Never take life seriously. Nobody gets out alive anyway.

Extra police quell riots in London but violence spreads elsewhere

Sharmila Devi

Aug 11, 2011 

LONDON // Political tempers began to fray yesterday amid finger-pointing over whether deprivation or criminality is to blame for rioting across England.

Thousands of extra police officers flooded into London on Tuesday and largely put an end to the violence.

They were joined by “vigilante” communities, from Bangladeshis to Sikhs, who turned out in their hundreds to protect their neighbourhoods and places of worship.

Attention switched to Manchester and Liverpool, where the violence spread on Tuesday night.

In Birmingham, police opened a murder inquiry into the deaths of three British Muslims who died after being hit by a car near a mosque.

Community leaders sought to defuse tension among British Asians after the apparent hit-and-run killings of brothers Shazad and Munir Hussein and Haroon Chohan.

They were among about 80 people who tried to protect local businesses on Tuesday night.

Jahan Chohan, Haroon’s father, spoke of forgiveness. “I don’t blame the government, I don’t blame the police, I don’t blame nobody,” he told The Guardian.

“I’m a Muslim, I believe in divine fate and destiny, and it was his destiny and his fate, and now he’s gone. And may Allah forgive him and bless him.”

Unlike recent unrest in Greece or the Arab world, the British rioters appeared to have no political message. Most seem to be young males from poorer neighbourhoods.

Ahead of an emergency parliamentary debate today, prime minister David Cameron said his government had started a “fightback” against the rioters.

“For me, the root cause of this mindless selfishness is the same thing I have spoken about for years,” he said. “It is a complete lack of responsibility in parts of our society.”

But the Conservative leader sidestepped a call from London mayor Boris Johnson, who agreed with his party leader that Britain is “broken” but said police budget cuts across the country should be abandoned.

“Mayors and local authorities always want more money,” said Mr Cameron. “It is the government’s job to give them what they need.”

He added that police were authorised to use rubber bullets and water cannons, which have never been used for riot control, would be made available at 24 hours’ notice.

“Phony human-rights” issues will not stop the police publishing CCTV pictures of looters, said Mr Cameron. Police have arrested more than 750 people in London and 500 others across the country since the unrest began on Saturday.

It kicked off following a protest against the police shooting dead Mark Duggan, 29.

All three main political parties have largely blamed criminality for the unrest, in which youths of all races looted shops, burnt property and attacked police.

But in a sign of the political fallout yet to come, two opposing lawmakers had a fierce argument over whether public sector cuts had any role in the unrest.

“There will be discussions about underlying causes. I don’t agree with Cameron when he says it is simple. It is not. It is very complex,” Harriet Harman, a leading member of the opposition Labour party, said on BBC’s Newsnight. “Harriet, do you think there are people breaking into Currys [electrical stores] to steal plasma TV screens and breaking into Foot Locker [sports stores] to steal box-fresh trainers who are protesting against tuition fees,” retorted Michael Gove, Conservative education secretary.

Ordinary Londoners, sometimes rallied by the same social media used by rioters to congregate en masse, have started to clean up and protect their neighbourhoods.

A crowd of about 1,500 mostly British Bangladeshis and Somalis gathered outside the East London Mosque after a mob gathered to loot shops in the area on Monday night. “There’s a real sense of community here, especially during Ramadan when people are supposed to look out for each other,” Abdul Jalil, a local shop manager, told The Independent newspaper.

Sikhs in Southall, west London, and Turks in Dalston, north London, were also out on the streets to protect their shops and property.

There were warnings against vigilantism however, as members of far-right, anti-immigrant groups such as the English Defence League also assembled, ostensibly in defence against looters. Mr Johnson said while people were entitled to defend their neighbourhoods, he was against the participation of groups that targeted other communities.


As Riots Expand, London Asks, “How Could This Happen?

London woke this morning to the news that the city had been spared for the most part from a fourth night of riots and looting, but that the troubles had spread across England to Manchester Birmingham, Nottingham, and—for Pete’s sake—the cathedral city of Gloucester. Four people have lost their lives and hundreds have been injured. The damage has yet to be assessed, but it is already clear that the riots, which were sparked by the shooting of a suspect by police in North London last week, have delivered a deep psychic shock to the nation that will host the Olympics next year.

Like everyone I know, I find it hard to explain why this sudden catastrophic breakdown happened. Crime figures have been on a steady downward trend for the last 15 years, and on the whole, people of widely different backgrounds seem to rub along pretty well in Britain’s big conurbations. If I had been asked to write about Britain for a foreign audience last week, I would have stressed, among other things, the nation’s basic values of tolerance, liberty, and justice, its fair record of integration, as well as a healthy national discourse. Yes, we had social problems with teenage gangs and a hopeless underclass, but nothing that led you to believe we were on the edge of this kind of mayhem.

