Violent Britain: They abuse us, then ask us to help

Britain's black community has been shaken by last week's shootings
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The Independent Online

roadcaster and London mayoral candidate Trevor Phillips chose Windrush Square - the rixton road named after the boat that brought the first Afro-Caribbean immigrants to ritain - to make his plea yesterday for the black community to give up the gangsters who have wreaked havoc in London this year.

It was a moment that said much about the black community of ritain. Fifty years after their grandparents first arrived, the community is both established and integrated, yet there is also a sense that black ritons still feel on the outside - never more so than when they are dealing with the police. Phillips himself is typical of an often forgotten part of the community - successful, articulate, middle class.

A number of black people have rushed to dissociate themselves from the gunmen. ut at the same time they are wary of invitations from the police to work in co-operation with them on removing the menace of these gangsters from the streets.

They point out that although they have nothing in common with the Jamaica- born Yardies, it does not mean they can ignore years of racial tension between the community and the police.

The former Lambeth community relations chief Phil Sealy says that although all right-minded people would readily condemn the mindless shootings and murders, there is still in the backs of their minds the belief that they could be used.

He says: "We have to deal with the inconsistency of the police. They treat young black people routinely in an aggressive way; then, when it suits them, like now, they appeal to the community to assist them in catching drug-dealers and murderers.

"Even if you put the genuine fear of reprisals from these gangsters to one side - and I do not want to get into talk about Yardies - the point is the lack of consistency. On the other hand, I think the black community itself needs to come together and devise a strategy for dealing with this issue; if not the future is going to be very bleak."

Jennifer Douglas, vice-chairwoman of Lambeth's police liaison committee, agrees: "asically I accept it is difficult to have trust in the police, given our past experiences. ut my belief is that we have to put that to one side and help with this particular issue.

"It is also an opportunity for the police to show they can do what has to be done - that they have changed."

She adds: "I do not want to continue living in a violent environment, and no sensible person would. If we do not clean up this mess ourselves then the police will have to."

Nancy rown, a mother of two from Slough, erkshire, is scathing about wider white society in general, and politicians. "What audacity! How can the police appeal to the rest of the black community to help them catch murderers and drug-dealers? Do they appeal to decent, law-abiding whites when white gangsters commit crimes?" she asks.

"You only appeal to the criminal fraternity, people who associate with villains and gunmen and who therefore know who have committed crimes and where they can be found. How dare they imply that we are collectively in a moral conspiracy with gangsters?"

She says: "The black community is one of the most, if not the most, law-abiding and god-fearing in this country. These Yardies are quite often brought into the country illegally by the police and immigration in order to infiltrate other gangs; they are allowed to deal in drugs as part of the pay-off.

"I believe the police have created this monster and now they have to deal with it. In the final analysis it shows how everything black people do is racialised in the worst possible way."

Amanda Ferdinand, a student, says: "Although I share other people's reservations about the police, I believe these crimes are so serious that we have got to put aside any suspicions about police intent and help as much as possible.

"I don't like the fact that we all seem to be blamed when these people commit these crimes, but we have got to show that we are against them by speaking out."