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. The spreading disorder was an unwelcome warning of the possibility of violence for leaders organizing the 2012 Summer Olympics in less than a year.
The International Olympic Committee insisted it had confidence in British authorities. “Security at the Olympic Games is a top priority for the IOC,” spokesman Mark Adams said. Dozens of people attacked shops in Birmingham’s main retail district, and clashed with police in Liverpool and Bristol.
Armoured vehicles have been brought in to clear the streets of London for the first time by police to tackle what senior officers say is the worst rioting and looting in living memory.
More than 6,000 officers – including 2,500 mostly public order-trained officers and 3,500 local officers – were on duty as violence spread from north, to east, west and south London on Monday night. Fires burned in Croydon, Clapham Junction and Hackney and there were disturbances outside the capital in Liverpool, Birmingham and Bristol.
Armoured vehicles – known as Jankels – were brought in during the early hours of Tuesday morning in Clapham Junction where much of the worst looting and arson took place. The vehicles were driven on to Lavender Hill to push back a crowd of 150 looters who had smashed up Debenhams and other stores and businesses in the area. Jankels were also out in Hackney.
In London’s Hackney, hundreds of youths left a trail of burning trash and shattered glass. Looters ransacked a small convenience store, filling plastic shopping bags with alcohol, cigarettes, candy and toilet paper.
“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.
Police in Birmingham, 120 miles (195 kilometers) north of London, confirmed that officers had arrested 35 people amid disorder across the city center, where shops were being vandalized. In Bristol, police urged residents to avoid the city center after 150 rioters went on the rampage.
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 Tuesday, though it will likely be several months before a full hearing is convened.
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 after high-profile cases of racism in recent decades.
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, and media reports said a bullet had been found in an officer’s radio. However, the Guardian newspaper reported that the bullet in the 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 escalating 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.
Police urged communities to help clear the streets of people, and called on families to contact their children and ensure that they were not involved in the chaos. An 11-year-old boy was charged with burglary by police, and at least 100 of those arrested were aged 21 or younger. About 35 police officers had been injured in the violence, police said.
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.
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 people caught up in the unrest 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.
Prime Minister David Cameron cut short his summer vacation in Italy, rushing home for a meeting of the national crisis committee on Tuesday morning. The Prime Minister described the images of violence in London and elsewhere as “sickening scenes”. He praised the bravery of the police but seemed to tacitly criticize them by calling for “even more robust action”.
He promised that the police and the government were “on the side of law abiding people who are appalled by what they have seen in their own communities”. Mr Cameron announced that Parliament would be recalled on Thursday so we “can stand together in condemnation of these crimes and in determination to rebuild these communities.” [via Huffpost and The Guardian]