London — Police forces in major British cities are closely studying the way in which community and police leaders in Brixton last week headed off street violence before it had a chance to spread, Monitor contributer Alexander MacLeod reports.
Last year Brixton erupted in savage violence with racial overtones. The part played by police in coping with the rioting was afterward heavily criticized.
Again, last week, the London suburb's chief trouble area, where many black and Asian people live, was the scene of potential trouble. Three derelict houses were being used by drug-takers, but police hesitated to let a slum clearance scheme go ahead there in case rioting recurred.
Black and white community leaders with a common interest in having the drug-centers removed got together. They asked the local council to act and requested the police to prepare for forced closure of the houses.
On Nov. 1, with police hovering in the background, council bulldozers moved in and flattened the houses at dawn. By that evening 50 or 60 angry young people assembled, threatening violent reprisals against the police. But Scotland Yard's newly formed quick reaction groups of riot police swiftly moved in, made three arrests, and dealt with the trouble before it spread - to local residents' relief.
Last year no such rapid action was possible. Nor was there a community consensus within which council and police could operate.