London: Vigilantes Warned Off – Cops Restore Relative Calm On Streets

11 Aug

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Video: Violence Quelled As Cops Warn Off Vigilantes 

A massive police presence has succeeded in preventing a fifth night of rioting – and appears to have brought an end to the worst of the disorder.

The only unrest in London on Wednesday night was confined to Eltham in the southeast of the city. Ironically, it was an apparent attempt at community protection which ended in a confrontation with the police.

Around 100 local men in Eltham took to the streets, warning that they were willing to confront anyone planning to riot in the borough.

When challenged by the police and asked to go home, officers were pelted with bottles and cans. After a tense two-hour stand-off, the group eventually dispersed.

Police in Lewisham, also in southeast London, escorted a group of about 50 black youths who said they were on a “peaceful protest against the English Defence League“.

There was no violence among that group, which was outnumbered by police.

Senior officers told Sky News they had sufficient resources to prevent further trouble, and around 30 police forces have sent officers to reinforce their Metropolitan Police colleagues.

Officers are warning local residents not to take matters into their own hands, to leave the policing of the streets to them, and most people are willing to heed that advice – for now at least.

But when police numbers inevitably begin to reduce, if trouble flares again, the vigilantes will be back – and it is premature to suggest that things in the capital have returned to normal.

The sight of thousands of police on the streets is certainly not normal, nor is the image of whole streets shuttered-up, shops closed early for fear of violence.

A woman paints a message on a boarded up shop in Ealing, west London

Groups of worried residents gathering on street corners is another indication that things are still far from normal.

Senior police commanders, though, have a growing sense of hope that we may have turned a corner, but they are not complacent.

This weekend, a week on from the start of the riots, could prove challenging.

For the moment at least, the huge policing effort will remain in place. But no one is trying to pretend that such an intensive operation can be sustained over the long term.

The short-term strategy is to continue with a robust and well-resourced police presence.

The long-term hope seems to be that this short-term strategy will provide enough time to take the sting out of the current situation, to allow tempers to cool and convince those taking part in disorder that the consequences for their actions will be severe.

NEWS UPDATE:

In this combo image of undated photographs provided by family on Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2011, from left, Haroon Jahan, Shazad Ali and Abdul Musavir who were killed when a car crashed into them on Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2011, as they protected their community from looters in Birmingham, England. British police launched a murder investigation into the deaths of three men hit by a car in Birmingham on Tuesday, Aug. 9 who residents said were members of Birmingham's South Asian communities who had been patrolling their neighborhood to keep it safe from looters. (AP Photo/PA) UNITED KINGDOM OUT, NO SALES, NO ARCHIVE

In this combo image of undated photographs provided by family on Wednesday, Aug. …

BIRMINGHAM, England (AP) — With police nowhere to be seen, the Muslims of Dudley Road armed themselves with bricks and stones, clubs and cricket bats to fend off carloads of marauding gangs.

Their vigilante stand in Birmingham’s west end saved a humble row of family-run shops and a red-brick mosque from the looters’ grasp — but at a terrible cost.

A carload of rioters sped into a fleeing crowd of shop defenders, witnesses said, hurling three young men into the air and killing amateur boxer Haroon Jahan, 21, and brothers Shazzad Ali, 30, and Abdul Musavir, 31.

“We all had stones in our hands. But we had no defense to stop a car. They revved their engines and drove right at us as fast as they could,” Mohammed Ibrahim, 23, told The Associated Press. “These black men deliberately tried to kill us all.”

Wednesday’s 1 a.m. slaughter has laid bare racial tensions underlying this week’s riots in Birmingham, Britain’s second-largest city and its most ethnically diverse. A fifth of the city’s 1 million “Brummies” are Muslims, most commonly of Pakistani origin. About 7 percent are black, mostly Caribbean, in background.

While the riots that have swept England this week have involved looters of every creed and hue, the street anarchy also sometimes has exposed the racial fault lines that run beneath the poorest urban quarters.

