The Police: Notting Hill Carnival Heroes Or Racist Oppressors?

06/09/2016 16:25
Jonathan Brady/PA Archive

The Metropolitan Police's advice issued just days before the Notting Hill carnival drew a short, sharp response from black activist Lee Jasper, namely: 'Stay away from racist cops.'

R&B singer Jo Jordan was probably glad he didn't heed that advice after his artery in his wrist was severed during a carnival robbery attempt. He told the Evening Standard he was 'bleeding out' as he found two police officers. He referred to an 'amazing policewoman' and the fact that he would be dead had the officers not been present and acted as they did.

Jasper's contempt for police is of course mirrored by other black activists including the recently emerged UK version of 'Black Lives Matters'. Yet efforts by them and anarchist groups including Class War and London Black Revs (revolutionaries not clergy) to turn the carnival into some sort of political event withered on the vine.

Given the plethora of stabbings and shootings in the months leading up the carnival, it was perhaps less than surprising that the Met's focus was on disrupting the activities of the street gangs who are active and many would say out of control across London. What has become a traditional pre-carnival 'rounding up' of potential troublemakers resulted in more than 100 arrests with the inevitable result that those arrested and bailed were forbidden to attend the carnival.

The force's senior management, in response to the increasing carnage, decided in the words of one officer, to 'grow a pair' and impose a Section 60 order for the duration of carnival. This gave officers the power to stop and search individuals without reasonable grounds.

During and after the carnival, there were the inevitable complaints about racist police and racial profiling, but these were in fact rather muted. Stories around racist carnival police simply failed to dominate social media. The Guardian ran a post-carnival story which, although beginning with quotes from the Police Federation, which predictably went down the road of alleged racist police behaviour.

Yet who are the police supposed to target when it comes to carnival stop and search? A look at the photo montage of teenagers murdered on the streets of London shows a shocking preponderance of black and mixed race youths. Totally disproportionate figures also apply to young black men in their 20s and 30s stabbed or shot on London's streets. These are not racist attacks in that the suspects are also disproportionately of black or mixed race.

Fortunately within the black community there is an acknowledgement that action needs to be taken other than constant criticism of 'racist' police. The result has seen the emergence of a number of remarkable voluntary community groups and charities that attempt to steer individuals away from gangs and they do have a significant track record of success. The problem however is considerable.

It is of course from within the black community that some solutions will undoubtedly emerge but only if both national and local government also acknowledge and rectify their failures in respect of schooling, employment opportunities and housing. As in so many other fields, it is the police who have to deal with the mess created by others.

The post-carnival Guardian articles saw ludicrous comparisons between Notting Hill and Glastonbury. If the arrest rate at Glastonbury were repeated at Notting Hill said Maurice Mclean writing in the Guardian, we'd have 750 arrests at Notting Hill. Well, leaving aside the 100 plus arrests of mainly violent individuals in pre-carnival raids , that really isn't relevant. Most Glastonbury arrests were for drugs or opportunist thefts.

What was strangely absent at Glastonbury were people assaulting, abusing and spitting at police officers, gangs roaming around looking to attack each other, stabbings and 'steamings' (groups of youths going on the rampage in crowded places committing acts of theft and robbery).

Activist Ishmahil Blagrove, also made similar erroneous comparisons when speaking to the Guardian and BBC London News. It seems we should be grateful that the carnival produced a mere five stabbings whereas if we were present for the Rio carnival we would find five bodies the following morning lying in the gutters.

In fact the Rio carnival is a totally different beast from that held in Notting Hill. It is city-wide including the flavelas, takes place over four days involving some 2,000,000 revellers a day while the main events are ticketed and take place in the purpose built Sambadrome. Ticketed events are of course an anathema to Notting Hill organisers.

In fact the number of stabbings and slashings at Notting Hill numbered five on the children's and family day, with a further 10 on the Monday.

Allegations that the Met tried somehow to 'hype' the figures would be disputed by those in front line who felt that Commander Musker's carnival statement actually played down the level of policing problems using the usual policing mantra seen whenever crime goes up: 'It's not really going up, but more people reporting, better recording etc etc.'

No mention in his report of incidents shown on the excellent BBC London News report by Jim Wheble who was out and about and reported on trouble between rival gangs and a steaming incident where police could be seen forming a cordon with batons drawn urging revellers, black and white, to get behind them.

Another point covered in Jim Wheble's report was the danger posed by the sheer density of the crowds in certain streets regardless of whether gang activity was present or not. Any incident, from a trip to a terrorist incident, could cause major problems in respect of falling and crushing. It was perhaps fortunate that the above mentioned 'steaming' incident was in a section of the carnival where there was less congestion.

Despite the allegations of racism, as far as I could tell from afar (and by watching live feeds) relations between carnival revellers, black and white, and police were generally extremely convivial. When police perform duty at the carnival, most revellers present appreciate that officers have to switch within seconds from 'party mode' to 'action man' (or woman!) and I suspect most revellers would agree that they do it exceptionally well.

Yet how would a Notting Hill carnival fare as envisaged by Messrs Blagrove, Jasper and Mclean look? The absence of stop and search would have meant that 90 potentially lethal knives and other bladed weapons would have found their way into the carnival area.

Low profile policing would mean that gangs armed with those 90 lethal weapons would have a field day or days attacking each other thus adding to the toll of stabbings and risking almost inevitable fatalities. Of course activists and taxpayer-funded legal aid lawyers could still argue that those arrested were merely carrying knives in order to carve up the portions of the quite delicious portions of jerk chicken on offer!

Drunken revellers would be able to brawl with minimal risk of police intervention, thieves and drug dealers would flourish while any incident could spark uncontrolled panic resulting in deaths by crushing and trampling. Those needing medical help would also have to wait longer for assistance without the significant police presence which would have proved fatal for Jo Jordan.

The plus side would be a reduction in assaults on police as they wouldn't be anywhere near as visible and therefore less likely to be attacked.

The simple fact is that the presence of police and the policing operation prevents anarchic carnage which would inevitably result in casualties of major incident proportions and quite possibly deaths.

Will 'racist' carnival police ever receive any credit for their efforts from Black Lives Matter and other so called 'activists?' That of course is highly unlikely.

However perhaps the biggest, almost unnoticed compliment paid to the police came as the popular Rampage sound system was closing. The DJ's, who had exercised a remarkable degree of control over a large and boisterous crowd, put a 'shout out' for the officers of the Metropolitan Police. Praise indeed.