and British bobbies danced in the street

London's Notting Hill Carnival -- so often a focus of crime and racial violence -- has passed off without serious incident, and West Indian residents say a community-relations milestone has been passed. In the end, British bobbies were dancing in the street.

For more than 20 years Notting Hill has been the scene of intermittent racial violence. The annual Caribbean carnival, organized by tens of thousands of West Indians crammed into a dilapidated area of west London, has been marred time and time again by drug-taking, drunkenness, and angry clashes between blacks and police.

This year over 30,000 revelers spent two days letting their hair down. But although police were on the scene in large numbers, they had hardly any serious work to do.

Steel bands and limbo dancers, jazz groups and brightly decorated floats, hundreds of stalls selling ethnic food, children and animals cavorting -- the scene was totally uproarious. But it was also in the best sense of the word peaceable, and in the carnival's closing hours constables began taking off their hats and jackets, rolling up their shirtsleeves, and joining in the fun.

The Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir David McNee, turned up himself and called it a "lovely occasion."

Behind the success lies a story of enormous effort over many months by police and festival organizers alike to tame Notting Hill's violent tendencies. Perhaps most remarkable was the adoption by police of new, more sensitive methods of crowd control.

In previous years the London police authorities were criticized by West Indian leaders for having too many officers on dized by West Indian leaders for having too many officers on duty, and keeping them too visible. This time hundreds of constables were on duty, but they stayed in school halls and other buildings and came out only if ordered to do so.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.