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William Underhill, thedailybeast.com / Aug 8, 2011 8:54 PM EDT.
Riot police walk along Clarence Road in Hackney on August 8, 2011 in London, England., Dan Istitene / Getty Images.
Prime Minister David Cameron rushes home as rioting escalates and violence spreads beyond the capital. The mayhem is mostly thuggery, but may reflect unresolved grievances against authority, says William Underhill.
Prime Minister David Cameron breaks off a holiday abroad to return home. So, too, does the mayor of London and the leader of the Labour opposition. The home secretary issues a call for community leaders to cooperate with the police, and the city’s police chief urges parents to check the whereabouts of their children. More than 200 people are arrested.
Something strange and disturbing is happening on the streets of London. For three successive nights rioters have brought mayhem to patches of the capital on a scale not seen for at least 25 years. Burnt-out cars and stores testify to a mood in the capital that’s turned ugly for reasons that commentators struggle to identify.
And the trouble shows little sign of subsiding. Last night saw violence flare in areas of the city, including quiet outer suburbs previously untouched by the trouble—despite a massive police presence. Cars were set ablaze and officers clashed with youths armed with steel bars and wooden planks.
Worse still, the violence and looting were no longer confined to London. Gangs of masked youths also were rampaging through the heart of Birmingham, England’s second-largest city, smashing windows and breaking into stores to steal.
The mystery is what lies behind the trouble. The immediate cause is clear enough: the fatal shooting by police Saturday night of 29-year-old Mark Duggan in Tottenham, a poor district of North London. In the aftermath of his death, a peaceful protest outside a neighborhood police station abruptly turned violent and soon spread to nearby streets.
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