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Police Reach out to South London after Shooting


British police are trying to conduct one of the biggest manhunts in their history without dividing the country. Authorities want to find four men suspected of attempting attacks on the London transit system. On Friday, that investigation led to the killing of an innocent man. This morning, we're going to an immigrant neighborhood where police are trying to reassure people. NPR's Rachel Martin reports from south London.

RACHEL MARTIN reporting:

Stockwell is a gritty working-class neighborhood. The Main Street is filled with a mixture of old Irish pubs, Portuguese diners and the occasional Asian-run corner store. Long a haven for immigrants, local leaders boast that more than 150 languages are spoken in this tightly knit community. Last night, religious leaders held a gathering around the corner from the Stockwell subway station where the shooting took place.

(Soundbite of people talking)

MARTIN: It was meant to be a safe place for residents to express their concerns. Lola Baptista(ph) moved to Stockwell from India 13 years ago. Her reactions seem to reflect what many here are feeling.

Ms. LOLA BAPTISTA: It's so sad. He was only a suspect, so why shoot him? And that's what was expressed today, no?

MARTIN: London police appear to be taking the community's concerns seriously. Brian Paddick, the second in command at the Metropolitan Police Service, came to talk with residents, his second trip to the neighborhood in the same day.

Mr. BRIAN PADDICK (Metropolitan Police Service): This is a community that is too familiar with tragedy. There have been shootings here. There have been people dying from drug overdoses. And to have another tragedy on top of the other tragedies that they have been through is very sad.

MARTIN: Paddick knows this firsthand. Two years ago, he was the local commander in Stockwell. He says it's now crucial for the police to reach out to help mollify fears about anti-terrorism tactics that led to Friday's death of Jean Charles de Menezes.

Mr. PADDICK: It is just so important to talk to people face-to-face so they understand the issues that are facing the police and we give them an understanding of what we can do and what we can't do.

MARTIN: More than a year ago British police implemented a shoot-to-kill policy to deal with suspected terrorists. Susan, a 40-something-year-old mother of two who'd only give her first name, says Stockwell has a history of bad blood with police and she says this policy will just make things worse.

SUSAN: There were a number of domestic violent murders. There have been a number of murderers that have been only arrested because of that and there has been, in a way, a lack of coherence between the communities and the police and the police are becoming a little bit too aggressive in some places.

MARTIN: It's this perceived aggression that puts Muslims, Asians or anyone who appears suspicious to police at risk, says Toha Koreshi(ph), a member of the Muslim Council of Britain and a leader of the Stockwell mosque.

Mr. TOHA KORESHI (Muslim Council of Britain): If I am walking in the street and someone in civilian clothes challenges me and tells me to stop, what do I do? If I stop, I might get killed by the racist. If I don't, then I might get killed by the police. So, yes, we are in this dilemma now.

MARTIN: There were no answers to these questions at the meeting, but according to Stockwell resident Katrina Robertson(ph), the gathering brought a kind of healing to this wounded community.

Ms. KATRINA ROBERTSON: If we can acknowledge our anger, acknowledge our anxiety, acknowledge our fear, that's just a step in the right direction.

MARTIN: The healing process takes another step tonight with a vigil at the Stockwell subway station to honor the victim.

Rachel Martin, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.