NOTTING HILL carnival, the largest street festival in Europe, came to a close recently. It was the first time in two years the mammoth event had been staged, having been mothballed because of the pandemic.
By all accounts it was a success, notwithstanding some flare-ups of violence. According to media reports, there were seven stabbings, one of which was fatal. There was also a serious crowd-control problem which threatened, at one point, to become a deadly crush.
Notting Hill 2022 didn’t win any fans among the police. While police were responsible for preventing mirth from becoming mayhem, 74 of them were physically assaulted. At least one female officer was reported to have been sexually assaulted by several men.
Consequently, the Metropolitan Police Federation is demanding that the festival be scrapped.
The three-day festival, which has been around for 56 years now, is an influential economic and cultural force in London. More than a million people participated in this year’s extravaganza.
Many supporters of Notting Hill carnival described media coverage of the incidents of violence as maliciously inaccurate and overblown. Not surprisingly, the spectre of racial bias flavoured debate of the carnival’s aftermath.
In comparison, the recent Reading Festival was not without riotous results. As that music festival wound down, there was a wave of violent clashes, stabbings and tent-burning. When the smoke cleared, and the miscreants sobered up and lumbered off, the venue was a disaster zone of garbage mounds and charred detritus everywhere.
As is the case with most major festivals, some chaos is inevitable. The extent of that chaos is determined by logistics, planning and socio-cultural factors – how people behave and respond to anti-social behaviour dictated by the mores of a particular society.
There isn’t any evidence to suggest Notting Hill carnival is intrinsically disorderly or violent. The downsides that occasioned the staging of the 2022 edition, though, give us a lot to think about in TT.
With the pandemic having disrupted our Carnival for the past two years, the pressure in the nation’s collective waist is mounting like stress faults along opposing tectonic plates.
What Carnival 2023 in TT might look like as thousands decide to “breakway” will depend on logistics and planning – not our core competencies. Our Carnival invariably features, but is not defined by, a smattering of anti-social proclivities.
There are usually pockets of destruction of private property and widespread defacement of buildings. Then there are assorted shootings, stabbings, bottle-pelting, etc.
This is to be expected, even if not accepted. Carnival in this country is essentially a controlled explosion. As thousands deluge the streets, the hope is the spirit of mirth will triumph over the potential for mayhem.
Law enforcement is deployed with the expectation that each reveller leaves their home with a line they won’t cross.
They must also be ready for those who will limbo beneath that line.
For Carnival 2023 it isn’t unreasonable to expect larger-than-average crowds – both domestic and foreign. There has been a spike in post-covid19 travel and leisure, cleverly coined “revenge travel.” With people’s pent-up need to ramajay, next year’s staging could be a challenge for law enforcement and first responders.
A booming Carnival would be a fantastic boost for industry types starved of income for two years.
If we don’t plan for a release beyond the norm, though, we could be in for an unpleasant return to revelry. It’s a thrill to ride the bull, but less so to be trampled by it.
The police service, under the astute leadership of acting Commissioner Mc Donald Jacob, has probably already begun crowd-control drills. These simulations likely also include emergency response training, along with fire service personnel, to prepare for rapid egress from crowded venues.
Additionally, the police should already have started testing their intelligence-gathering apparatus. Gang members often use the cover and distraction of Carnival crowds to target their quarry. Investigators should be using available technology and street intel to ferret out potential threats.
With violent criminal activity spiking in recent months, both the police and the public need to be hyper-vigilant. Full-time robbers will be on the prowl for lapses in judgment and gaps in security.
Notting Hill carnival wasn’t a stab- or grope-fest. Hundreds of thousands of people enjoyed themselves immensely without incident. People were able to earn an income in extraordinarily challenging times.
Perhaps we can learn from the experience of the Brits to ensure our Carnival is defined mostly by who we are and not the actions of a few.