Resident after resident of Dudley Road and its surrounding Winson Green district commented pointedly to The AP that the attackers were black and accused them of targeting Muslim shops.

The passions echo streetfights from previous years, such as in 2005, when a neighboring Birmingham district suffered two nights of violence between Caribbean and Asian gangs over unsubstantiated rumors that a gang of Pakistani men had raped a 14-year-old Jamaican girl. Two men were stabbed to death, firefighters faced machete-wielding mobs, and Muslim graves were desecrated during those clashes. The west side also suffered riots in 1981, 1985 and 1991 fueled by minority hatred of white police and black resentment of the Asians’ dominant position as shopkeepers.

“We’ll hunt down these black men, cut off their heads and feed them to our dogs,” said Amir Hawid, 20, who lives just a hundred yards (meters) from the killing scene and heard the screams of the crowd at the moment of impact.

As forensics specialists combed the bloodied, rock-strewn pavement for clues, hundreds of local Muslims and Sikhs — some wearing ceremonial daggers at their waists — packed into a community hall Wednesday to confront three white police commanders who had come seeking to calm tensions. Twice as many Muslims, many in robes and kufi caps, stood outside.

Speaker after speaker complained that they had pleaded by phone for police protection the previous night, when black gangs raided local markets and chased bar staff onto the roof of one pub, yet police failed to respond. Some argued that the police had warned them not to attempt to defend their own streets, yet had offered no alternative.

The three dead men “did nothing wrong! They died because they were doing the job of protecting our community. The job that you lot should have been doing!” one speaker shouted, jabbing an accusatory finger at the police panel.

Detective Superintendent Richard Baker, commander of the 60-strong police team hunting the killers, said they already had arrested the suspected driver and 11 others potentially linked to the shop attacks on Dudley Road. He pleaded for locals to overcome their antipathy to the police, give eyewitness statements and hand over amateur camera footage.

“I will deploy whatever it takes to get justice for this community,” Baker said above a din of muttered heckles and shouted accusations, dozens of men trying to speak at once.

Baker and the local commander, Superintendent Sean Russell, defended their force’s response to the killings — which Russell admitted he could see from the police control center on a closed-circuit surveillance camera — because gangs were attacking shops in the city center. That triggered angry cries that police cared more for protecting downtown shopping centers than Muslim communities.

Russell said it took officers 10 minutes to arrive; locals insisted it was a half-hour and the officers arrived in riot gear thinking the Muslim crowd might pose a threat. The officers said they had to be cautious.

Afterward, a chastened Baker said it had been the toughest community meeting of his life. In quiet one-to-one conversations, he offered his cell phone number to local residents and pleaded for them to find eyewitnesses.

“We really want to help you, but you need to help us too,” he told one man, who said he’d been afraid to speak up and express moderate views during the meeting.

And a local black resident, who didn’t want to be identified by name because of fears for his safety, pleaded outside with the departing Muslim crowd not to start targeting blacks in retaliation.

“Don’t take your anger out on everyone. Don’t keep saying it’s black, black, black, black. Don’t take this too far,” he declared, street preacher-style, after abusive comments were directed at him. “I’ve lived and worked here seven years alongside you. I don’t want to be afraid to walk down that street now. Don’t make me afraid, because I didn’t do it, man.”

The AP found several witnesses outside the hall, who like the dead men had taken up crude arms and manned the sidewalks in hopes of keeping the invaders at bay. None expressed confidence that the police would bring justice.

“We will avenge our brothers. This is a tight community, and someone in their group will brag about how they attacked the Muslims,” said Waseem Hussain, 24, who joined the defense of the shops.

Hussain said several carloads of would-be shop raiders began casing Dudley Road, driving cars up and down the road before midnight, as scores of locals were still in the mosque observing the night’s final Ramadan prayers.

He said one carload stopped at the local gas station and convenience store — which had been ransacked the night before and was now closed with metal shutters — and asked a few youths whether there was “anything new to rob.”

He said locals threw stones and bricks at the cars, whose occupants had their windows rolled down. The two sides traded verbal abuse as the cars repeatedly passed, Hussain estimating at least a dozen times. The Muslim crowd grew as prayers concluded around 12:30 a.m.

