"People should be in no doubt that we will do everything necessary to restore order to the streets and to make them safe for the law abiding," said Mr. Cameron after cutting short his holiday in Italy. "This is criminality pure and simple and it has to be confronted and defeated."
Cameron said he will chair an emergency committee aimed at halting the widespread violence and also announced that all police leave in the capital was canceled. But for many residents and business owners of affected neighborhoods, it's too little too late. As they take stock of the damage, they are wondering why police haven't done more to stop the rioters and are demanding a tougher response.
“This is absolutely disgusting what these kids are doing. Back in Jamaica, the police would not stand for it and would be hitting and shooting these thugs, and then throwing them into a prison cell with 20 others," says Sharon Brown, who works in Clapham Junction, south London, where rioters looted shops and torched a store. “We’re too soft on these kids and give them too many rights. My daughter’s 18 and I’d never let her out in this – so why are other parents?”
[ Video is no longer available. ]
How did the rioting start?
The violence of the past three nights was sparked by the police killing of suspected gangster Mark Duggan last Thursday in the back of a taxi in the racially mixed area of Tottenham, north London. His family disputes police accounts that he shot at officers. This morning, an inquest heard that he died from a single gunshot wound to the chest, but a police investigation into the shooting is not expected to report back for a number of months.
Since the first night of rioting in Tottenham on Saturday, the burning and looting has spread to cities such as Birmingham, Bristol, Nottingham, Liverpool, Oxford, and Reading. A young man who was shot in Croydon, south of London, died, becoming the first fatality of the riots.
It's also spreading through several London neighborhoods. But, arguably, it was unexpected violence in the predominantly white, middle class Clapham Junction that has worried a wider number of Londoners.
“I just didn’t expect trouble here and it was really frightening," says Erin Allen, originally from Los Angeles. “I’m not sure why the police are not dealing with them and letting these youths take things from shops. Back in L.A., the police would be a lot stronger.”
Fellow American Joseph Corcoran, a banker from Philadelphia, had to evacuate his two-bed apartment above a Subway food outlet around midnight after the neighboring Party Party costume store was set alight. He said: “I could smell smoke and decided to leave – it was pretty freaky. I’ve not been allowed back in yet and I stayed with my girlfriend overnight.”
Employees of the Party Party store now face an uncertain future.
“I’m really upset about what’s happened – these people are scum," says store worker Andy Hynes. "My boss has been up all night and is frantic, not knowing what’s going to happen. There’s 30 of us who work in that shop and what’s going to happen now?”
Photography shop owners Mick Jennar and Diane Wallace watched on TV with bated breath last night as the youths looted nearby shops. Mr Jennar said: “We’ve just spent £25,000 [$40,010] on a refit, so we could only watch and pray they didn’t touch the place.” Thankfully for him, they didn't.
Ms. Wallace added: “I’m still quite emotional about it all because we’ve also got a shop in Brixton [a working class neighborhood of South London also rocked by riots]. But despite it all, London’s a great place and I hung out a sign this window saying: ‘Try to smile, it’s a great city.’ ”
Outside, about 25 people showed up with dustpans and brushes to help clean up, but were not allowed through police lines. They were responding to a new website called riotcleanup.co.uk, which is calling on volunteers to help clear up affected areas.
There was no sign of volunteers in Brixton where trouble erupted on Sunday night, but anger at the violence and police reaction echoed that of Clapham Junction.
“It’s sad what’s happening," says Danny Haskell, a young local government employee. "This has got nothing to do with what happened in Tottenham and everything to do with people wanting to cause trouble and nick stuff. The police are just holding back and letting it happen.”
Calls for tougher police action
As many as 16,000 police officers are now said to be patrolling the streets of London to combat the serious trouble, which detectives say is being coordinated via cellphone texts and social-networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook. That is making intelligence-gathering difficult and leading to a largely cat-and-mouse situation where looters have moved on to a new target before police appear at the scene.
Shopkeepers, residents, and some MPs are now calling on the police to use more force against groups of mainly young rioters and looters, many of whom cover their faces with scarves and bandanas to avoid detection. The police indicated Tuesday that they would consider the use of nonlethal rubber or plastic bullets. "That's a tactic that will be used by the Metropolitan police if deemed necessary," Deputy Assistant Commissioner Stephen Kavanagh said.
Until now, police have operated a policy of containment rather than attacking the troublemakers, leading one MP today to claim that rioters were being "mollycoddled."
Conservative Party MP Patrick Mercer said they should consider using water cannons and plastic bullets to deal with the violence. Mr. Mercer, who served in Ireland as a senior Army officer, told the BBC: “In Northern Ireland just a few weeks ago, we had very serious riots, including the use of firearms, where water cannon and plastic rounds – potentially lethal weapons – were used without anyone batting an eyelid.
"They should have the tools available and they should use them if the commander on the ground thinks it's necessary. I don't think we have necessarily got to mollycoddle Englishmen, because we don't mollycoddle Irishmen."
[ Video is no longer available. ]