Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images
Members of the community lay flowers at the scene of a hit and run following civil disturbances in the Winson Green area on Thursday in Birmingham, England.
Martin Fletcher, NBC News Correspondent
LONDON – It was awful to see: four teenagers in black sweaters and hoods beat a young man, kicked him twice in the face and stole his backpack. The victim was left bleeding on the ground as the thugs strolled away.
It was another scene of terrible violence after days of rioting and looting across the U.K. that’s left at least four dead.
Prime Minister David Cameron said the violence is “simply not acceptable, and it will be stopped. We will not put up with this in our country. We will not allow a culture of fear to exist on our streets."
He sees the immediate issue as one of crime and punishment: “If you are old enough to commit these crimes, you are old enough to face the punishment,” he said.
London’s Mayor Boris Johnson agrees, calling for government to drop it budget plans to cut the number of police by 16,000 – ironically, the exact number of police on the streets in London.
But the media and community workers are still agonizing over the causes, over what turned a segment of the population into muggers and looters.
Abandoned by society?
One column that ran in the Independent newspaper has been universally praised. In it Camila Batmanghelidjh wrote "Caring costs – but so do riots. These rioters feel they don't actually belong to the community. For years, they’ve felt cut adrift from society.”
Sixteen thousand police were on London’s streets, every available person, and they put the lid back on the pot. But the problem is still there.
The young man I saw being mugged put his finger on it. We recorded the conversation. Here is the exact transcript, and remember, I’m a Londoner.
Me: “Oy mate, what happened to yer.”
Him (bleeding, panting): “”I got mugged. They nicked the lot. Camera, wallet, keys, everything. Bastards.”
Me: “Yeah, I saw, he kicked you in the face.”
Him: “Why didn’t you bloody ‘elp then?”
Me: “Good point, mate.
Actually we were too far away to help. But why hasn’t society helped the young people, before it got to this crazy outburst of violence and looting?
It begins at home.
Max Nash / AFP - Getty Images
Azim Mohamed looks at the charred remains of his business on Wednesday following disturbances in north London. Click on photo see a slideshow of pictures fromt the riots and their aftermath.
Where are the parents?
Community workers complain of a lack of strong parental guidance, over-stretched school teachers who place little emphasis on discipline and traditional social values, and weak communities with little moral leadership. Its members are left behind by society’s more successful strata. Left to their own devices, jobless youngsters hang around aimlessly and, in the violent outburst we have just witnessed, loot, steal and mug.
Where are the parents? A Reuters reporter began his report on the riots with this:
“Residents of a London housing estate laughed at a televised plea by police for parents to call their children and help rein in the youths who looted and burned swathes of the city.” He went on to write that some parents took part in the riots.
So far there has not been one report of angry parents returning stolen goods.
But unfortunately there are some things you can count on here these days.
As we drove away to file our report, down a side street, we saw a flurry of arms and legs like a pin cushion rolling along. It was a man being beaten and mugged.