London Endures A Third Night Of Riots, Violence; Cameron Cuts Vacation Short

Aug 8, 2011

Cars and buildings were burning and stores were looted in areas across London Monday, on the third night of riots and violence in the British capital. "Area is an absolute war zone," pub manager Alan McCabe told the BBC in Croydon.

Prime Minister David Cameron is returning early from his summer vacation to help get the riots under control. He will meet with police and Home Office officials Tuesday, part of his "COBRA" emergency response team. The group takes its name from the Cabinet Office Briefing Room in which it meets.

So far, more than 200 people have been arrested in the unrest. Reuters reports:

Home Secretary Theresa May, who cut short her holiday to take charge of the government response to the riots, said arrests had climbed to 215 and 27 people had been charged.

"The violence we've seen, the looting we've seen, the thuggery we've seen, this is sheer criminality . . . These people will be brought to justice. They will be made to face the consequences of their actions," she said.

The mayhem has so far been centred mainly in multi-ethnic, poorer parts of London, only a few miles from the Olympic park that will welcome millions of visitors in less than a year.

The riots first erupted in Tottenham, northern London, Saturday, after a march supporting the family of Mark Duggan, 29, who had been fatally shot by police Thursday.

Since then, the unrest has spread, apparently spurred by anger over the high cost of living. And the riots appear to have been fueled, at least in part, by young men who are coordinating their activities on smartphones.

The Blackberry has emerged as a main suspect in that regard — a recent study said that the phones were most popular with teens, who enjoy the free, and fast, Blackberry Messenger. And as the Guardian reports, messages sent on the service are untraceable by police.

The BBC's Alex Kroeger reported from the scene in London's Mare Street:

"I was talking to one young man who had received on his BlackBerry a list of places where he said there will be further trouble tonight. He didn't tell me which places and stressed it is speculation. But he and a friend told me frustration with poverty in the area was boiling over."

Another young man has caused something of a stir — and perhaps booked a future date with police — by posting a photo on Facebook of himself, smiling, with a "haul" of seemingly looted items.

The Guardian said that riot police were routinely being targeted amid the violence:

In a more serious incident, a police officer in a solitary parked vehicle was attacked. His car windscreen was entirely smashed as a young man scaled the roof and pounded it with a brick. Surrounded and unable to see out of his window, the officer drove his smashed car through the crowd, and a hail of stones and bottles.

Bystanders cheered. "I've been wanting to see us do this to the Feds for years," said one man, in this thirties.

Around 8.45pm, the crowds dissipated. Hundreds were chased across Hackney Downs park by mounted police.

An article in the International Business Times explores how the riots came about, and ponders whether race played a role — Duggan was black, and police had sought his arrest as part of an inquiry into gun violence in London's black community.

"Moreover Tottenham has high unemployment rates and a history of racial tensions," the article states, "especially among the Afro-Caribbean population resenting police behavior, including the use of stop and search powers."

Other reports have suggested that Scotland Yard's invocation of "special powers" — trying to control the riot in its early stages by giving officers more freedom to stop passersby and search them — was seen by some as a form of racial profiling.

On Monday, Metropolitan Police deputy assistant commissioner Stephen Kavanagh apologized to Duggan's family, most especially for not being in contact with the family after his death. The police, Kavanagh told the BBC, "could have managed that family's needs more effectively."

And as the Times Leader reports, some Tottenham residents say the riots have little to do with Duggan's death:

"It's nothing to do with the man who was shot, is it?" said 37-year-old Marcia Simmons, who has lived in the diverse and gritty north London neighborhood all her life.

"A lot of youths ... heard there was a protest and joined in. Others used it as an opportunity to kit themselves out, didn't they, with shoes and T-shirts and everything."

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