In the north London neighborhood of Dalston, rioters were held in check Monday night—but not by the police.Remarkably, the police were prepared to turn on those defending themselves.
Hundreds of Turkish and Kurdish men, many armed with broken billiard cues, poured onto the streets to protect their businesses and homes from the kind of mayhem that was laying waste to other parts of London.
"They created a barrier and chased the kids back," said Burcu Bay, who works as a waitress at Tugra, a Turkish sweet shop and cafe on Dalston's main thoroughfare. "It was like being in a war."
What happened in Dalston, an area defined by its large Turkish and Kurdish immigrant community, was a rare instance of locals uniting to defy the wave of violence that has swept London in recent nights, leaving a trail of burned-out buildings, looted shops and broken glass. In other areas, rioters encountered little resistance, as terrified locals took cover and stretched police were often slow to show up.
The clashes in Dalston, a ramshackle neighborhood of pawn shops, Turkish social clubs and kebab joints, began when a gang of about 50 youths approached the area from the east, setting fire to a bus and smashing in the windows of a chain restaurant, a bank and an electrical goods shop.
Dozens of local men came out on the street to block their progress. Over the course of the evening, they pushed back the heavily outnumbered troublemakers in three separate surges, driving them away from a cluster of Turkish-owned shops and businesses. Women and elderly men sought refuge in local cafés to watch the clashes from a safe distance.
In some instances, skirmishes turned violent. "The police wanted to arrest one of my friends because he punched some of the guys," said a waiter at the Somine restaurant. "We didn't let them."Maybe these guys ought to be deputized. They sure seem to be doing more than the authorities. Still, they better be prepared for lawsuits for inflicting such harm on these protesters.
A key driver behind the locals' response was the strong sense of communal identity among Turkish and Kurdish residents of Dalston, who saw the rioters as a kind of alien invasion. "These people weren't local," said the waiter. "We've been here for ten years and would have known them if they were from the area."
The Tugra café was on the front line of the clashes. "We had customers inside, but had to close the shutters and lock them in," said Ms. Bay. "It was a very violent situation—the kids were shouting 'we're going to burn down your shops.' "
As in many other parts of London, police were slow to show up. That caused resentment. "The police aren't doing enough," said Rukiye Zorlu, a waitress at the Tava restaurant. "They're letting buildings burn, and just watching. If this was in Turkey, those people would be on the floor."