Ahmad Tabit's family asks, 'Why?'

Behind the shattered, boarded-up front window of Martin and Kaye Opticians, an alarm bell rang endlessly, its cry for help unheeded. Two doors down Lodge Lane, a dress shop lay empty, mannequin dummies strewn behind the still-intact window in a tangle of artificial arms and legs.

Between the two stores, a stream of blacks and whites pushed into ahmad Tabit's grocery and stationery shop. It, too, was boarded up -- but not because the front window was broken.

"We stood guard for 10 hours through the night," said small, grim-faced Ahmad , a recent arrival from Yemen. his brothers-in-law Sam and Michael listened intently.

"We saved our shop. but we boarded it up anyway so that any gangs who want to riot again will think we have already been attacked, and they'll leave us alone."

Ahmad was one of many shopkeepers and residents along Lodge Lane reliving the rioting and saying what they thought ought to be done.

"vandalism," summed up Michael. Ahmed nodded. "We saw two whites on motor bikes, cruising up Lodge Lane, pointing at shops to be looted by the mob behind. They didn't smash pubs or social security offices. But they had a go at many others. Why?" he shrugged."It was an excuse to get something for nothing, to loot and steal without being caught."

Sam cut in. "It wasn't racial." This Toxteth area is, in fact, racially mixed. It is also poor and tough, near Liverpool's once-thriving but now-defunct docks, and on the edge of a notorious red light district.

The riots came as a shock to the large Tabit family, which immediately feared for Ahmad's wife and two tiny children who live on the premises. Michael caught a train from Sheffield where he is a welder and arrived Monday morning to help. Sam stood guard with Ahmad and three other family members through the night of July 5 and 6. He said police did not arrive until 5:30 a.m.

As we talked in the tiny shop, customers would join in. Outside, mechanical shovels loaded dump trucks with piles of rubble that had once been fish-and-chip shops, dressmakers, and drugstores.

It was all less tense than Detroit or other US cities with riots in the 1960 s. No firearms had been used. No one had been killed, even though some 220 police were injured and more than 100 arrests made.

But British people were deeply disturbed to see such rioting -- and to see eight- and nine-year-old children stealing TV sets and other consumer goods at 2 a.m. while fires lit up the night sky and police were temporarily outnumbered and ineffective.

"We stood outside the shop," said Ahmed, "and we choked on the smoke of the fire. We watched the mobs come up the lane toward us. Someone drove a car straight at us. It just stopped in time. Several times my Alsatian dog scared off youngsters. We recognized some of our regular customers. Why do they do it? They're ruining their own country," he shook his head.

Said Sam, "A Yemeni friend down the lane had spent L17,000 [$34,000] on new fittings for his grocery and toy shop. Now he's burned out. Insurance? None. Even before the riots, no insurance company would touch a shop in this area. The only hope is government compensation."

Michael added, "When enough police arrived, the rioting stopped. We want the police here -- not the young, poorly trained ones, but the good coppers. Water cannons would also be a good idea."

Ahmad said, "It is having no jobs that makes it all worse."

"Vandals, I tell you. the kids like to see things burn," Sam added.

A middle-aged white bus driver came in to buy newspapers. "They stoned my bus, so I refused to drive and went home to take care of my wife, he said. "I was frightened, I tell you."

A woman who worked across the lane sewing mini-skirts and corduroy trousers for the Jolly Fashion Company complained: "They smashed the whole place and I'm out of a job. What am I going to do?"

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