Anger over Greater Manchester Police (GMP) sending ‘exclusion’ letters to people they believe are members of, or linked to, gangs has cast a shadow over the 50th anniversary year of Manchester Caribbean Carnival.
The row broke out when The Guardian revealed that around 50 individuals – believed to be mostly young black men – have been sent letters banning them from the carnival. The letter, issued by GMP’s XCalibre gangs taskforce, warns the recipient “You will not be permitted entry to the carnival as per the wishes of the organisers and the community.” Campaigners argue that the strategy is effectively racist, flouts GMP’s own code of ethics and is quite likely to be illegal.
GMP’s City of Manchester commander, Chief Supt Rob Cousen, said similar letters have been issued every year since 2006 and claimed the strategy is supported by the city council, the carnival organiser and an “independent advisory group”. He said: “Caribbean Carnival is a licensed event and is therefore subject to conditions of entry, agreed by all relevant parties, to prevent and reduce crime, harm and anti-social behaviour.”
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Dr Remi Joseph-Salisbury, a member of the Northern Police Monitoring Project, criticised the carnival organisers for “legitimising” GMP’s approach. He noted that part of the identity of Caribbean carnivals was their “resistance to racism, and specifically police racism”.
Novara Media reported last week that Manchester City Council is investigating whether the letters contravene the Equality Act, the Human Rights Act and GMP’s code of ethics.
Manchester Carnival takes place in the Moss Side area of the city, where there have long been African and Caribbean communities. In either 1970 or 1971 (accounts differ!), Kittians and Trinidadians got together to put on an impromptu street procession, which quickly grew into a fully fledged carnival. Apart from the Covid years, it has been held ever since and this year will take place on Saturday 13 and Sunday 14 August.
Carnival starts with Jouvert at 7am, setting off from Moss Side Powerhouse along Moss Lane East, Great Western Street, Quinney Crescent and Alexandra Road, ending at Alexandra Park. At midday the main parade, led by some of the surviving carnival founders and elders, begins and ends at the park, moving clockwise along Carlton Road, Moss Lane East and Claremont Rd. The eight stages that form the main attraction on Saturday and Sunday afternoons include a youth stage, Jamaican Corner, African Corner and a Soca Corner hosted by Sensation Sound, “delivering real soca vibes”.
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It’s fair to say that Moss Side has had a ‘reputation’ over the years, so some caution is understandable, but the police have cast an extremely wide net with their letter, even including people “perceived by others to be associated to a street gang”, which is as vague and unreliable an indicator as anyone could wish for. As one commentator noted, the ban smacks of a ‘moral panic’ – the same sort of irrational fear (and one with a strong racial component) that led to the disastrous over-policing of Notting Hill Carnival in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s.
In London, the Metropolitan Police has also engaged in an annual letter-writing campaign, targeting people it suspects of involvement in serious crime and warning them against attending Notting Hill Carnival. However, carnival in Notting Hill takes place on public streets, so an outright ban is almost impossible – especially after the Met was forced to back down on use of dysfunctional facial recognition software. In Manchester, it seems unlikely that a ‘banned’ person could easily be excluded from Jouvert or the main parade on Saturday. However, Alexandra Park is ring-fenced and guarded by private security, backed up by police, so exclusion is much easier.
The Manchester Carnival exclusion letters raise serious issues about police attitudes towards Caribbean carnival compared with events with a predominantly white audience and leadership (have the police ever banned anyone from attending Reading Festival, Glastonbury or Creamfields?). It also shows the risk that carnival organisers run by allowing their events to be pushed into a park where security personnel can be used to filter participants and spectators according to police and council criteria about respectability and undesirability.
Quoted by Novara Media, Roxy Legane, of the Northern Police Monitoring Project, warned: “[Carnival] is becoming a council spectacle that opens the doors for police and other agencies to be a part of organising. That does lead to harm.”
Sadly, what should have been a golden year for Manchester Caribbean Carnival looks like being tarnished by Manchester Police’s ‘black ops’.
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