On 26 August 2019, we attended Notting Hill Carnival for the first time. Having existed since 1966, Notting Hill Carnival remains a spectacular celebration of Caribbean culture and is among the UK's most significant public events. Notting Hill Carnival is a cultural event unlike any other in the UK. The streets teem with over 1-million people, decorated with amazing outfits, food, music, parades, and (usually) sun. In some ways, Notting Hill Carnival is akin to Glastonbury Festival - great food, music, outfits, and (usually) sun.
But there are differences between the two. One difference, for example, is that while a whopping 1 million attended Notting Hill Carnival this year, only 200,000 attended Glastonbury. A second difference: 16 people were arrested at this year's Glastonbury Festival, but over 350 individuals were arrested at Notting Hill Carnival. The arrest figures become even more peculiar when you consider that Glastonbury is a 5-day event, whilst Notting Hill Carnival is only a 2-day event. So, the question becomes, why are the arrest rates at Notting Hill Carnival 22 times higher than that of Glastonbury Festival?
As previously mentioned, we attended Notting Hill Carnival for the first time this year. However, we weren’t 'Carnival-goers'. The both of us, alongside a group of 30 others, volunteered with a Kensington-based law centre to observe the conduct of the Metropolitan Police when conducting stop-and-search on members of the public. Stop-and-search powers are becoming a ubiquitous part of life for many in the UK, with 277,378 stop and search incidents in England and Wales in 2017/18. Black people were 9 and a half times as likely to be stopped and searched as white people at this time. Notting Hill Carnival, then, is representative of this issue. Matthew Phillip, the executive director of Notting Hill Carnival, said methods of policing at Carnival compared to that of Glastonbury have "undeniable" class and race undertones.
The difference between your everyday stop-and-search incidents and those at Notting Hill Carnival were palpable in our visit. Usually, to stop-and-search a person on the street, a police officer has to have reasonable grounds to believe they have been involved in a crime or thinks that they are in possession of a prohibited item, such as drugs or a weapon. This power to stop and search is granted to police under Section 1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. At this year’s Notting Hill Carnival, however, Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 applied. This order meant that under Section 60, the police could stop anyone without the need for any suspicion at all, in a particular area and during a specified period, where a senior officer believes that violence may occur. The powers that the police had to stop-and-search at the 2019 Notting Hill Carnival were vastly broad. They covered the entire area of Notting Hill for the whole two-days in which the Notting Hill Carnival ran (even after Notting Hill Carnival officially ends for the day).
During our time at Notting Hill, we witnessed Section 60 in use. On the one hand, Section 60 powers can work to prevent crime - we saw one man get arrested for possession of 3 huge machetes and a large bag of drugs. The tactics deployed in this case are the ones that work - we hate to think what damage could've been inflicted if the police didn't bravely pull this man to one side. On the other hand, we witnessed a 14-year-old boy get stopped and was searched. As the police lined-up and handcuffed a group of young black men before searching them, the only white friend in the group confidently giggled saying, "This always happens. They never stop me because I'm white." A throwaway comment, but one that rings with truth.
We left Notting Hill Carnival conflicted. The police can, and do, things that we take for granted. Without them policing the Notting Hill Carnival; the number of injuries and fatalities could be substantially higher. They are a necessity in ensuring that the Notting Hill Carnival runs smoothly. Without them, there would be no Carnival. But it is undeniable that Section 60 is a broadly framed indiscriminate policing tool. As noted by Theresa May in 2014 when she was Home Secretary, "Nobody wins when stop and search is misapplied. It is a waste of police time. It is unfair, especially to young black men. It is bad for public confidence in the police."