Darcus Howe sees a damp squib in Brixton
On a sunny weekend, a race relations adviser fails to disturb the drug dealers
A recent Saturday in Brixton breathed a regular summer rhythm: the riding of batties (very short shorts), a busy trade in hair weaves, a Vietnamese-owned shop offering to extend women's fingernails Adams Family style.
On Coldharbour Lane, people queued for plastic barrels, which they will stuff with goods to be shipped home to Kingston, Jamaica. The new female intake from Jamaica, unselfconscious in their loudness and lewdness, controlled the pavement. Old Brixtonians sighed in wonderment. Young men nipped in and out, offering white (coke), brown (heroin) and skunk (weed), completely oblivious to the war on drugs announced with such panache by the Metropolitan Police. This is the market place for the good, the bad and the ugly.
Into this intricate weave of races and colours, hedonists and Christians, came Lee Jasper, race relations adviser to Ken Livingstone, mayor of London. The police had announced a new operation to clean the streets of crack dealers - the umpteenth in the past few years. Jasper came to rally the people and help them to chase the dealers out of town, and had warned the press in advance of his intention to intervene. What he hopes, I suspect, is that once the mayoralty of the nearby borough of Lewisham becomes a source of real political power, he can be a serious candidate.
I positioned myself strategically to watch what happened. For four hours, the clock ticked away on the town hall and nothing happened. A full score from the press waited patiently.
Then the Nation of Islam, with their suits and bow ties, arrived, warning black men not to go with white women, reminding us of our African past and campaigning against the exclusion of their American leader, Louis Farrakhan, from Britain. Jasper had by then found his equipment, platform and sound. But too late.
The crowd, no more than a hundred or so, was under the command of the Nation of Islam.
To their mind, the Nation was home grown, self-financed, and built from the bottom up. It had some authenticity. Jasper, with the mayor's office at his disposal, e-mail and fax at the ready, promptly disappeared - and rightly so. He had failed to make any impact on a fine summer's day. He was just a puff of wind. There was no demonstration against the drug dealers, and no platform for his silly rhetoric.