Police reinforcements drove back an attack by more than 1,000 black and white youths on a Manchester police station this morning after a night of renewed violence that Chief Constable James Anderton called "guerrilla warfare" that was "close to anarchy."
It was the second night of widespread looting and attacks in Manchester, and the sixth consecutive day that the country has awakened to news of one or more serious disorders overnight in racially mixed, high-employment, older urban areas.
The nightly scenes of frenzied looting and burning, reducing blocks of buildings to fiery rubble, have begun to resemble the widespread rioting in black ghettos of American cities during the long, hot summers of the 1960s. At the same time, the fierce attacks on the dark blue lines of hastily massed police by swarming gangs of youths, some hooded with ski masks, look increasingly like the nightly battles with security forces in British-ruled Northern Ireland.
But to the shock of many British citizens, these riots are in major cities of England, which only recently began to witness such sights as middle-aged women carting loads from looted stores, pre-teen youths joining in assaults on the police with Molotov cocktails, missiles and every imaginable street weapon except guns, and the police answering with choking clouds of tear gas.
The rioting has spread contagiously from Southall in West London to Liverpool in northwest England to Wood Green in North London to Manchester, east of Liverpool. All this followed bloody battles between youths and police that destroyed parts of racially mixed Brixton in South London in mid-April.
In the worst of the violence in Liverpool earlier this week, several hundred people, the majority of them policemen, were injured and scores of buildings were looted and burned, including the city's historic, century-old Racquet Club and landmark Rialto Theater. A member of Parliament from Northern Ireland said the destruction in Liverpool was much greater than in any single night of violence in Ulster.
The disturbances in Liverpool gradually have subsided, but only after more than 1,000 policemen were put on the streets of the run-down portside Toxteth district where the troubles began.
For all their marked ferocity, the scale of the riots -- in damage caused, numbers of participants and size of areas affected -- has been comparatively smaller than riots during the 1960s in dozen of U.S. cities.
Yet it appears that this week's urban violence could prove to be an historical watershed for Britain in the way the ghetto riots and civil rights movement were for the United States.
Parliament and the media have been preoccupied with the disturbances and questions they raise about pressing problems of law enforcement, police-community relations, racial tensions youth unemployment, urban decay, rising crime and political extremism.
The debate is producing arguments about causes and cures like those explored by the Kerner Commission appointed by president Lyndon Johnson to investigate the riots in the 1960s. Its report has been taken off shelves and its conclusions and recommendations are being widely quoted.
In a two-hour nationally broadcast debate last night, former Cabinet minister Shirley Williams, now a leader of the new centrist Social Democractic Party, said, "I believe that the challenge that faces Britain is every bit as difficult and serious as that faced by the United States in the 1960s. "A very great deal depends on whether we have the imagination and the vision to respond in the way the U.S. did" with what she called "major programs to improve race relations, improve cities and fight poverty."
Despite the multiracial participation in much of the rioting this week, race relations has been a central issue in the debate. Vociferous opponents of nonwhite immigration to Britain, which now has largely been shut off by legislation, have pointed to their past predictions that explosions would occur in heavily nonwhite inner city areas. But black and Asian community leaders have blamed economic discrimination, white antagonism and neo-Nazi racist attacks for much of the trouble.
The rioting in the predominantly Asian area of Southall Friday night was touched off by busloads of white toughs called "skinheads" from East London, many of whom belong to neo-Nazi groups, who had gone to Southall for a rock performance in a pub and attacked Asian shops and shopkeepers.
The riots in Liverpool, Manchester and the Wood Green area, however, involved both black and white youths. Those neighborhoods, while run-down and noted for tense police-community relations, enjoyed relative racial harmony, large numbers of their residents have told reporters.
Incidents involving black youths started most of these distrubances, but whites soon joined in the attacks on police and were among the majority of the looters in many places. Police officials in these cities called the disturbances criminal rather than racial behavior that reflected the rapidly growing street crime rate in Britain's cities, for which young offenders are increasingly responsible, according to arrest statistics.
In recent months and years there also has been a noticeable increase in the incidence and virulence of violent "hoolignism" by white youths before, at and after soccer games and in seaside resorts on holidays, and by black youths at the popular neighborhood carnivals.
Many young people and some community leaders in the riot areas complained to reporters about heavyhanded police tactics in which young people, particularly blacks, are "harassed" by frequently being stopped, searched and questioned. Other community leaders said youths alienated from traditional British values see the police primarily as a symbol of the establishment and find excitement in fighting them.
Some of this violence, community leaders and police officials said, appeared to be "imitative" of the rioting in other cities seen on television. But many police officials also said they saw signs of orgaization in the rioters' timing, hit-and-run tactics and the preparation of Molotov cocktails. Anderton said his officers heard London accents among the youths they fought this morning and had evidence of troublemakers traveling there from London and Liverpool.
The police make an easier target in Britain than in the United States or many European countries because they still are largely unarmed. Except for reinforced traditional bobby helmets and plastic riot shields, they use none of the paramilitary equipment displayed by American SWAT teams, continental riot police or even their counterparts in Northern Ireland.
Deputy Prime Minister William Whitelaw has promised better protective helmets, shields and clothing for the police, but he and police officials said they wanted to keep British police, if possible, from becoming paramilitary forces. "We're going to try," said deputy assistant commissioner Peter Neivens of Scotland Yard, "but it's getting extremely difficult to retain the traditional image of the British bobby and still defend ourselves from such vicious attacks."
Policemen traditionally have perfomed their duties unarmed "by consent" in largely homogenous communities here, which tolerated and thrived on the beat bobb's genial but firm paternalism. This relationship has been eroded in British cities by radical social change, the apparent slowness of the police to respond sensitively and flexibly to the changes and the squeeze of steep economic decline and diminished societal expectations.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and supporters in her conservative government have emphasized the need for citizenship cooperation with stricter law enforcement to stop the violence. Whitelaw blamed a lack of parental control and suggested legislation making parents responsible for their children's crimes. Thatcher's Cabinet also is considering "riot act" legislation to make it a crime to be in the vicinity of a disturbance after a police warning is issued.
In a television broadcast last night, Thatcher said, "A free society will only survive if we, its citizens, obey the law and teach our children to do so. . . . Then we can put these terrible events behind us, repair the damage and begin to rebuild confidence."
Her political critics blamed. Thatcher's monetarist economic policies for Britain's worst recession since the 1930s and its accompanying postwar record unemployment rate of more than 11 percent of the labor force.
Although police have noted that a number of the rioters arrested so far either have jobs or are too young to be working, the unemployment rate in some riot areas is 50 percent or higher, particularly among young adults and blacks.
The Associated Press also reported:
Gangs of youths rioted in seven London districts and in the northern industrial city of Manchester Thursday night.
In London, the youths smashed shops windows, broke into shops and looted them, fought with each other, and threw bricks and bottles at the police.
The mobs dispersed whenever the police assembled in force carrying riot shields. Scotland Yard said more than 50 people were arrested and one police office was injured.
The worst violence was in woolwich, in southeast London, where 27 arrest were made. Other trouble districts were Stoke Newington, Tooting, Lewisham, Notting Hill, Fulham and Hammersmith.
In Manchester, a mob of youths attacked the police station in the Moss Side district, but police in newly issued steel riot helmets drove them off.
The station, badly damaged in an attack by more than 1,000 black and white youths Wednesday, was guarded by police sent in by bus from other parts of the city. As the youths moved in, squads darted forward to arrest a number of them. The charge fizzled out 20 yards from the entrance, and police with dogs cleared the area.