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1970 - When cops raided a hip 1970s London cafe, Britain’s Black Power movement rose up

Atthe start of the 1970s, the Black Panther movement in the United States was both well established and well organized. It was also well feared by the authorities. By contrast, black activism in the U.K. was young, with barely a toehold on power. The trial of the Mangrove Nine, in 1970, changed all that. From near total obscurity and against huge odds, a group of British activists propelled the black power concept into the public consciousness and exposed institutionalized racism in London’s Metropolitan Police force.

The saga began in Notting Hill, a West London borough that was the first new home for many of the West Indian migrants invited to the U.K. following WWII. By the late sixties, Notting Hill was the U.K.’s black culture capital.

In March 1968, Frank Crichlow opened the Mangrove Restaurant at 8 All Saints Road. It quickly became a popular late-night hot spot and community hub, where locals mixed with black intellectuals and artists. At one time or another, Jimi Hendrix, Vanessa Redgrave, Nina Simone, Marvin Gaye, Sammy Davis Jr., and Diana Ross enjoyed the Mangrove’s music, dancing, and West Indian cuisine.

The police, however, had less appreciation for the hive of activity and looked with suspicion upon the fomenting alternative culture. So they directed a concentrated campaign of harassment at the Mangrove. Between January 1969 and July 1970, police raided the restaurant on 12 occasions, citing narcotics use to justify their actions, even though drugs were never found and drug consumption was strongly discouraged by the owner, Crichlow.

Patrons and community members got fed up. They convened the Action Committee for the Defence of the Mangrove, which included Crichlow and barrister Anthony Mohipp, secretary of the Black Improvement Organization. On August 9, 1970, in protest of police harassment, 150 people marched on the local police station. The Met’s Special Branch “Black Power Desk” was mobilized, and clashes ensued.

“Heavy-handed policing prompted violence and the authorities started to build a case against the demonstration’s leaders,” wrote Robin Bunce and Paul Field in the Guardian. “Home Office documents reveal this was a deliberate strategy to target and decapitate the emerging black power movement.”

According to the National Archives, photographs such as the ones you see here were “used by the police to suggest that key allies of the Black Power movement were implicated in planning and inciting a riot.”

Facing charges of incitement to riot, Barbara Beese, Rupert Boyce, Frank Crichlow, Rhodan Gordon, Darcus Howe, Anthony Innis, Althea Jones-LeCointe, Rothwell Kentish, and Godfrey Millett became known collectively as the Mangrove Nine. The case was thrown out, but, in an unorthodox move, the director of public prosecutions reinstated the charges. The nine were rearrested in dawn raids.

The Nine demanded an all-black jury, invoking the Magna Carta’s concept of a “jury of one’s peers,” and cited trial precedents in which, for example, Welsh miners faced an all-Welsh jury. This echoed calls by the Black Panthers in the United States, under an interpretation of the 14th Amendment, for all-black juries. The judge dismissed the possibility of an all-black jury out of hand, but the Nine had already succeeded in elevating the trial to a national spectacle. Supporters distributed literature outside the Old Bailey Courts and initiated a public education program about institutional racism.

The trial lasted 55 days. All nine were acquitted of the most serious charges. Five were acquitted of all charges. The success was due in large part to the Nine’s radical trial tactics. Jones-LeCointe and Howe defended themselves. The other seven employed a radical civil rights lawyer to ensure there would be no friction between Jones-LeCointe and Howe’s defense and their own. Arguments focused on the ongoing police persecution experienced by the black community in Notting Hill. Police witnesses who justified their targeting of the Mangrove with descriptions of it as a “haunt of criminals, prostitutes and ponces” only corroborated the Nine’s detailing of police prejudice.

In his closing remarks, Judge Clarke said, “What this trial has shown is that there is clearly evidence of racial hatred on both sides.” In the wake of Trump and Charlottesville, the phrase “on both sides” is a reckless and poorly veiled racist provocation, yet in 1970 the judge’s statement was landmark. It shook the establishment. It was the first judicial acknowledgement of racial prejudice and wrongdoing in the Metropolitan Police’s operations. Not only did the Mangrove Nine win the trial and the sympathy of a nation, but they pushed forward much-needed (and ongoing) police reform and accountability.

As for Critchlow, he went on, writes Margaret Busby in a 2010 obituary, to found the award-winning Mangrove Steelband. He also helped develop the world-renowned Notting Hill Carnival and established the Mangrove Community Association, which worked to improve housing, rehabilitate former prisoners, and provide services for youth and the elderly.

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