Reaction On The Streets In South London

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Police in London are bracing for another night of rioting. Parliament has been called back into session amid demands in some quarters for the army to be deployed. Major sporting events have been canceled as the riots and looting spread to provincial cities.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris. Sixteen thousand police are out on the streets of London tonight. They're hoping to suppress the violence that shaken the city for the past three nights, but it has spread. Looting and clashes with police have been reported in the cities of Birmingham and Manchester. Earlier today, Prime Minister David Cameron spoke outside 10 Downing Street.

DAVID CAMERON: And I have this very clear message to those people who are responsible for this wrongdoing and criminality: You will feel the full force of the law. And if you are old enough to commit these crimes, you are old enough to face the punishments.

NORRIS: NPR's Philip Reeves is in Clapham in South London, one of the many scenes of mass looting and vandalism. And, Phil, what can you see from where you are right now?

PHILIP REEVES: Well, it's very different to the scene last night where there were people helping themselves to shoes and to TV sets and to all sorts of other produce in the shops that are surrounding me. Today, it's very quiet here. There are police on the streets, and there are also groups of residents who are discussing what lay behind the violence and how the evening played out yesterday. And there are also workmen here repairing the broken windows, the many broken windows in the shops in this area.

NORRIS: Are people out on the streets? I mean, what is the mood there? Is there fear, apprehension? Are people trying their best to get back to normal?

REEVES: It's quite extraordinary. This is an August evening in London. It's a lovely day, and it's warm. And normally, this city, even in the worst of economic times, would have been enjoying itself. But tonight, it's almost like a curfew, not quite. There are a few cars moving around. But I drove - I came here by bicycle and went through one empty street after another, quite extraordinary really in the capital of a European country.

NORRIS: Throughout the day, there have been videos of groups of young people running through the streets, almost like - almost stampede-like, and police officers on standing to protect businesses and neighborhoods. Are there signs of further violence breaking out, strong police presence there where you are now?

REEVES: No. There is a quite significant police presence. The numbers on the streets of policemen have been greatly increased today, but it is quiet. There are, however, little tensions. I saw just a moment ago a heated debate between a local resident and the police. The resident was arguing that the police had failed to protect them. So underlying this quite calm atmosphere here this evening, there is a lot of anger.

NORRIS: Are people talking to you about - sharing their opinions with you about what's happened but even more importantly why it's happened? Why the violence has broken and spread throughout so many neighborhoods of London?

REEVES: The entire country is now locked in a heated debate about this. It's a debate that Britain is finding quite difficult to address because there are a significant number of people, especially on the right wing, who believe that the violence that took place was the work of what they call mindless criminals, and that to ascribe any motives to it is to justify it. However, there are plenty of people who are looking for deeper reasons. This was a very, very large outburst of civil unrest.

And the contours are beginning to emerge of a kind of a subculture, a group that doesn't accept the values of the community in which it lives, which reinforces itself using high-technology, mobile phones and the Internet and so on, and which has been mobilized in the last few days to create the mayhem that we've all witnessed.

NORRIS: I don't have much time, but the prime minister warned about penalties. What was he specifically talking about?

REEVES: The government is taking a very uncompromising line here. We don't know exactly how it will play out. One of the things that's emerging is that the people - well, many of the people who - the masked youth that have been rampaging around are very young, and so we don't know exactly what punishment he has in mind at this stage.

NORRIS: All right. That's NPR's Philip Reeves speaking to us from London. Philip, thank you very much.

REEVES: You're welcome.

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