Law determined to keep order

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The Independent Online
JThe streets of Brixton last night began to resemble those of a police state, with officers in heavy numbers publicly patrolling every corner, side street and main road.

As the temperatures plunged below freezing, and with snowflakes falling gently, there appeared to be more police than locals on the streets which shook with violence on Wednesday night. Even normally busy pubs like the Prince of Wales, opposite Lambeth Town Hall, were only half full.

One group of police officers said: "We're here in numbers and openly showing it - but what do they expect? That we hide?" Indeed, around the back streets, off the main shopping area, which had several shops destroyed and looted, there was row upon row of police vehicles - filled with an army of officers, riot gear at the ready.

Officers from outside Lambeth, including PCs drafted in from Sussex, Essex and Kent, helped swell the back-up force.

The atmosphere on the streets was one of unease. Every police car or ambulance speeding down any Brixton street attracted significantly more attention than usual.

And every group of youths, innocently gathering outside McDonald's appeared to attract the nervous gaze of twitchy officers. Older black youths passing groups of police stopped to chat as they passed, exchanging "calm-after- the-war" banter.

The received wisdom was that if trouble was to flare again it would not be on this night - but perhaps next week, when more demonstrations in the area are scheduled.

When the town hall bells chimed 10pm - a time when rioting and violent confrontation had already hit Brixton on Wednesday night - one officer called out to his colleagues: "Truce tonight, then?"

"Damn well hope so," came the wary reply.