by Coky Giedroye in Notting Hill POLICE aggravation at the Notting Hill Carnival has been condemned by local priests. Fr Oliver McTernan of St Francis of Assisi parish in Notting Hill attended the carnival last Monday and insisted that reports of a "riot" were a serious distortion. He questioned police tactics.
"Having been in the midst of the so-called riot for nearly three hours, I can honestly say that the police over-reacted," he told the Catholic Herald. "It was a joyous weekend with people happily dancing to the music when, all of a sudden, sirens blared and lights flashed. The carnival was brought to a halt."
He suggested that some papers had misrepresented the reaction of the crowd to the police intervention. "It was not only black youths against the police. Young and old, white and black objected alike," he said.
Both Fr McTernan and another of the carnival's organisers, Fr Michael Hollings, rejected out of hand demands by the police that the event should be banned. Constructive dialogue between police and community would make such a call superfluous, they added.
Fr Hollings, of the neighbouring parish of St Mary of the Angels, criticised the police for "getting so uptight". If they were going to behave in this manner at other events, "all football matches and festivals should be banned out of hand. There will always be small pockets of troublemakers in such massive crowds," he said.
The annual carnival, which has been held since the late 1960s, attracted well over a million people this year. A kaleidoscopic array of floats made their way through swaying throngs blasting out music ranging from calypso to hip hop, surrounded by costumes of devastating colour and proportions.
Snaking through this joyous procession were small groups of police arranged in single file, who moved in and out of the crowd to monitor the proceedings.
By 9pm, the police deemed it necessary to implement "a carefully prepared and rehearsed contingency plan," which was deployed in response to "unprovoked attacks", said Deputy Assistant Commissioner Paul Condon, senior police officer for the area.
He explained: "The fun side of the carnival was over. We decided at this point to encourage law-abiding citizens away from the carnival." He described how gangs of "about 50 youths" began "streaming" (running through the crowds), and robbing anyone they could, causing general disorder.
"The officers on duty should be commended for the sensitive, professional way in which they dealt with the situation," he added.
An eye witness, however, told the Catholic Herald that within minutes of the disorder, streets were blocked off and the dance music was drowned by the din of a police helicopter overhead.
Fr Michael Hollings insisted "it was not a riot, but the media will set out to demolish and to vilify the event. This was the biggest and best carnival to date. Two brilliant Masses took place in St Mary of the Angels on Saturday and Sunday with a fiesta of praise on Monday when a Rastafarian and a Moslem joined us in celebration.
On Sunday, there was a concelebrated Mass at the carnival.
Among the ten concelebrants were Cardinal Basil Hume and Bishop John Crowley, auxiliary in West London, and the sermon on both Saturday and Sunday was given by Mgr Preston Moss, Vicar General of Nassau in the Bahamas.
Surrounded by 25 choristers dressed in gold and standing in front of a huge banner showing "The Light of the World" in a burst of sun and stars, the West Indian priest spoke of Christ as the light of the world, and compared this light to the joyful light of the carnival.
Bishop Crowley referred to the carnival as the embodiment of "an enormous need to celebrate." He emphasised to the Catholic Herald that particularly for the West Indian Community such a festival is a symbolic event "where the area of Notting Hill is their own for the weekend. The carnival represents a celebration of life where people simply and innocently enjoy themselves in total racial harmony."