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London Carnival Brings Celebration, Challenges

London’s Notting Hill Carnival drew as many as 1 million revelers and celebrants to the annual festival this week, which is now known globally as a display of the city’s West Indian heritage and culture. But officials say the celebration was marred by a record number of arrests and some violence during the two-day event.

The violence has some police calling for a rethinking of where the event takes place and how it is conducted, but others believe that the real trouble comes from police intimidation during an otherwise peaceful event.

“A seemingly growing number of people appear intent on hijacking this carnival and turning it into a bank holiday battleground,” said Ken Marsh, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Police Federation, a London police officer’s union, told reporters. “This is not a peaceful and fun-loving event that our members look forward to policing. They dread it.” Police say 454 people were arrested during the Sunday and Monday event.

However, others who come to listen to the sounds of dub reggae and dancehall music say authorities unfairly shut them down. “For some reason, they have their targets,” said one individual who only identified himself as “Dread” while listening to a large sound system. “This sound here is the peaceful sound that’s been going on for the past 30 years. All the vibes are good and still we get this intimidation.”

Notting Hill Carnival began in 1964, centered on Caribbean culture and derived from similar events taking place in nations like Jamaica, Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago. Beginning as a parade of steel drum bands through west London, it grew over the years to attract more and more people to celebrate the culture of the islands and began to resemble carnivals in those countries. Strewn with flamboyant costumes, music and food, it is now believed to be among the largest in the world.

Police officials say they have made large efforts to keep the peace at the carnival despite any incidents that may occur. “This weekend is the highlight of the year, not only for the Caribbean community, but also for many visitors from London and the rest of the country,”  Metropolitan Police superintendent Robyn Williams told the Daily Mail. ‘The Met has worked hard to ensure that Carnival is a safe and enjoyable weekend for everyone who attend.”

But police have been challenged, not only by a reported six stabbings during the event, but attacks on as many as 45 police officers. But the increases in arrests are actually because of how they are recorded. Metro police Cmdr. Dave Musker said in a statement that legalization of some drugs, a change in response to attacks on officers and orders for some to disperse from the event all contributed to the higher number.

People who came to celebrate the carnival, understand the concerns over violence but believe that it is an important event to have as an affirmation of Caribbean people.

“It’s such an important thing to support and celebrate,” said Lina Caicedo, 30, of London. “The West Indian community is such an important community to London.” Dan Glass, another partier, agreed: “Carnival doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and with everything that’s going on just now, people need it.”


Image: Associated Press