the police.

The Metropolitan Police: ‘crisis of confidence’ However the alleged mishandling of the Duggan case is just the latest in a string of incidents of police misconduct.

The latest riots are a result of "bad policing as well as bad people" says an editorial in Tuesday’s Guardian, the left-leaning UK newspaper.

"Concerns over police misconduct and violence have a long history, and the Met would appear currently to be facing a crisis in public confidence. The Brixton riots present an obvious comparison with the latest riots, but conditions then were quite different… Public trust in the police has also been damaged by high profile cases like Blaire Peach, Stephen Lawrence and, more recently, Ian Tomlinson", said Greer.

The murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993 and the mishandling of the subsequent investigation led a public inquiry to conclude that the Metropolitan Police was “institutionally racist”. Ian Tomlinson collapsed and died after being struck by a police officer in the City of London while on his way home from work during the 2009 G20 riots in London.

“On the one hand it (the violence) marks a decline of deference and respect for authority and yet there is also the sense that our public institutions are failing… there’s a perception of ‘institutional failure’ - they aren’t doing what they are supposed to do” said Greer.

Social economic marginalisation While some of the UK papers have attributed the rioting to lack of prospects for a disenfranchised youth, cuts in social and public services and the rise in tuition fees as part of the government’s tough austerity policy, a poster on the Guardian's live blog also said, "they weren't rioting for food, but for luxury goods".

Footage of the looters shows them raiding computer stores, mobile phone shops, jewellers, Nike stores and clothing boutiques, actions that Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg described as “needless, opportunistic theft and violence, nothing more, nothing less”.

“We ain’t got no jobs, no money ... We heard that other people were getting things for free, so why not us?” a man called E.Nan told reporters on the weekend in Hackney, east London.

“But the violence can’t purely be explained in socio-economic terms” said Greer, adding that the looting was “a symbol of economic marginalisation… that began under former (British Prime Minister Margaret) Thatcher and continued under New Labour until today. There are groups within London that have for years been systematically excluded from the wider consumer culture".

After three nights of rioting, the political sniping has already begun. Conservative MP Angie Bray hit out at former London mayor Ken Livingstone, a Labour politician, Tuesday for saying that the government’s spending cuts are behind the riots.

“Tottenham has had a 9 per cent cut nearly in its government grant. The youth centres are closing, people are seeing all the sort of things they used to rely on going.” Livingstone said in a statement.

But Bray responded by saying “For senior Labour politicians to use cuts as an excuse for the kind of criminality we have seen over the last few days is unacceptable, irresponsible, and completely wrong.”

‘Thugs and vandals’

In his statement on the riots Tuesday, Prime Minister David Cameron described the scenes of looting and violence as "sickening" and "criminality pure and simple".

But Matthew Moran of Kings College London warned against a rush to dismiss the protesters as “thugs and delinquents” in the heat of the moment, suggesting that speculative judgment could feed into the violence.

Moran, who spent a year doing field-work research on the Paris riots of 2005, said that “each set of riots is a unique combination of particular factors which are not always immediately visible and we need time to assess the underlying causes of the violence”.

“So while some superficial comparisons can be drawn between Paris 2005 and London 2011, the London riots are occurring in their own context and must be examined in that context”, Moran added.

Following a crisis meeting at his Downing Street office Tuesday, Cameron has called for tougher policing on the streets of London. But Moran warned against viewing the recent riots solely as a law-and-order issue. “It is important to restore order but throwing police at the problem is clearly not a long-term solution”.

First fatality reported in wake of London riots

By News Wires (text)

August 9, 2011


A man who was shot in a car during riots in London died in hospital Tuesday from his injuries, police said, becoming the first fatality from three days of unrest in the British capital.

The 26-year-old man was found with gunshot wounds late Monday in Croydon, a south London suburb where several buildings were burned down during the riots, London's Metropolitan Police said.

Police have launched a murder investigation.

The wave of riots across London and in some other English cities was triggered by another shooting last week -- although on that occasion it was by police.

Mark Duggan, 29, was killed by armed officers on Thursday in Tottenham, north London, after they stopped the taxi he was in during an attempted arrest as part of a police operation against gun crime within the black community.

