Londoners strike back with 'Operation Riot Clean-up'
Brooms raised defiantly in the air, Londoners began cleaning up their city Tuesday after a third night of riots, with a Twitter and Facebook campaign rallying people to the most damaged areas.
The online-driven clean-up campaign is partly a riposte to the way that social networking sites and BlackBerry messaging services have been used by rioters to organise the violence in the British capital.
In Clapham Junction, a relatively affluent area of south London, more than 200 people gathered at a police cordon waiting to be allowed access to a street full of burned-out terraced buildings and smashed glass.
"We all live in this community and we wanted to show the world that we respect it," said James Hossack, a 38-year-old consultant, who took the day off work to help.
Cheska Moon, 37, an actor from Clapham, said a friend had told her about the Clean Up London, (@Riotcleanup) campaign on the microblogging site Twitter.
The account had 70,223 followers on Twitter by mid-afternoon on Tuesday, as it instructed people to congregate to remove the glass and bricks strewn across the streets of the city.
"We really wanted to do something to help. It's just disgusting," Moon said.
Amid a party atmosphere in the area nicknamed "Nappy Valley" because of the preponderance of young middle class families, volunteers brought their own brooms and bin-bags to help with the clean-up.
Organisers handed out brand new brushes to those who had come unprepared.
There were cheers as a police car drove through the cordon, even though the volunteers had to wait for more than four hours for officers to allow them through to what they had deemed a "crime scene".
When they were eventually allowed through they all raised their brooms in the air.
But the mood turned when London Mayor Boris Johnson -- criticised for being away on holiday for the first two days of the riots -- later came to Clapham Junction to thank the volunteers, saying their work represents "the spirit of London".
He was met with chants of "Where's your broom" and questions about the response of the authorities to the violence.
Debris left by looters who targeted a huge Debenhams department store was littered across the street. Rioters had also targeted a party shop, stealing masks with which to disguise themselves.
Fires broke out across the capital on Monday night as looters smashed up and set ablaze buildings, shops and cars, while violence also broke out in the cities of Birmingham, Liverpool and Bristol.
Many clean-up volunteers rejected arguments that the rioting was a sign of social ills or the harsh austerity measures introduced by Prime Minister David Cameron's coalition government to reduce Britain's record deficit.
"People are saying it's to do with the cuts -- no!" said Tom Ward-Thomas, 23, an actor who said he had come from the wealthy neighbourhood of Fulham to help out.
But Basma Hassan, a 29-year-old doctor who was also at the Clapham Junction clean-up, disagreed.
"We have to ask why this is happening," she said.
"These may not be the most politically articulate kids, and I agree they are expressing it in a mindlessly criminal way, but we need to step back and looks at why a section of society does this."
In Peckham in southeast London, about 20 members of the community arrived on the high street on Tuesday morning armed with dustpans and brushes to offer small businesses help in cleaning up their shops which had been smashed in.
"I was devastated when I saw what happened last night. I was really angry so I thought I'd channel my anger in a constructive way," said one woman in her 20s.
"We have never met each other before, we just spoke on Twitter this morning. Twitter can be used for good."
In the badly-hit east London district of Hackney, local mayor Jules Pipe told AFP their response to the "outrageous and despicable" rioting was "to restore normality as soon as possible."
"All debris in the borough was cleared by 7:30am, apart from the burnt-out cars, which should all have gone by lunchtime.
"So that's one of the key things for us, to make sure that people feel safer by cleaning things up, allowing the businesses that aren't damaged to open and continue."
The Association of British Insurers estimated the damage caused by the riots across Britain as "tens of millions of pounds".
© 2011 AFP