Was Blackstock raid heavy-handed?

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[from Islington Tribune]

Islington Tribune – by ROISIN GADELRAB
Published: 4 April 2008

Blackstock Road business owners with placards they planned to display in their windows

Was Blackstock raid heavy-handed?

A week on, police face backlash as small businesses hit out over massive police crackdown

CAMPAIGNERS from “Little Algiers” attended an angry meeting at Finsbury Park Mosque on Monday in the wake of last week’s massive police raid on Blackstock Road.
Business owners and residents spoke out against the “humiliation” and “damage to property” they say they suffered when around 600 police officers took part in last week’s crackdown.
Yesterday (Thursday) shops and cafés along the road hung banners in protest at what they say was a “heavy-handed” police operation that targeted businesses instead of the real criminals.
This week Borough Commander Bob Carr held urgent meetings with community leaders as well as Jeremy Corbyn MP, to discuss warnings the raids would alienate the mostly Algerian population in the area.
Mr Corbyn said: “We were concerned about the scale of the operation. I feel the raid risked alienating people. Our view is that there should have been more gradual action across a longer time.”
Nineteen businesses were hit last Thursday when officers went in search of 52 people suspected to being involved in a black market for stolen goods, forged passports and drugs.
The raid has divided the community, with some vowing never to co-operate with police again and others promising revenge.
So far 81 people have been arrested, 36 of whom have been charged. Thirty of those charged were remanded in custody with police promising more arrests to follow.
Mohamed Nacer, director of the Arab Advice Bureau on Seven Sisters Road, has been asked to find a human rights solicitor to represent members of the Algerian community who say their civil rights were infringed.
Mr Nacer has been fielding calls from businesses and relatives of people arrested in the raid. He said: “The community feels degraded. They [police] want to give a strong message but it shouldn’t be in this way.”
At Monday’s meeting at the mosque, residents asked for a written apology from the police, for officers to work with the businesses, and said they planned to hang banners outside their shops.
Mohamed Malik, of the Arab Advice Bureau, said: “People feel there was a real overreaction. They have been asking police to take action against petty thieves for a long time but nothing happened. Then they came in their hundreds.
“Instead of targeting criminals they targeted honest businesses. It’s not a crackdown on criminals, it’s a crackdown on Algerians. They are alienating the whole community. We’ve worked for years to get people to integrate. It has reminded many of the treatment they had at the hands of police states in other countries. It humiliated the community, wasted public money and brought down business.”
Imam Saad Ahmed, of Finsbury Park Mosque, said: “Everyone was happy the bad people have been taken away yet there have been some concerns from the community that there was a bit of excessive force.”
Wagshun Afework, who runs Eva Internet Cafe, claims officers broke his shop window.
“Now people are scared to come here,” he said. “Our customers were in shock. It’s a shame to see this in a civilised country. The police know each and every one of us. I’ve been here 10 years. They targeted us instead of the criminals on the street. They wanted to make a show for the media. It was like a military operation.”
His brother Yonas Hesfagyorgi said he needed hospital attention after police handcuffed him and forced him to the floor. Customer Lies Benmansour said: “They will pay for this. We’re innocent. There are cocaine dealers round the corner but the police came to the cafés. It was humiliating.”
Omar Ahouaoui, of Sim Sim café, where one display fridge is missing a pane of glass, after the raids, said: “They dragged me on the floor. I was screaming. I’ve been waking up with nightmares. People are talking of discrimination. This area does have its problems, but they should talk to us.”
His colleague, who asked not to be named, said: “It was like a war. There were three or four policemen on my back.
“This is the most respectable café on the whole street. It’s good they want to clean up, but they should target the street first. They are killing the businesses. They want to break the whole community.
“If they want us to disperse, they can buy my shop. I’m happy to leave. It’s like we’re terrorists.”

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