Fifty Years On: The Mangrove Nine Protest by Ruby Koopman

The 9 th August 2020 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the Mangrove Restaurant protest; this however was more than just a “restaurant”- the Mangrove was an important hub for the Black community, a regular meeting spot for Black intellectuals and activists. The peaceful protest in London’s Notting Hill was as a result of the constant targeting and raiding of the restaurant by police, amounting to twelve instances between January and July of 1970. The Metropolitan Police attempted to justify their disproportionate interest in the restaurant as responding to suspicions of drug possession. No drugs were ever found during any of these raids.
The protest was planned for 9 th August 1970 as a response to the relentless over-policing of the Mangrove. The protest was organised by Activists from The Action Committee for the Defence of the Mangrove, the British Black Panthers, the Black Improvement Organisation, and the indomitable Trinidadian restaurant owner, Crichlow. They all marched to the local police station to confront the ongoing, unjust profiling. The peaceful protest of 150 activists was met by a police force of 200, with 500 additional officers available if they were deemed necessary. The disproportionate police presence is evidence of the fictitious perceived threat of the Black community. Although the march was peaceful, the police responded with violence.

The trial of the Mangrove Nine then took a winding course. Originally, the presiding magistrate dismissed the case as it was clear the twelve police officers giving evidence equated the ideals of Black radicalism (the emerging political theory of racial justice developed in the US) with criminal intent. As with contemporary radicalism, the redistribution of social, economic, and political power that the Black radical movement sought was understood by those who held power to be a dangerous shift and therefore criminal.
Although this original case was thrown out, the Director of Public Prosecutions re-arrested the nine activists on the same charge, determined to use them as a deterrent against the rise of radical politics in marginalised communities. The Nine, however, responded by politicising the trial for their own cause. Two of the Nine opt-ed for self-representation, in keeping with the black radical tradition and an unprecedented tactic that enhanced public interest. Moreover, the Nine demanded an all-black jury, under the Magna Carta’s express instructions for criminal cases to be judged by one’s “peers”. This tactic was disallowed but brought further notoriety to the case by highlighting potential jurors’ misconceptions of the Black power movement. In the end, only two of the twelve jurors were Black.

Nine activists were arrested with charges of inciting a riot: Frank Crichlow (owner of the Mangrove Restaurant), Althea Lecointe Jones, Darcus Howe, Barbara Beese, Rupert Boyce, Rhodan Gordon, Anthony Innis, Rothwell Kentish and Godfrey Millett.

However, much of the final jury was working class, and the Nine re-strategized and used this demographic to their advantage. They highlighted the intersection between racial and class injustice and reminded the jury they too were victims of the powerful British establishment. Further, the Nine pointed to the status imbalance within the court room, showing the prosecution and the establishment to have vested interest in the elimination of radical thought, as such movements might disrupt the status quo they continually benefit from. The Nine also aligned their case with the African American fight against racial oppression and Black nationalists fighting for self-determination in the colonies.

After 55 days of the high-profile trial at the Old Bailey, all nine were acquitted of the main charge of inciting a riot. Further, the judge conceded that the police were motivated by racial prejudice. The decision was an enormous victory for the activists and the community as they had proven marginalised groups could challenge the seemingly immutable power of the police and the criminal justice system, and win. The British Black Panthers and black radicalism gained credibility after the trial, although this resulted in tighter controls and surveillance by the Metropolitan Police. Nonetheless, the significance of the march and the subsequent trial to the development of Black radicalism in Britain cannot be understated.
Fifty years on, as the fight against racial profiling in the police and racial discrimination in courtrooms still rages, it is important to remember the creativity, determination and fearlessness of the Mangrove Nine who relentlessly pursued their rights; and won.

Ruby is a recent History graduate with a particular interest in underrepresented narratives. She is beginning her law conversion course in September 2020 with the aspiration to become a social welfare and civil liberties solicitor.

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