For a third day, rioting continued in London, spreading from poorer sections of the city to at least eight new districts, including the more upscale sections of Notting Hill and Camden. Riots also occurred in other cities including Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds.The riots have raised questions about whether austerity measures, especially deep cuts to social programs, approved by Prime Minister David Cameron’s government can be sustained. Under the measures, 30 billion pounds ($46 billion) are to be cut each year to reduce Britain’s 11 percent deficit to 2.1 by 2015.
Cameron cut short his family holiday in Tuscany and returned home to Britain on Monday night to attend a Cobra meeting with Home Secretary Theresa May and Acting Metropolitan Police Commissioner Tim Godwin on Tuesday. Cobra standing for “cabinet office briefing room A” — a room used for crisis meetings.
Police have arrested at least 334 and charged 69 in the rioting, says the BBC. An extra 1,700 police officers were sent throughout London, with more brought in from other parts of the country. There are reports that “gangs of hooded young people” have been using social media tools including Facebook, Twitter and Blackberry instant messaging to communicate with each other, says the New York Times.
The rioting began on Saturday night in the Tottenham district at a peaceful protest outside a police station following the death of 29-year-old Mark Duggan, who was shot by police last week. Duggan lived in the Broadwater Farms housing project where, in 1985, similar unrest occurred mostly among black youths clashing with police. The Guardian reports that, on Monday, Deputy assistant commissioner Stephen Kavanagh said that London’s Metropolitan police could have kept Duggan’s family better informed after he was shot last Thursday. Duggan’s death is now being investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
The scope of the violence takes one’s breath away and makes one wonder, what happened that things have gotten to this point?
Residents of two areas, Clapham Junction and Croydon, have been told to evacuate their homes, says the Telegraph. Shop windows have been broken and cars are on fire. People are described as pushing away shopping carts full of electronic devices and sneakers. Supermarkets and stores selling phones, clothes, a Body Shop, an H & M, are being looted; it is thought that many of the goods will be resold as soon as possible on the black market. A business belonging to Trevor Reeves’ family for five generations has been “completely trashed” as was a florist owned by a local family. Fires are reported in neighborhoods and at a sofa factory in Croydon, a Sony warehouse in, Enfield, a shopping center in Woolwich New Road, a timber yard in East Ham. In Birmingham, a police station was set on fire. Journalists described being beaten and having their phones stolen.
In the Guardian, Alexandra Topping writes that experts have said that “social exclusion” is the reason for the riots:
“Many of the people involved are likely to have been from low-income, high-unemployment estates, and many, if not most, do not have much of a legitimate future,” said criminologist and youth culture expert Professor John Pitts.
Unlike most people, some of those looting had no stake in conformity, he said. “Those things that normally constrain people are not there. Much of this was opportunism but in the middle of it there is a social question to be asked about young people with nothing to lose.”
Home Secretary Theresa May, who also cut short her vacation, said that social deprivation was “no defense”:
“There is no excuse for violence, no excuse for looting, no excuse for thuggery, and those who are responsible must know that they will be brought to justice. I think this is about sheer criminality.”
But says the New York Times, the riots have raised
…new questions about the political sustainability of the Cameron government’s spending cuts, particularly the deep cutbacks in social programs. These have hit the country’s poor especially hard, including large numbers of the minority youths who have been at the forefront of the unrest.
Among the programs cut are funding for individuals with disabilities and at least half a million public sector jobs are to be eliminated. Fees at universities have also been drastically raised and last year saw huge protests of students who also clashed with police though not with the level of violence going on for the past few days.
Further headaches lie ahead for Cameron and his government. London is scheduled to be the site of the 2012 Olympics; $15 billion in new stadiums and an athletes’ village are to be located just miles from where the riots started in Tottenham.
In the wake of the violence, Metropolitan Police also face questions about their ability to secure the Olympics. The police have come under heavy fire for their response to the riots, with accusations of not acting quickly enough to stop them and of letting the looting go on while they focused on stopping more violence elsewhere. The police had already faced criticism for “mishandling” protests about the austerity cuts last winter and are still reeling from the phone hacking scandal, which has led to charges that officers took bribes from journalists and to the resignation of commissioner Sir Paul Stephens and of assistant commissioner John Yates.
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