Britain's worst interracial violence since the Notting Hill riots in London in 1976 has struck the western England city of Bristol, prompting race-relations specialists to begin an urgent reappraisal of the mood of the country's black community.
Trouble erupted April 2 when Bristol police raided a club in Bristol's St. Paul's area, where blacks predominate. After a night of rampage, 21 police were injured and numerous shops were burned and looted. More than $:1 million (about forced to withdraw from the St. Paul's district after hundreds of black youths attacked them with stones and other missiles.
home Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister William Whitelaw, speaking in the House of Commons the next mornning, called for an urgent review of race relations in Bristol. he asked community-relations advisers nationwide to consider whether similar violence could occur in other centers.
Black community representatives criticized police for handling the situation ineptly and warned the government that the Bristol violence had occurred because of tensions simmering beneath the surface of life in the city's deprived areas for months if not years. St. Paul's is a typical under-privileged immigrant area, a virtual black ghetto in an otherwise reasonably well-to-do white city. Black immigrants, mainly West Indians, live there in high concentration, and the black youth of the district figure prominently on unemployment registers.
Black community leaders say the youth of St. Paul's are at a loose end, with little entertainment to divert them. The leaders complain that Bristol police in recent months have been paying overly close attention to youthful black citizens, but the police say they have been worried about alcohol and drug abuse.
The club that provided the flashpoint of the violence had been identified by police as a potential trouble spot. But when the law officers moved in, black youths responded with fury.
They hurled stones, overturned and burned patrol cars, then spread out, looting banks, shops, and post office. The St. Paul's area was vacated by police for several hours while rioting continued. Then soon after dawn, police moved back in a massive presence.
Community relations officers have criticized the Bristol authorities for failing to ameliorate the slum conditions of St. Pauls. But former Labour government Home Secretary MErlyn Rees widened the criticism, suggesting that the government of Mrs. Margaret Thatcher was paying insufficient attention to the root causes of race tension.
By coincedence, only hours before the violence erupted, Home Secretary Whitelaw decided to trim black representation on the British Race Relations Council.
The Thatcher government has tended to place emphasis on curbing nonwhite immigration, which is now at comparatively low levels. The government's critics say this is the wrong approach and contend that closer attention should be paid to relations between the blacks and whites already living in Britain.