Picture this scene – hundreds of young black men, some appearing to be as young as 13, rounded up, surrounded and held for hours without charge by a cordon of police in body armour; parents standing outside the cordon demanding to be told what is happening to their children; dozens of officers with machine guns sealing off the area; simmering anger from those released from the cordon after being searched and finger printed.
Is this an image from Britain during the riots of the early and mid-1980s? No, this was Britain last week after police raided buses in south London that were taking people to the Notting Hill Carnival.
The fact that not a single newspaper, with the exception of Socialist Worker, carried the truth about the raids, or of how the police operation at carnival itself deliberately targeted young black males, has added to the growing sense of injustice.
There was a time when such an abuse of police power would have created outrage among London’s black MPs and “community leaders”. Some, like the sadly missed MP for Tottenham, Bernie Grant, made their name standing up to state racism when young people where under attack.
But today the generation of leaders that emerged in the 1980s have largely been incorporated into the state through a process of patronage and grant-funded projects. Speaking out against police tactics risks biting the hand that feeds you, so instead cooperation is the name of the game.
Last week’s deafening silence is also a product of the way the knife crime debate has sought to lay the blame for a wave of murders of young people at the door of Britain’s black population.
Here the problems are said to have little to do with racism and exclusion – instead it is absent parents, poor role models and aggressive music that are to blame.
That so many parents accept some variation of this argument is a reflection of the genuine fears that they have for the future of their children, the tirade of propaganda directed against them, and the failure of black leaders to make a stand against it.
When Tony Blair spoke out in 2007, saying, “When are we going to start saying this [gang crime] is a problem amongst a section of the black community and not, for reasons of political correctness, pretend it has nothing to do with it?” there was barely a word of protest in the African-Caribbean media.
The Voice newspaper argued, “The usual explanations that are offered as a cause of crime such as urban deprivation and lack of opportunities do not apply with knife crime.
“Young men in particular carry knives as a fashion accessory, as essential to a preparing for a night out as choosing the right clothes.”
Radio Five Live presenter, Dotun Adebayo, last month joined David Cameron in pinning the blame for gang culture on black culture.
“After subjecting myself to a diet of nothing but UK grime music for hours solid… I wanted to kill someone. I wouldn’t, of course, because I don’t have a violent nature. But if I was an aggressive man the first person to step on my foot would probably have got shanked,” he wrote in the Sun newspaper.
The political conclusion of his view is twofold.
Firstly, that the primary responsibility of black parents and those in positions of responsibility is to tackle their children over gangs, rather than look at what conditions might lead young people towards them.
Secondly, efforts by the state to crackdown on youth crime should be supported – no matter how draconian the policy, nor how racist its implementation.
Hence the number of black leaders who have backed calls for the increased use of stop and search, even though everyone acknowledges that black youth will bear the brunt of the operation.
But among a growing number of young people – and some of their parents – there is anger at the way black males are being specifically targeted. Next week people in the Oval area, where last week’s bus raids took place, are organising a protest meeting in Lambeth town hall to demand answers from the police.
Many are looking for answers from other bodies as well – like why are black people three times more likely to be unemployed than white people? Why are our children most likely to be permanently excluded from school? And, why are there so few facilities and services that would help them find a positive outlet for their talents and energy?
Even among some of those who share some of main assumptions of the knife crime debate, last week’s police operation brings back terrible memories of Britain in the 1980s – experiences that they hoped that their children would not have to go through.
Every generation of Britain’s black community has been forced to fight for justice and against discrimination. In the process it created new leaderships that could best articulate their resistance.
Last week’s raids, and the inadequate “official” response to it, illustrate well the crying need for a new younger leadership to emerge today.