published Wednesday, August 10th, 2011

Rage and riots in London

Residents and police officials in London prepared for additional violence Tuesday following three nights of what police said was the worst rioting in the city in decades. The scope of the violence left some parts of the city in ruins. Local and national officials worked feverishly to end or to significantly reduce the widespread lawlessness.

A spokesman for the London Metropolitan Police said 16,000 officers -- some called in from other jurisdictions -- would be on the streets Tuesday night. That's more than double the number on duty Monday. The question, though, is whether the additional police presence and other measures will produce the desired result.

For three nights, the gangs of mostly young people who have taken to the streets have outmaneuvered the police. They used instant messages to report the movements of law enforcement officials. They directed their cohorts -- many traveling on bicycles and mopeds that could move more swiftly through urban streets than police vehicles -- to sites lightly protected or unprotected by police. Law enforcement officials expect more of the same.

The rioting, which began Saturday in n economically deprived area of London, spread quickly. Politicians and other officials say the violence is the work of criminals and other misfits. That claim is disputed by observers who say social, political and economic tensions are the root of the trouble.

There is some evidence to support that claim, though most who make it agree that peaceful not violent means should be used to address those problems. At the moment, though, those who espouse disorder have prevailed.

Prime Minister David Cameron cut short a vacation to return to London and called Parliament into emergency session to address the unrest. That's unlikely to help. Protesters, angered by budget cuts to public programs and the government's inability to create jobs and bolster a faltering economy, want policy changes that will address their concerns. Cameron and other politicians are unlikely to provide that in an emergency session or in the near future..

In the short-term, then, police officials have to consider other options. They apparently have discussed tear gas and water cannons, which have not been employed in Britain for years. They have talked about the use of plastic bullets that can knock a person down without damaging the skin. Widely employed in Northern Island, the bullets have never been used by police in Britain itself. The fact that their use has been discussed is an indication of the government's determination -- some would say desperation --to end the rioting.

Law and order likely will be restored in London sooner rather than later. Still, the riots are a powerful reminder that normally law-abiding people who feel disenfranchised because government places fiscal and political issues above human ones can develop an anger so palpable that it sometimes turns into violence. That's a valuable lesson that should be taken to heart by other nations where political expediency trumps equitable governance.

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