Three Birmingham men died early Wednesday as they sought to protect local businesses from rioters, showing how the violence that began four days ago in London and spread to the U.K.’s other big cities has stoked long-simmering ethnic tensions in some of the country’s most racially diverse communities.
The three men who died, all Asians, were hit by a carload of suspected looters. West Midlands police arrested a man near the scene and launched a murder inquiry. Witnesses said the man, the vehicle’s driver, is black.
The deaths capped rioting in the early hours Wednesday that was quelled in London but spilled seemingly at random to other parts of the U.K. In Birmingham, the deaths led to an outpouring of anger from the city’s large population of Asians.
“People are saying it’s a race issue now–blacks against Asians,” said Mykel Douglas, a black youth worker and resident of Winson Green, the working-class district northwest of Birmingham city center where the incident occurred. “It’s like the ethnic groups are at war with each other.”
Outside the family home of one of the dead men, identified by local media as Haroon Jahan, a group of young Asians–mainly ethnic Pakistanis–vowed vengeance. “People are very angry,” said a bearded man in a shalwar kameez who declined to give his name. “There’s going to be retaliation. An eye for an eye.”
Birmingham’s black British and South Asian communities have long had tension-marred relations. In 2005 there were full-scale intercommunal clashes after a pirate radio station DJ aired allegations that a black teenage girl had been gang-raped by Asian men.