Spending cuts, police lay behind UK riot, locals say

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Sun Aug 7, 2011 2:53pm EDT

LONDON (Reuters) – Anger at high unemployment and cuts in public services, coupled with resentment of the police, contributed to an explosion of violence and looting in a deprived London neighborhood, residents said Sunday.


The riot in Tottenham, an area of sprawling north London that is home to many different ethnic groups, erupted on Saturday night after a street protest over the fatal shooting of a local man by police.

Rioters set police patrol cars, buildings and a double-decker bus on fire. Others took advantage of the police being occupied to loot a nearby retail park, smashing shop windows and hauling away televisions, computers and sports shoes.

Police sealed off the main road through Tottenham Sunday as they investigated violence that injured 26 officers. A burned-out car stood nearby and the street was littered with pieces of brick dug up from the street to use as missiles.

The area remained tense as residents gathered to gape at the destruction, some loudly venting grievances against the police and government.

Several said long-mounting frustration over the gloomy economic situation, which has led the government to slash many public services to rein in a big budget deficit, and anger at what some saw as unfair treatment of ethnic minorities by the police, had boiled over.

Unemployed local man Scott Allen said he feared similar violence might happen in other parts of London.

“Tension is building because of the coalition government’s cost-cutting measures. People in the poorer communities of London and around the country are going to feel victimized,” Allen, who said he was in his 40s, told Reuters.

The riot comes less than a year before London’s Metropolitan Police must shoulder the burden of policing the Olympic games. Allen said deprived areas such as Tottenham were not seeing benefits from billions of pounds spent on the Olympics.

“The last few weeks have all been about how the Olympics are going to … transform London and how we are going to have a massive legacy. Well, this is the legacy. The legacy is already here,” he said, motioning toward the damage caused by the riot.

Tottenham had been “massively” affected by steep spending cuts ordered by the 15-month-old coalition government to try to balance its books, he said. Youth services had been cut and unemployment had risen as public sector workers were laid off.

The riot follows several outbreaks of violence in London in the past year at political protests against the government’s austerity policies. A 26-year-old black man, who gave his name only as Jason, said the riot was a “cry for help.”

“I have no job, no prospects, no anything. Then they wonder why there’s crime,” he said, adding he had been unemployed since he left school.

“This is the ghetto, this is the slums, they don’t care about us. I’ve been stopped outside my house by the police for no reason. There’s no jobs … but still they want to cut benefits. We ain’t got no way to survive and it’s like no-one don’t care about us.

“There’s injustice and we’ve had enough,” he added.

A 28-year-old mother of two from nearby Enfield who gave her name as Diana X, said anger had been building among ethnic minorities for a long time because many felt police did not deal with them fairly.

“So many opportunities are being taken away from those who are working class and that tends to affect the ethnic minorities,” she said.

Looting was not justified but people were upset and saw it as a way to vent frustration on big organizations, she said.

At nearby Tottenham Hale retail park, stunned shopworkers arrived to find stores had been trashed and ransacked.

Windows or doors were smashed at electrical goods stores PC World and Currys, mobile phone shops O2 and Orange, catalog store Argos and sports clothing retailer JD Sports. Empty boxes from giant plasma TV screens and sports shoes littered the parking lot.

“They’ve taken almost everything. Whatever is left they’ve damaged,” JD Sports branch manager Saad Kamal, 27, said. “It’s a huge loss for us. It’s unbelievable,” he said.

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