A police officer escorts a family past a burnt-out Carpetright shop in Tottenham on August 8, 2011 in London, England.
A police officer escorts a family past a burnt-out Carpetright shop in Tottenham on August 8, 2011 in London, England. - 
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KAI RYSSDAL: More than 16,000 police officers are on the streets of London today. Prime Minister David Cameron's sent them out to fight the biggest protests England's seen in a generation. Three nights of rioting, as you've probably seen on television, have left scores of shops and homes ransacked and looted or burned to the ground.

The trouble has spread to half a dozen other big cities as well -- fueled, some say, by rising unemployment and public spending cuts.

From London, Marketplace's Stephen Beard reports.

STEPHEN BEARD: The spark was the fatal shooting of a young black man by police in North London last week. A protest march over the death degenerated into violence and then turned into an orgy of destruction and looting by black and white youths.

Clothes shop owner Liz Pilgrim was one of the many victims of theft and vandalism.

LIZ PILGRIM: The shop's been turned upside down. The till's been taken out. We're all absolutely devastated. I just can't believe the mindless, wanton violence that took place last night.

Across Britain tens of millions of dollars worth of property has been damaged or stolen.

Ken Livingstone, former Mayor of London, believes the riots reflect rising youth unemployment partly caused by cuts in public spending.

KEN LIVINGSTONE: The last time we had rioting consistently like this was in the early 1980's when we were in the depths of the recession. It's come back.

But David Frost of the British Chambers of Commerce says the looting was driven by greed and could lead to lasting damage to the communities in which the looters live.

DAVID FROST: It's business that's at the heart of successful communities. It's local businesses that create jobs for local people. And so the violence that we've seen over the last three nights, it's destroying the very fabric of society.

And there's another worry -- burned-out cars, wrecked shops and buildings on fire -- not the image this city would like to project as it prepares to host next year's Olympic Games.

In London, I'm Stephen Beard for Marketplace.