A walk through troubled Brixton, in search of answers
The underground train takes only a few minutes to rattle from Waterloo to Stockwell and on to the end of the Victoria line at Brixton, south London. By then almost all the faces in the carriage are black.Skip to next paragraph
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AT the top of the stairs is Brixton Station Road -- and the start of this correspondent's walk through Brixton, where he talked to residents about possible solutions to Britain's worst rioting since World War II. Here is his report.m
Standing with their backs to me are two members of the police force, in dark blue uniforms and distinctive helmets with silver badges, that black youngsters accuse of racial harassment of Brixton people.
I hesitate, checking street names. Two more police on foot patrol pass me from the right. Seconds later, a third pair comes from the left.
A week before, more than 1,000 police, almost all white, battled for hours April 10-12 against bricks, gasoline bombs, and thousands of young Brixton residents, both black and white. Some 143 police were injured, 285 people (mostly black) arrested and charged, nine buildings demolished, more than 100 looted, five burned out. Total damage: about L10 million ($24 million).
I turn left. Yellow signs announce Williams Furniture. The shop windows have all been smashed in and boarded up.
Another police patrol, always two men together. Two-story slums. Window after window boarded up.
It doesn't have the same feel as the streets of American cities after the race riots of the 1960s. No guns: Britain has gun control laws that, by and large, work.
Here it's not strictly "racial" confrontation, but young people, out of work, frustrated by recession, tempted by street crime, rebelling against the symbols of authority: the helmets, the lapel radios, the truncheons of the police.
It's economic and social as well as racial. By British standards of tolerance and stability, it is horrendous.
A year before, blacks rioted in Bristol. Social workers say more riots could come in other cities if relations between young people and police are not improved soon.
Only 0.4 percent of London police are black (117 men). West Indians make up 30 percent of the population of Brixton as a whole and a much higher proportion in the riot area.
In Birmingham, "community policing" puts older police on regular foot patrols in the same area, and involve them with the people through probation, housing, and social service work. Can it be done here?
West Indian youngsters (and whites as well) say young, just-out-of-training-school police constables overreact to abuse and tension. Police saturated Brixton between April 1 and April 10 to try to cut down on 50 to 60 street crimes (robberies, assaults) every week, the highest rate in the city.
They stopped 1,000 people for questioning. They arrested 150. The other 850 are still angry and humiliated.
Older Brixton residents attest to the crime rate.
Doris Smith is feeding bread to pigeons on the corner of Coldharbour Road. An old brown coat and hat try to keep out the wind. She worked for Woolworth's in the City for 30 years before retiring. She is white and she has lived in Brixton for more than 20 years.