Every year two million people take to Notting Hill, a district in West London, over the August bank holiday weekend to join in the celebrations of Europe’s biggest street party. The event is known as Notting Hill Carnival and has been going on in it’s current form since 1964. Whilst this primarily middle-class part of West London may seem like a strange place for the carnival to take place, upon hearing the history of the event it becomes less surprising.
In the 1950s, this area of West London became home to many immigrants from several Caribbean Islands, many of which had moved to the country seeking work and financial stability. Some of these new arrivals had taken the SS Empire Windrush in 1948 to reach Great Britain. Life was not easy for the newly arrived immigrants and racism was very prevalent in their new lives. One event that illustrates how severe racism was during this time, is the 1958 Notting Hill race riot. The riot lasted several days and saw somewhere between 300-400 Teddy Boys attack Caribbean members of the community. The first carnival took place 5 months after the riot and acted as a way for Notting Hill’s Caribbean population to celebrate their heritage.
Over the years the carnival has managed to retain its strong connections to Caribbean culture and for many Londoners it is an annual event they fail to miss. The streets are lined with flags from across the globe, steel drum music groups are heard at every corner and the scent of countless countries’ native food fills the streets. However, this grand show of Caribbean culture and its record number of attendees is not the sole reason the carnival makes headlines every year. Instead of the media concentrating on the beauty of the carnival, crime rates at the carnival are what make the headlines. At this year’s carnival 370 arrests were made – 156 of which were drug related, 69 concerning the suspicion of possession of an offensive weapon and 9 concerning sexual offences. In addition to this, according to the Met, 30 officers were injured whilst ‘in the line of duty’. These statistics illustrate that crime does occur at the carnival, however when one considers that there are 2 million attendees to the 2-day event, 370 arrests seems like a small number.
Other large-scale events fail to receive the same kind of reporting on their crime rates. For instance, every year, Reading and Leeds festival takes place at the same time as Notting Hill Carnival, with roughly 90,000 people taking to the town of Reading to attend the music event. In 2015, 175 crimes were reported to the police during the weekend. However, there was certainly not as much emphasis put on these crimes in the news as there was on Notting Hill Carnival’s crime rates.
It’s interesting to see that an event that began out of the need to both protect the culture of a generation of Caribbean immigrants and to celebrate said cultures, is now slandered annually in the media. The treatment of an event which showcases Caribbean culture and as such attracts a largely black-British audience, in comparison to the treatment of an event which attracts far more white British attendees, is unjust and shows racial prejudice. The media uses the crime that takes place at the carnival to further the vilification of young black people, especially young black men, which is something that takes place in both the Metropolitan Police Force and within the British media.