After the cars canvassed the crowd once again under a hail of rocks, Hussain said, one of the occupants shouted a threat at them: “Are you asking for it?”

Two of the cars did a U-turn at the top of the road, he said, and gunned their engines, shifting their gears rapidly as they reached a speed he estimated at 70 mph (110 kph).

“The first car cut extremely close to the crowd but didn’t hit anyone. We all were running for cover, but there were too many people and nowhere to go,” he said.

“Some people didn’t see the second car coming. It went deeper into the footpath (sidewalk) and struck these three men, all standing in the same spot,” he said. “They must have flown 20, 30 feet. One, Shazzad, was dead when he hit the ground. All of them were bloody and unconscious. They never had a chance.”

NEWS UPDATE:

 

A couple drink at a boarded up wine bar in Ealing, west London August 10, 2011. REUTERS/Toby Melville

A couple drink at a boarded up wine bar in Ealing, west London August 10, 2011. REUTERS/Toby …

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister David Cameron will face pressure Thursday to soften his austerity plans, toughen up policing and do more to help inner-city communities after days of riots and looting laid bare deep social tensions in a depressed economy.

With the public seething over the looting of anything from sweets to televisions, Cameron has so far dismissed the rioters as nothing more than opportunistic criminals and denied the unrest was linked to the knock-on effects of deep spending cuts.

But community leaders say inequality, cuts to public services and high youth unemployment are also probably to blame for some of the worst violence seen in Britain for decades.

As the clear up continues, the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government must find quick fixes to avoid further unrest while also addressing longer-term problems in what Cameron has called “broken Britain.”

“There are pockets of our society that are not just broken but frankly sick,” Cameron told reporters.

A surge in police numbers helped to calm streets in London and cities across England such as Manchester and Birmingham on Wednesday night, but four days of often unchecked disorder have embarrassed the authorities, leaving communities ransacked and exhausting emergency services.

Police arrested more than 1,000 people across England, filling cells and leaving courts working through the night to process hundreds of cases. Among those charged were a teaching assistant, an 11-year-old boy and a charity worker.

It is unclear whether the peace will hold, but trouble on Wednesday night was limited to the odd skirmish. Businessmen and residents had also come together to protect their areas.

“Blacks, Asians, whites – we all live in the same community – why do we have to kill one another?” said Tariq Jahan, whose son was one of three young Muslim men run over by a car and killed while apparently protecting property in the mayhem in Birmingham Tuesday night.

“Step forward if you want to lose your sons, otherwise calm down and go home, please,” he said.

As police investigate that incident and the many other crimes of the last few days, attention is now likely to turn to finding out why the riots and looting erupted and spread and why police were slow to tackle the violence.

PARLIAMENT RECALLED

Cameron has ordered a rare recall of parliament on Thursday from its summer recess to debate the unrest which flared first in north London after police shot dead an Afro-Caribbean man.

The opposition Labor party, eager for the government to take a less harsh approach to dealing with a record budget deficit, said cuts to police budgets had contributed to the escalation in violence.

“The scale of government cuts is making it harder for the police to do their jobs and keep us safe,” said Yvette Cooper, Labor’s home affairs spokeswoman.

Long-term tensions between police and youth, a dearth of opportunities for children from disadvantaged areas and visible inequalities where the wealthy often live just yards away from run-down city estates have also been highlighted.

Others have sided with Cameron, condemning the groups of youths as thrill-seeking thugs who are indicative of a breakdown in Britain’s social fabric and morals.

Tensions have been bubbling in Britain for some time, with the economy struggling to grow after an 18-month recession, one in five young people out of work and high inflation squeezing incomes and hitting the poor hardest.

Finance minister George Osborne will also address parliament Thursday amid growing concern that the widely publicized scenes of rioting could damage confidence in the economy and in London, one of the world’s biggest financial centers.

(Reporting by Matt Falloon, editing by Tim Pearce

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