Race relations in Britain take a turn for the better

Leaders of London's black community, together with the Metropolitan Police, are claiming a major breakthrough in race relations following this year's trouble-free Notting Hill Carnival.

They believe they have established guidelines for ensuring that potentially explosive public celebrations involving blacks and whites go smoothly - leaving everyone happy.

In previous years the annual carnival in west London has been a scene of violent clashes between police and black youths. In the late 1970s it was common for fistfights to break out during the two-day event. Police squads had to be prepared to mount charges on black youths, many of whom were unemployed and looking for trouble. Arrests of hundreds of people were fairly common.

This year Notting Hill was a setting for a colorful and at times uproarious spectacle at which steel bands, reggae groups, and dancing blacks and whites lived it up for two days.

According to Police Commander Robert Innes, ''Everybody is saying that this is one of the best carnivals ever. There have been no problems.''

The key to the success of the carnival, police said afterward, was careful planning and an attempt by all concerned to pinpoint trouble spots of recent years and head off possible violent behavior.

Planning began a few days after last year's carnival. Past problems have included a feeling among blacks that the event had been over-policed. In addition, though west London is a large and sprawling area, Notting Hill itself is small with narrow streets.

The result was overcrowding as decorated trucks moved along and revelers, trying to have a good time, were forced to jostle bystanders and police.

The worst time used to be the carnival's second day, particularly toward evening. Large quantities of alcohol were consumed and police squads, adopting a high profile, moved in to prevent trouble.

This time pre-carnival arrangements involved an attempt to reduce consumption of alcohol during the festivities and a studied effort by police to remain relaxed.

Much of the credit for the new atmosphere was due to local radio efforts to explain to Londoners that it was in everyone's interest to avoid trouble.

A BBC radio station serving London has its own program for black listeners. For weeks before the event the program spelled out the arrangements.

Carnival organizers looking back on a successful event, say one factor in their favor was last year's serious riots in London and other British cities.

The impact of the clashes on both police and the black community was huge and they realized that violence at Notting Hill this year could have meant a permanent end to the carnival.

In previous years, some white Londoners argued that the carnival should be transferred to a sporting arena and, in effect, taken off the streets.

This year's carnival has silenced these critics. There were only 35 arrests at an event attracting tens of thousands of people.

The peace that broke out in Notting Hill is also of considerable symbolic importance.

Britons first became acquainted with racial violence in the 1950s. It occurred in Notting Hill, which to many people became synonymous with communal trouble. The relaxed atmosphere this year may have dispelled such fears.

Success was typified by the fate of one young constable who was seen eyeing the merrymakers with suspicion. He was quickly surrounded by a troupe of dancers and was last seen cheerfully dancing a samba down Ladbroke Grove

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