On Monday, my local corner shop, run by a Sri Lankan man I have known for years, was looted. This became the rule rather than the exception that evening. The two-starred Michelin restaurant—the Ledbury, in Notting Hill—which is a few hundred yards from my home, was attacked by masked and hooded rioters with baseball bats. They told diners to get on the floor and hand over wallets, wedding rings, and phones. Halfway through the raid, the kitchen staff, led by the Australian chef Brett Graham, repelled the raiders with knives, rolling pins, and anything else that came to hand.

Londoners are no longer taking this lying down. In North London, Turkish and Indian shopkeepers formed a defensive line against the looters. In Clapham, South London, homeowners organized to protect their houses from the riot that ripped through the shopping district near Clapham Junction train station. And in Ealing, in West London, hundreds answered a call on Twitter (#riotcleanup) to clean up the mess left on Tuesday morning. In the absence of police, vigilante groups have sprung up and people are making citizen’s arrests, like the presenter of television history shows, Dan Snow, who tackled and sat on a looter in Notting Hill until the police took him away.

These signs are mildly encouraging, but I found myself staring at today’s newspapers profoundly shocked and completely lost for an explanation. How could this happen in our country? Where did the aggression and reckless disregard for people’s safety come from? And how the hell did the politicians and police let one local disturbance spread across the country?

A procession of sociologists, crime specialists, police officers, politicians, and commentators has appeared on the BBC shows Today and Newsnight, but they are struggling to make sense of it all. They repeat their particular obsessions about the lack of values, unemployment, or the government’s austerity measures, but eventually they all run out of words. They are silenced: we all are, because the events of the last five days confound the usual formulae.

You see, we thought we knew and understood our society, but it turns out that Britain has been seething with envy and has produced a heartlessness that are both really tough to acknowledge. As BBC TV news showed CCTV pictures of a young man, who had been injured in the face, being robbed by two larger men pretending to help him, I thought of the delinquent gangs in Anthony Burgess’s dystopian novel A Clockwork Orange, a book I always thought was a little far-fetched. Looking at the kids on the street and hearing what they had to say from behind their masks to the TV cameras, I realized that his vision may, if anything, have underplayed the neuropathic lacks of reason and feeling.

The really worrying point is this—it wasn’t just the un-lettered, unemployable members of the underclass who rioted this week. Among those who made court appearances yesterday were a university graduate, an army recruit, a graphic designer, a youth worker, and a forklift driver, all of them with either a job or prospects. I have no idea why these people rioted and looted, and I am not sure they will fully understand their actions, either, but I do know that if it can happen here, it can happen in other countries too. Envy is globalized. All that is necessary for a rampage to be coordinated on Twitter, or by Blackberry’s BBM messaging service, is for an angry group of people on the street to test authority and find it wanting. Perhaps it is not more complicated than this—the British rioted because they could.



Labour targets police cuts after riots

The opposition is focusing its criticisms of the government on plans to cut police budgets by 20%, after four nights of violence across England.

Ministerial sources have admitted that plans to slash spending on policing need rethinking, the Guardian reported.

One senior coalition figure told the newspaper: “It is manifestly the case that we need police numbers and effective deployment of officers that generates public confidence.

“There is still a vital need for reform and chief constables cannot wriggle off their responsibilities on spending effectively.”

Downing Street and the Home Office are continuing to deny any plans to reverse cuts to police budgets, however.

“It’s time the government realised the dangers of their cuts and re-opened the police spending review immediately,” shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said.

“The public need reassurance that the police have the resources and officers they need to keep the streets safe and maintain law and order not only now but through the summer and beyond.

“The scale of government cuts is making it harder for the police to do their jobs and keep us safe. The police need our support and our government should be first to provide it.”

Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg refused to acknowledge that the riots meant the government had to change course on its deficit reduction agenda, however.

“Of course this is a massive challenge and it is incredibly unsettling for people,” he told the Today programme.

“But… I don’t think it actually would help any of us if what we do in reaction to that is say, ‘OK, we’re going to stop the difficult job that we’re doing as a country and as a government to wipe the slate clean for future generations’.

“That isn’t a recipe of success for the long term, and what we’re trying to do as a government is, yes, take difficult decisions today for the long term benefit of future generations in years to come.”

Labour’s decision to focus its political attack on police cuts is a change of tone from the less successful approach trialled by the party’s deputy leader, Harriet Harman, on Newsnight earlier this week.

She claimed that the riots took place because politicians are “out of touch”, prompting education secretary Michael Gove to accuse her of “speaking out of both sides of her mouth”.


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