Over one million people attended this year’s Notting Hill Carnival in west London over the bank holiday weekend.
It is the biggest event of its kind in Europe, but its 1959 roots are more radical than its corporate sponsors would like.
The first “carnival”— organised by black Marxist Claudia Jones—was a defiant response to the racists that attacked Notting Hill the year before.
One of her friends said that she “was at her best when there was trouble! To see her in action was to be inspired”.
But these radical roots have been diluted over the years, explained local anti-racist Moyra Samuels. “The key thing about Carnival these days is the corporate sponsorship—it’s about making businesses,” she told Socialist Worker.
Local food stalls are being priced out though, with the most expensive pitches now costing £900.
“It’s more about making money than when I started going,” said Moyra. “People are struggling to find the money to put into the masquerade and the floats.
“It takes all year to organise, but people are expected to volunteer and do it for free.”
But Black Lives Matter activists joined it this year to put some politics back into Carnival.
Itamar told Socialist Worker, “People have taken it very well and have brought up their own issues.
“Someone from the carnival committee came up and talked about how they’re having their own problems with the policing of the event.”
There were over 400 total arrests over the course of the event.
The right wing press likes to whip up stories about “violence” at Carnival while ignoring the context.
Moyra said, “The issue is that wherever people are trying to get through the police block off the pavements.
“They take up more space than they need and people get aggravated.”
Cops block off whole streets while people are crushed on the other side of the barriers.
When asked why the road was blocked one copper gave the inspired response, “Because there’s a metal barrier here.”
The actions of the police do not prevent violence—they create the conditions for it. The increased police presence at Carnival and their “crowd control” methods simply make conditions unbearable for people.
Perhaps that experience of routine harrassment is another reason Black Lives Matter activists get a hearing when they talk about challenging police violence and racism.
“People agree with the fundamental issues that we raise about the racist use of stop and search laws and about deaths in custody,” said Itamar.
Carnival goers speak out against police
"There’s racism in the way that the police treat Carnival compared to events like Glastonbury festival, where there’s just as much crime going on.
"There’s a stigma and prejudice in how they treat black people. It makes people get angry, especially when they’re not causing trouble.”—Celine
"I support Black Lives Matter, but Indian lives matter too and people fleeing war in Syria and Iraq. Let’s fight for everyone’s right to come here.
"Everyone wants to listen to Jamaican music. But when it comes to supporting people who want to come here the government doesn’t want to know.
"It costs thousands of pounds to come here. Now Theresa May wants people to be earning tens of thousands a year just to stay.”—Clinton
- "You don’t get a sense of freedom any more at Carnival. Every year the police are restricting it more and more. The roads are getting tighter and tighter, it’s like they’re herding cattle.”—Jeremy
Stand up to police who kill
Nearly one third of the 27 people shot dead by the police since 2004 were from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, according to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).
The IPCC doesn’t count all deaths after arrest—in particular not those where police restrain someone.
But the Inquest charity does. Its figures show that 10 percent of the 1,563 people who have died after police contact since 1991 were black.
Former Aston Villa football player Dalian Atkinson died in August after police tasered him in Telford.
His case has been referred to the IPCC. But this toothless watchdog is part of a system rigged against families seeking justice for loved ones killed by police.
Dalian’s nephew Fabian was right to warn that the case could be “pushed under the carpet”.
That’s why Black Lives Matter activists were set to protest outside the IPCC in central London this Friday.