A probe into Duggan's death heard on Tuesday that he was killed by a single gunshot wound to the chest.

Cameron recalls parliament as London riots continue

By News Wires (text)

August 9, 2011

AP -

British Prime Minister David Cameron recalled Parliament from its summer recess Tuesday and tripled the number of police on the streets of London to deal with the crisis touched off by three days of rioting.

Cameron described the scenes of burning buildings and smashed windows in London and several other British cities as “sickening,” but refrained from more extreme measures such as calling in the military to help beleaguered police restore order.


On The Observers Observer in London: riots "weren't completely unexpected"

Instead, he said 16,000 officers would be on the streets of the capital Tuesday night _ almost tripling the number on the streets Monday night. “People should be in no doubt that we will do everything necessary to restore order to Britain’s streets and to make them safe for the law-abiding,” Cameron told reporters after a crisis meeting at his Downing Street office.

A wave of violence and looting raged across London, as authorities struggled to contain the country’s worst unrest since race riots set the capital ablaze in the 1980s. Some 450 arrests have been made. Parliament will return to duty on Thursday, as the political fallout from the rampage takes hold. The crisis is a major test for Cameron’s Conservative-led coalition government, which includes Liberal Democrats who had long suspected its program of harsh budget restraints could provoke popular dissent.

Cameron cut short his summer vacation in Italy, rushing home for the crisis meeting Tuesday.

In London, groups of young people rampaged for a third straight night, setting buildings, vehicles and garbage dumps alight, looting stores and pelting police officers with bottles and fireworks into early Tuesday. The spreading disorder was an unwelcome warning of the possibility of violence during London’s 2012 Summer Olympics, less than a year away. England’s soccer match Wednesday against the Netherlands in London’s Wembley stadium was canceled to freeing up police officers for riot duty.

Police on Monday called in hundreds of reinforcements and volunteer police officers- and deployed armored vehicles in some of the worst-hit districts - but still struggled to keep pace with the chaos unfolding at flashpoints across London, in the central city of Birmingham, the western city of Bristol and the northwestern city of Liverpool.

Riots spread through UK cities Enlarge interactive map

“The violence we have seen is simply inexcusable. Ordinary people have had their lives turned upside down by this mindless thuggery,” police commander Christine Jones said. London’s police said 14 people were injured, including a man in his 60s with life-threatening injuries.

The rioters appeared to have little unifying cause - though some claimed to oppose sharp government spending cuts, which will slash welfare payments and cut tens of thousands of public sector jobs through 2015. But many were attracted simply by the opportunity for violence. “Come join the fun!” shouted one youth in the east London suburb of Hackney, where shops were attacked and cars torched.

Rioters were left virtually unchallenged in several neighborhoods and able to plunder from stores at will or attempt to invade homes. Restaurants and stores fearful of looting closed early across London. Simon Dance, a 27-year-old marketing manager who lives in Camden in north London, called the riots outside his apartment “very frightening.”

“We locked all the doors, and my wife even packed a bag to flee. We had Twitter rolling until midnight just to keep up with the news. We were too afraid to even look out the window,” he said Tuesday morning as he took pictures of a smashed Evans Cycles store and a looted Sainsbury’s grocery store.

Disorder flared throughout the night, from gritty suburbs along the capital’s fringes to central London’s posh Notting Hill neighborhood. Police said all London police holding cells were full and prisoners were being taken to surrounding communities. At least 69 people have been charged with offenses, including an 11-year-old boy charged with burglary. At least 100 of those arrested were aged 21 or younger.

Police were also monitoring Twitter, and warned that those who posted messages inciting the violence could face arrest. Three people were arrested on suspicion of attempted murder after a police officer was struck by a car in north London early Tuesday. About 35 police officers have been injured in the violence.

After dawn Tuesday, the unrest appeared to calm, either quelled by police or fading as rioters drifted away.

Violence first broke out late Saturday in the low-income, multiethnic district of Tottenham in north London, where outraged protesters demonstrated against the fatal police shooting of Mark Duggan, a 29-year-old father of four who was gunned down in disputed circumstances Thursday. A brief inquest hearing into Duggan’s death will take place Tuesday, though it will likely be several months before a full hearing.

