London police step up street presence in bid to quell rioting
Looting, violence subside in city, spread elsewhere
LONDON - With 10,000 additional police officers deployed across London last night, looting and arson dipped sharply from the anarchic scenes that shook Britain over the previous three days, even as violence ticked up again in several other major cities, including Birmingham, Manchester, and Liverpool.
Hopes that the worst unrest in Britain in a generation had crested and begun to fall continued to weigh uneasily against fears that more robust police action might fail to put more than a temporary curb on the disorder. Sudden flare-ups continued in parts of London, with minor attacks reaching even into the upscale Knightsbridge shopping district, a major tourist draw.
With a decision not to call in the army, a step the government considered and dismissed yesterday, the police force appeared to be stretched near its limit by what amounted to a risky shell game, with forces outside London sending their crack antiriot units into the capital as reinforcements. One redeployed unit traveled from Manchester only hours before scores of youths stormed into that city’s center, setting fire to cars and buildings and looting shops.
Police in Manchester said they made at least 47 arrests, including one man on suspicion of using Facebook to incite disorder, according to Bloomberg News.
The situation posed a daunting challenge for Prime Minister David Cameron, who returned overnight Monday from a vacation in Italy to take charge of what appeared to have been a faltering government reaction to the mayhem. He flew into a storm of criticism, from residents of the neighborhoods hit by the rioting and from others across a wide political spectrum who said that he should have acted sooner to crack down on the unrest.
Cameron had hesitated for two days to abandon his break at a villa in Tuscany as the looting and arson spread across London, and then to other cities, from its start in the Tottenham area in northeast London after Mark Duggan, 29, who was said by the police to have been a local gang member, was shot and killed by an officer last week.
Yesterday, a police oversight body said that forensic tests had shown that both shots fired at the scene had come from a police officer’s submachine gun.
For the moment, though, the circumstances of Duggan’s death appeared to be remote from the forces driving the riots, at least in the assessment of many of those who are most familiar with the neighborhoods affected. Community organizers, neighborhood residents, and members of Parliament who represent the districts, including several who, like Duggan, were of Afro-Caribbean descent, have said, overwhelmingly, that his death, while the original trigger for violence, has had little to do with the looting and arson.
The theme was picked up yesterday by Ed Miliband, the Labor Party leader, who visited Peckham, one of the districts heavily damaged Monday night. “These people who have committed this violence do not speak for the people of Peckham,’’ he said. “And I don’t think they speak for the vast majority of people across this country.’’
Speaking in Downing Street before visiting the south London neighborhood of Croydon, where a large furniture store was burned down and other properties were damaged Monday night, Cameron took a hard line on the unrest.
“This is criminality, pure and simple, and it has to be confronted and defeated,’’ he said. “People should be in no doubt that we will do everything necessary to restore order to Britain’s streets.’’
In Croydon, he assured residents who criticized police protection for the neighborhood as inadequate during the attacks that “even more robust police action’’ would be ordered.
Other senior government officials encountered similar popular discontent as they toured heavily damaged parts of the capital. London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, who also rushed home from his vacation abroad, strode down the main street in Clapham hoisting a broom to manifest his support for a large crowd of residents who had formed themselves into a volunteer cleanup brigade. But some in the crowd confronted him, saying that the rioters had a free run of the area for hours, with no sign of police intervention.
The government is expected to face similar criticisms in an emergency session of Parliament tomorrow.
For the time being, the government has said it will not deploy the army into the streets of affected areas, nor adopt nighttime curfews, although it has hinted it might allow the use of plastic bullets by police if the unrest does not subside.