Community in shock over ‘lack of humanity’


britishpoliceDISTURBANCES: DUDLEY ROAD in Winson Green, Birmingham, resembles many streets in Britain where ethnic minorities have settled.

It stretches for miles from just outside the city centre through traditional working-class areas, the type of place where generations of immigrants from the Indian sub-continent and the Caribbean have settled in search of cheap housing.

Here you can buy goat’s meat, yams and yam flour, braids, phonecards, and wire money to your relatives through Western Union.

A Jamaican food store sits alongside an Asian newsagents, an Afro-hair style salon next door to a Punjab Kebab house. Each one of these shops tells the story of an immigrant family working all hours to get ahead.

There is a mosque distinguishable only by a handwritten sign about Koran lessons and next door but one is the Afro Caribbean Millennium Centre.

When rioters descended on Dudley Road on Tuesday night, they made no distinction about where they looted.

After they trashed the local garage, breaking its windows, a group of local men had had enough and stood sentinel outside the premises where they could keep watch on both ends of the street.

At about 1.30am on Wednesday a BMW car driven at reckless speed down this narrowest of streets, mounted the pavement. It killed Haroon Jahan (21) and brothers Shazad Ali (30) and Abdul Musavir (31) who ran a local car-wash.

It marked the moment when the madness that enveloped parts of Britain since last Saturday took an even more dangerous turn, and led to the intervention of Haroon Jahan’s father Tariq who appealed to the common humanity of all communities to stop the violence.

It was an intervention described by Chris Sims, the chief constable of West Midlands police, as “so heartfelt, so spontaneous and generous” that it gave anybody bent on revenge pause for thought.

Yesterday the two lamp posts outside the garage were festooned with flowers in honour of the three men who died. “I’m sorry for the lack of humanity,” read one message.

On Wednesday night locals organised a peaceful prayer vigil in the garage. Organiser Harpreet Singh said the demonstration showed a different side to the Asian community so often portrayed in the media.

“Sikhs and Muslims have a notorious reputation for being about extremism or terrorism. You saw all the Muslims here, a gathering of 500, and there was not one stone thrown, not one,” said Singh who is a Sikh.

To date, four men have been arrested in connection with the murder of the three men. One, a 32-year-old man, was released on bail yesterday pending further inquiries. The other three are still being questioned.

The police have been careful not to release the ethnic identity of the driver of the car for fear of causing racial tensions, but locals say he was black. In the same breath they say it will not harm community relations where blacks and Asians live in harmony.

Local police have arrested more than 300 suspects across the city and the courts have been sitting through the night to deal with the looters.

There has been much soul searching across Birmingham as there has been across the country over the causes of the disturbances.

Birmingham has reinvented itself after a painful deindustrialisation. The monstrous carbuncle that was the Bullring shopping centre has been replaced by a glass and chrome palace with its iconic Selfridges building.

It may be a symbol of renewal, but the area has chronic problems. The local paper talked of politicians ignoring 30 per cent youth unemployment, exacerbated by the recession and a “toxic cocktail of hatred and resentment”.

There may be reasons for what happened, but they don’t resonate with hard-working immigrant communities who despise the type of excuse-making that somehow seeks to exonerate those involved in disturbances.

Gerald Latouche, who arrived from the Caribbean island of Dominica 13 years ago, said black youngsters growing up in the UK had chances their relatives could only dream about.

“I joke that when I was growing up in the Caribbean I had to milk my goat for breakfast, but I know families for whom that was a reality. They went on to work at the UN, they work at the World Health Organisation, they go to university.

“I’m sorry, some of these people [rioters] need to wake up and do for themselves.”

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