Alleged rape sparks racially motivated riots in Birmingham

Black girl's alleged sexual assault by a South Asian ingites riot that left one person dead and several wounded.

Police were searching on Sunday for a black girl whose alleged sexual assault by a South Asian sparked a riot that left one person dead and several injured. Riots erupted in the Lozells area of west Birmingham after members of the Afro-Caribbean and South Asian communities held a meeting Saturday over the alleged rape. The meeting was partially meant to calm tension in the community and encourage the 14-year-old girl - reportedly an illegal immigrant - to come forward. West Midlands Police said a group of people tried to force their way into the church where the meeting was being held and were prevented from doing so. Police said a series of "minor disorders" followed in the area. Shops were vandalized and at least one car was set ablaze during the clash, and hundreds of police in riot gear were attacked with bricks and bottles. Four people were stabbed, including a black man in his 20s, who was taken to Birmingham's City Hospital, where he died from his injuries. A police officer was shot in the leg with a ball-bearing gun. Several people were arrested. "This is the work of a small number of individuals and is not a true reflection of community relations in Birmingham," said Assistant Chief Constable David Shaw of West Midlands Police. He said there was no evidence the girl had been raped but police were investigating and urging her to come forward. Khalid Mahmood, the lawmaker who represents the area in the Houses of Parliament, denied that the unrest amounted to a race riot. "I think it was a few individuals, numbering less than 30, who decided to take it upon themselves to have this kind of mayhem," Mahmood told British Broadcasting Corp. TV. He didn't specify which ethnic group they belonged to. "I think the majority of the community is still very close together. I think the small number of people who were involved were predominantly from outside." The Lozells area has been a focus of racial tension in the past. There is a big Afro-Caribbean community, but gangs of South Asian youths have also appeared in the neighborhood. Trouble sometimes erupts between gangs from the different ethnic groups, usually over drugs. There are also rivalries within the two communities, and in 2003 two young black girls were shot dead in violence between two black gangs. Police relations with the community have also long been strained. In 1985 riots broke out in the nearby Handsworth district following the arrest of a black man during a stop and search operation. Pub landlady India Murray said late Saturday that tension had been mounting in the area for several days. Murray said she locked the doors of her pub, the Union Inn, after the windows were smashed. "The Union has been attacked. All the windows have been put through and we are waiting for someone to come out and board it up," she said. A reporter with the domestic British news agency Press Association said a gang of youths wielding baseball bats attacked her car Saturday night when she drove to the Lozells district. "They were a large group, more than 100 hooded youths with baseball bats running through the streets," Alex Thompson said. "They hit my car with the bats and kicked it, they also attacked other passing motorists on the main road we were on."