Socialist Worker

Notting Hill Carnival crackdown targets young black men

by Yuri Prasad, Simon Assaf and Simon Basketter
Issue No. 2116

Police holding young black men at Oval on Monday of this week  (Pic:» Guy Smallman )

Police holding young black men at Oval on Monday of this week (Pic: » Guy Smallman)

London's Notting Hill Carnival is rightly hailed as a celebration of multi-ethnic Britain.

But it turned into a nightmare for hundreds of young black men as heavily armed police swooped on buses carrying them to the street party.

In a pre-planned operation, police boarded buses in the Oval area of south London to take off those who fitted their profile.

The first of dozens of partygoers were corralled into a side street next to the famous cricket ground from around 2pm onwards.

Hundreds of police, some carrying machine guns, sealed off the surrounding area and fingerprinted and searched the mainly teenagers inside the cordon.

Over the course of the afternoon the police raided bus after bus. By 7pm around 200 men, overwhelmingly black and some appearing to be as young as 13, were being held.

Teenagers walking on nearby streets weren't safe either. One young man, who had been with a group of friends returning from a birthday party, told Socialist Worker that police had put him and his friends into the cordon.

He explained how they had been on the way to the park to play football when a police van screeched to a halt and officers piled out.

Outside the cordon Socialist Worker spoke to many people who had just been released and were now waiting, hoping their friends would emerge soon.


While some were resigned, saying that this kind of policing had become the norm, others were incensed. 'This is some Rodney King shit going on here,' said one, referring to the beating of a black man by police that led to the Los Angeles riot in 1992.

'The Feds [the police] had us up against the wall and some of us on the floor being handcuffed until they searched us. Then they just let us go because they know we hadn't done anything wrong.'

By early evening parents were joining the crowds outside the cordon, arguing with police about why their children were being held, and angry that a trip to carnival should be the pretext for such a clampdown.

The police commandeered buses to take more than 100 young people to police stations – though only seven were charged with any offence.

For some who made it to carnival, things were only a little better. Outside Notting Hill tube station, among the diverse mix of tens of thousands of revellers, gangs of police swooped almost exclusively on young black males.

It was the first of many hurdles that they would face. In the 200 metres between the station and the road where carnival floats were parading there were five separate police lines.

Socialist Worker stood behind one line of police that formed a 'control point'. There was no sign of the much publicised 'knife arches' that were supposed to keep carnival safe – instead there was old fashioned stop and search.

We witnessed dozens of black males being searched. The only white men we saw being held were part of racially mixed groups.

One young black teenager told Socialist Worker that this was the fifth time the police had searched him this year. 'I have even been stopped twice in one day,' he said.

Those who have responded to the tragedy of knife crime by calling for police crackdowns ought to take note. The criminalisation of a generation of black youth will undoubtedly lead to explosions of anger in the future, just as it did a generation ago with the riots that swept Britain's inner cities.

Crime policy creates a climate of fear and racism

Getting tough on criminals is a constant refrain of the police and the government. The police announced that the Notting Hill Carnival last weekend would be a 'hostile environment' for criminals.

But like every other clampdown on crime, it did little to stop crime but much to add to the climate of alienation and racism felt by young people.

In the run up to the event the police said, 'We'll be running an operation across London targeting people on their way to the event.' And so they did.

The police's Operation Razorback included the action at the Oval described on this page, where the police detained over 150 people to 'prevent crime and disorder'.

The operation also included some 200 letters being hand delivered by police officers to 'advise' certain people not to attend the event. In addition, a series of police raids with officers in riot gear took place across London.

In one dawn raid police smashed into a house in Camberwell, south London, and handcuffed three innocent people including a deaf woman. A dozen officers in riot gear grabbed the three people from their beds.


But the police had the wrong address. James Graham, who claims he was punched by an officer, said, 'I completely freaked out. I thought I was going to be murdered in my bed.' The police said, 'We've apologised and told the group how to claim for damage.'

On the day of the carnival, the police used Section 60 of the Public Order Act, which enables them to stop and search people even without reasonable suspicion. There were over 11,000 officers on duty at an estimated cost of £8 million. They even had the time to seize 19 dogs.

All of this is the result of the government's commitment to 'doing something' about crime. Gordon Brown has expressed his support for curfews for young people in areas where there are 'problems'. He has claimed that there are over 20,000 'problem families' that need to be targeted.

The government launched its latest 'initiative' – Operation Blunt II – in June. Since then police officers have carried out 55,000 stop and searches, carried out more than 340 screening arch operations and arrested more than 2,000 people in just ten areas. They found around 1,400 sharp objects and knives.

It is the young, those living in poverty and black and minority ethnic communities who suffer the most from gun and knife crime. Nothing is to be gained by making them suffer the harassment of crackdowns, just so a crisis-racked government can appear tough on crime.

Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Article information

Tue 26 Aug 2008, 20:58 BST
Issue No. 2116
Share this article


Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.