Alienated youth still harbours deep grudges

Aftermath of the riot: Condon blames trouble on small minority of thugs as police motorcyclist recalls terror of mob attack
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The gaping rift between the police and sections of the black community was fully exposed yesterday in the aftermath of the Brixton riots.

Sir Paul Condon, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, admitted that the street battles were a "setback" for police relations with the local community but insisted: "It wasn't Brixton that rioted, it was a small minority of thugs and criminals who as ever look for an opportunity to embark on criminal exercises."

Sir Paul said huge strides had been made since the 1981 Brixton riots in policing style, partnership, and co-operation with communities but he stressed: "We are not prepared to allow inner-city tension to be used to create no-go areas."

Nicholas Long, chairman of the Community Police Consultative Committee in the area, said: "I saw everything on the street between 6.30pm and almost 10pm, and I saw nothing which would cause me to doubt police action.

"They showed considerable restraint. I don't think you can make any comparison between 1981, 1985 or 1995. We are looking at a completely different set of circumstances, which relate to two unfortunate deaths in custody."

Sir Paul's belief that the rioting was confined to a small minority - no more than about 100 people - was supported by a number of black community leaders who have distanced themselves from the rioting.

There remains, however, a significant section of the community that genuinely believes it is being victimised by the police and that a series of deaths of black men in custody of has gone unpunished.

For the youth on the streets of Brixton in the aftermath of Wednesday ugly scenes of looting and violence, there was little doubt where the blame lay: the combustible mix had been simmering for years. The death of Wayne Douglas, 10 days ago, was the spark, heavy-handed riot policing had been the "turbo-charger", they said.

"Every black man around here thinks what happened to Wayne Douglas could have happened to him," said one youth. "Ever since PC Dunne [a community policeman shot dead in nearby Clapham], they have been taking their revenge on us. It was just a matter of time before this happened."

Many expressed regret for the damage done to shops in the area and Brixton's attempts to rehabilitate itself. "But if the police had just let people have a march when they wanted, if they didn't try to use heavy tactics, none of this would have happened," said another.

Michael Gordon, 37, co-ordinator of the 409 youth and community project in Brixton, said: "There is a sense of sadness that commercial shops and small businesses have been hit. We have made good strides in attracting big businesses like the Body Shop to this area.

"But I think there was a very real sense that what happened had been coming for a long time. I don't think the relationship between the youth in this area and the police has been damaged because I don't think there was a relationship."

Hubert James, director of Brixton community law centre, said: "The council has closed many of the resources for youth around here.

"The youth clubs are disappearing and often those facilities that are left aren't available to the black youths because they can't afford them. All they've got left to do is stand around on street corners."

As a result they came into conflict frequently with police. "I don't believe people should burn down businesses, but there is a lot of anger around here."

The Metropolitan's Police's recent Operation Eagle Eye street crime initiative helped fuel resentment after Sir Paul said that most muggers were black. Assistant Commissioner Paul Manning, who commands the south- west division which includes Brixton, said police would "redouble" their efforts to build trust with the community.