Duggan’s death stirred old animosities and racial tensions similar to those that prompted massive riots in the 1980s, despite efforts by London police to build better relations with the city’s ethnic communities. But, as the unrest spread, some pointed to rising social tensions in Britain as the government slashes 80 billion pounds ($130 billion) from public spending by 2015 to reduce the huge deficit, swollen after the country spent billions bailing out its foundering banks.

A massive blaze ravaged a 100-year-old family run furniture store in Croydon and sent thick plumes of smoke into the air, forcing nearby homes to be evacuated. In the Clapham Junction area of south London, a mob stole masks from a party store to disguise their identities and then set the building on fire.

Sony Corp. said a major blaze had broken out at its distribution center near Enfield, north London, damaging DVDs and other products. So many fires were being fought in the capital that Thames Water warned that some customers could face water pressure drops.

Dozens of people attacked shops in Birmingham’s main retail district, and clashed with police in Liverpool and Bristol.

In London’s Hackney neighborhood, hundreds of youths left a trail of burning trash and shattered glass. Looters ransacked a convenience store, filling plastic shopping bags with alcohol, cigarettes, candy and toilet paper.

East London’s diversity was on display amid the charred hulks of cars and the smell of burning plastic. Some looters were young women with manicured nails and customized BlackBerry smart phones. Others wore dreadlocks and stained shirts or appeared to be homeless.

“This is the uprising of the working class. We’re redistributing the wealth,” said Bryn Phillips, a 28-year-old self-described anarchist, as young people emerged from the store with chocolate bars and ice cream cones. Phillips claimed rioters were motivated by distrust of the police, and drew a link between the rage on London’s street and insurgent right-wing politics in the United States. “In America you have the tea party, in England you’ve got this,” he said.

Some residents called for police to deploy water cannons to disperse rioters, or call on the military for support. They questioned the strength of leadership within London’s police department - particularly after a wave of resignations prompted by the country’s phone-hacking scandal. Youths used text messages, instant messaging on BlackBerry phones and social media platforms such as Twitter to coordinate attacks and stay ahead of the police.

About 100 young people clashed with police in the Camden and Chalk Farm areas of north London. In the Peckham district of south London, where a building was set ablaze along with a bus - which was not carrying passengers - onlookers said the scene resembled a conflict zone. Cars were torched in nearby Lewisham, and in west London’s Ealing suburb the windows of each store along entire streets had been smashed.

“There’s been tension for a long time. The kids aren’t happy. They hate the police, » said Matthew Yeoland, a 43-year-old teacher watching the unrest in Peckham. “It’s like a war zone and the police weren’t doing anything.” Police said Duggan was shot dead last week when police from Operation Trident - the unit that investigates gun crime in the black community - stopped a cab he was riding in.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission, which is investigating the shooting, said a “non-police firearm” was recovered at the scene. But the Guardian newspaper reported that a bullet in the officer’s radio was police-issue, indicating Duggan may not have fired at the officer. Duggan’s partner, Semone Wilson, insisted Monday that her fiance was not connected to gang violence and urged police to offer more information about his death. But she rejected suggestions that the riots were linked to protests over his death.

“It got out of hand. It’s not connected to this anymore. This is out of control,” she said. The past year has seen mass protests against the tripling of student tuition fees and cuts to public sector pensions. In November, December and March, small groups broke away from large marches in London to loot.

In the most notorious episode, rioters attacked a Rolls-Royce carrying Prince Charles and his wife Camilla to a charity concert. However, the full impact of spending cuts has yet to be felt and the unemployment rate is stable - although it remains highest among youth, especially in areas like Tottenham, Hackney and Croydon.

Some residents insisted that joblessness was not to blame. “It’s just an excuse for the young ones to come and rob shops,” said Brixton resident Marilyn Moseley, 49.

Police in Birmingham, 120 miles (195 kilometers) north of London, said 35 people had been arrested amid widespread vandalism. In Bristol, police urged residents to avoid the city center after 150 rioters went on the rampage.







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