The internet has blown up recently after Stormzy called out the Metropolitan Police following their tweet about a heroin bust in Catford linked to Notting Hill Carnival. Every year Europe’s largest street party divides Britain; those that like it and those that don’t. And with each year relations with the Metropolitan Police are strained as they continue to crack down on one of the few original and amazing pieces of British culture we have.
With 7000 police on duty and 50,000 performers and visitors, Notting Hill Carnival is no small affair. The police have always been critical of the bank holiday party and the success of the carnival is often judged, by those in government positions, by the number of arrests made. Earlier this year the Met Police published a report stating that carnival poses a “real risk to public safety”. According to the report there were 450 arrests at the 2016 event.
This year, before the event has even come into view on our summer calendar, the police have made over 300 arrests in what they call a ‘pre-Notting Hill carnival crack down’.
Although these numbers of arrests may seem high, it’s the sheer obsession with them that makes for an uncomfortable relationship. In the football season from 2015-2016, there were almost 2000 arrests, at Glastonbury there were 188 crimes reported and 71 arrests. My point being that where there is alcohol and good times, there are inevitably some people who are out to ruin it. So why every year the threat of banning the event and the obsession with painting those that attend as criminals or potential criminals?
The history of the carnival paints a painfully similar picture. Created as a showcase of Caribbean culture, in an attempt to bridge the gap between warring communities following the Notting Hill race riots, it is not unfair to say many of the issues surrounding carnival come down to race. Across London in the period from 2015/16, black people were stopped and searched almost four times as much as their white counterparts, and mixed-race people at nearly twice the rate. With a heavy mixed ethnicity crowd and being marred by violence in the past, as well as suffering negative media coverage, the police and government’s attitude towards a shining jewel in our British heritage refuses to improve.
In the past, advocates for Carnival have argued that police and the media only focus on the negative aspects of the event. In an interview with VICE in 2014, Ishmahil Blagrove Jr – author of a book about Carnival – said: "At Glastonbury last year there were 170 arrests out of nearly 250,000 people. You look at Carnival last year – a million, a million and a half people, and there were around 300 arrests. But they don't report on crime at Glastonbury; they report on the sense of unity and enthusiasm." Coverage for other staple British events focus on the music, weather, outfits etc. while coverage for carnival remains negative.
Tensions this year feel particularly high in the wake of Grenfell Tower, the police killing of Rashan Charles and rumours of acid attacks at Notting Hill Carnival. However, every year there are events that are cause for concern, the 2011 London Riots, the Black Lives Matter movement, but really in light of events such as these we should be more compelled to come together as a nation and inject some colour, positivity and light back into our community. The carnival is something we should be proud of and fight for and to the minority that do attend and cause trouble, do us all a favour this bank holiday and just stay at home. Let us enjoy the street party like no other in Europe and let us celebrate, like we have for the past 50 yeas, what it is to be British – diverse, respectful and proud!