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Britain Adopts Zero Tolerance

Shira Yehudit Djilimand

Britain is considering a number of extraordinary measures in the aftermath of what some are claiming to be the worst riots in England’s history. One of them would make former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani proud.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Calling the recent riots a “turning point in British history,” Prime Minister David Cameron has reached across the Atlantic, tapping Bill Bratton — America’s “super-cop” — to advise him on how to prevent future outbreaks of street violence from permanently marring England’s image as a pleasant, law-abiding society.

With billions of pounds in revenue riding on London hosting next year’s Olympic Games, Bratton, who reformed police forces in both Los Angeles and New York, has his work cut out for him.

The catalyst for the riots was the death of 29-year-old Mark Duggan, a black youth in Tottenham, North London, shot by police when they pulled over his minicab to carry out an arrest as part of a preplanned operation. Initial reports indicated that Duggan fired at police first, but those reports have since been discounted.

Although the Duggan shooting may have served as the pretext for the initial riots, the “copycat” riots that sprang up nationwide appeared to be fueled by an indiscriminate, unfocused rage unrelated to Duggan. The riots showed the world that violence and rage are simmering just below the surface in England, that it doesn’t take much to set those forces loose, and that once violence rages, law enforcement officials have trouble containing it.

British citizens reeled in shock as gangs of looters roamed the streets robbing and burning everything in sight, leaving damage estimated at over $300 million and at least three dead. The riots, which began in London, spread to Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, Nottingham, and Leicester. More than 1,000 arrests were made, and courts had to sit through the night to deal with the charges. Although order has been restored, public confidence in law enforcement and the government has been badly shaken.

Some commentators contend an underlying cause for the riots was the deep dissatisfaction in society following the government’s decision to impose an austerity program that includes deep cuts to the nation’s social welfare system, although many dispute such claims.

“It’s very easy for people to blame their behavior on all kinds of issues, to complain about being marginalized in society, etc. I’m sorry, it doesn’t resonate with me. These riots are just downright lawlessness,” said Nava Kestenbaum, director of Interlink, a Jewish aid organization in Manchester, where the riots came very close to Jewish neighborhoods.

Skeptics also reject the notion that the rioters were influenced by the current “Arab Spring” revolutions, hoping to achieve a similar social turnabout.

“This is the opposite of the Arab riots, where at least some of the protests were done in an orderly manner, and it was the government who reacted with violence,” said Rabbi Yehuda Brodie, registrar of Manchester’s beis din. “This was no demonstration. There were no placards, no causes — just wanton violence.”


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