On Sunday 24 and Monday 25 August, teams of trained, independent ‘Community Monitors’ will observe and record the actions of police officers during this year’s Notting Hill Carnival in west London.
Netpol’s Community Monitoring Project has organised local community scrutiny of the policing operation at the Carnival, working with a group of activists centred around the Community Monitoring Project – West London. ‘Community Monitors’ will observe and gather evidence, talk to attendees about their experiences of street-level policing, hand out legal rights information, and deter police abuse.
This weekend’s activities are one of three pilot projects in different parts of the country that aim to increase police accountability over the treatment of individuals and the process of local decision-making. Similar projects are ongoing in Manchester and Birmingham.
Our previous experience of monitoring the policing of local communities during high profile events includes work with groups in Leicester to monitor the way demonstrations against the EDL were policed. In 2012, one of Netpol’s member groups, the east London-based Newham Monitoring Project, used Community Legal Observers to monitor the policing and communities in east London during the 2012 London Olympics.
The Notting Hill Carnival now reaches far beyond its roots within the local African-Caribbean community and attracts up to two million visitors. However, young black men still find themselves disproportionately targeted by the thousands of police deployed during the event.
In a repeat of previous years, on Tuesday, over a thousand Metropolitan and City of London Police officers executed more than 170 warrants in dawn raids across London, on suspects it claimed “could impact on the safety” of the Carnival. However, similar raids in 2011 had little relationship to any threats of violence: most were detained on suspicion of possession of drugs and few were with any intent to supply.
Anticipating further raids this year, teams of Community Monitors have already visited youth centres and other places where local young people gather, to disseminate information about rights on arrest and the details of solicitors to contact. Netpol has also distributed information to people about their rights if they are stopped and searched: evidence suggests that the police are 24 times more likely to stop and search black people using ‘section 60’ powers targeting possession of offensive weapons. This points to alarming levels of ethnic profiling, with little evidence of any impact on knife crime. Unlike other search powers, there is no requirement for “reasonable suspicion” by police officers, explaining why ‘section 60’ stop and search powers are regularly condemned as open to abuse.
Isis Amlak, one of the founding members of the ‘Community Monitoring Project – West London’ said
“Carnival is an expression of the history and culture of people of African heritage who came to the UK predominantly via the Caribbean. Historically, Carnival was celebrated in the Caribbean as a way of the ex-enslaved asserting their independence, their emancipation and their cultural and artistic identity, which originated in Africa.
Notting Hill Carnival therefore is a very important celebration but the way it is policed is unique. Every year there are hundreds of festivals up and down the country, most with a very low police presence. The one event in London that speaks to the culture of the African Caribbean community, however, is subject to a heavy and often antagonistic policing operation. Often it results in instances of police brutality against young men of African heritage.
It is unacceptable that some members of our community stay away because they no longer feel safe to come to Carnival – not because of the fear of crime, but because of the threat posed by the police. This has to stop – that’s why we are out on the streets this weekend”
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