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Punishing London's looters: Will tough love work?
In the wake of last week's riots, Prime Minister David Cameron is promising a crackdown to restore law and order. But will that only fuel the unrest?
 
British police detain a man during last week's riots: British Prime Minister David Cameron is considering a curfew among other restrictions in order to prevent further unrest.
British police detain a man during last week's riots: British Prime Minister David Cameron is considering a curfew among other restrictions in order to prevent further unrest.
REUTERS/Darren Staples

British Prime Minister David Cameron is blaming last week's riots in the U.K. on the "slow-motion moral collapse" of his nation, and promising tough new measures to turn things around. Among his contemplated fixes: Imposing curfews, blocking social networking sites from smartphones, and evicting looters from public housing to discourage lawlessness. There’s even talk of naming William Bratton — America's "supercop" — to head London's Metropolitan Police. But critics say a harsh response might simply aggravate the root of the problem: A contempt for authority. Is Cameron's crackdown the answer?

This will make matters worse: If this business of kicking rioters' families out of public housing sounds familiar, says Owen Hatherley at The Guardian, that's because it is just an extension of a longstanding policy to push "the 'undeserving' poor from highly profitable inner-city sites." This "will make our cities even more Balkanized and unequal, and it will make the young even more dispossessed and angry." If that happens, the next riots could be worse.
"Evicting rioters' families from their homes? There's a horrible logic to it"

A "supercop" certainly is not the answer: The suggestion to bring in William Bratton, the American supercop, to run the London police is nothing but "political gimmickry," says the Financial Times in an editorial. No matter how impressive his record, he'd be hard-pressed to offer new ideas to an already hardened force that "has enjoyed an impressive record of counter-terrorism since the July 7 bombings." If anything, seeking a savior from abroad will demoralize the police and make it harder to restore their authority.
"U.K. and supercops"

Getting tough is the only answer: "Cameron's obviously robust intention to start civilizing our streets is encouraging," says The Telegraph in an editorial. The riots proved the limits of the "softly softly" approach to law and order. Addressing root causes of the unrest, such as the number of children being raised without proper discipline, will take a generation. But making criminals "fear the police" is "an effective first step on the way to ensuring our cities do not fall again into the hands of thieves and thugs."
"Now it is the politicians' turn to defend our streets"

 

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