Among The Young Of Multiethnic Leeds, A Hardening Hatred

Tamara Jones, Washington Post, July 20

LEEDS, England—By the time the mob was finished with Tyrone Clarke, all that was left of the 16-year-old was what his own mother later described to reporters as “just a bloody pulp.”

About 30 boys and young men had chased him down, beating him with cricket bats and metal scaffolding poles before he was stabbed three times in the heart on April 22, 2004, in a tough neighborhood of south Leeds known as Beeston.

Four youths were convicted of Clarke’s murder this year, drawing prison sentences ranging from nine to 12 years. That Clarke was black and the mob was Pakistani did not, the presiding judge ruled, make it a racial killing. More complex factors including drugs and gang rivalries were at play, investigators decided.

Today, with police cordoning off the downtrodden blocks where three young suspects in London’s suicide bombings lived, people here are searching for answers to the same troubling question: What feeds the murderous rage that ticks quietly in some hearts here?

A multiethnic enclave in one of England’s largest cities, Beeston has long had racial tension on a slow boil, but police and community activists now fear that the resentment and wariness common among the immigrant generation can harden into hatred and violence in their British-born children.

At the Leeds Racial Harassment Project, director Shakeel Meer said: “They’ve developed their own very different culture within Islam, and they’re not totally Pakistani or totally Islamic, and they’re not totally British, either. These kids face quite an identity crisis. They’re fighting to assert themselves not on one or two fronts, but in three or four different directions.”

In the aftermath of the bloodshed to the south in London, authorities, religious leaders and community activists are trying to keep racial tensions in Leeds at bay. But the candlelight peace vigils are scoffed at by the white teenagers who complain about Pakistanis playing soccer in “our park,” and the multicultural solidarity picnics are of little help to the pub-keeper whose parking lot one recent evening suddenly teemed with Asian gang members seeking to back up a member involved in a drunken brawl.

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In Beeston, teenage Irish mothers trundled babies across the broken sidewalks this week without greeting the veiled Muslim women chatting in neighborly clusters over low garden walls. In the park where Tyrone Clarke died, blacks cheered on one another in patois as they played ball by themselves while Pakistanis did the same nearby.

Five white teenagers smoking marijuana watched with a contempt they didn’t bother to disguise.

“They start fights with us because we’re white,” said Damien Woodham, 18. “They’re [expletive] racist.”

His friend Martin Davison, also 18, complained that the park “used to be ours, but now,” he said, using a racial slur, “they don’t let the white lads cross.”

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Residents who are willing to talk frankly about race relations in Beeston do so only under the cloak of anonymity, fearful of reprisals.

“I’m really worried,” admitted a young mother from Kashmir, coming home from her office job with the power company. “We keep hearing that they’re coming for us, that there’ll be attacks against Muslims here because of the bombers. We had nothing to do with that!”

A white retiree standing beneath a “For Sale” sign outside his home watched Pakistani teenagers shout obscenities at one another in jest. His wife’s baskets of pink fuchsias hung in vain sentry along the wall, unable to camouflage the terrace junkyard next door where junkies often gather.

“You see them dealing drugs all the time—just look at the late-year BMWs and Mercedes you see around here being driven by these young Pakistanis with no visible means of support. Reporting it does no good. I’ve had two cars smashed in, people threatening me,” the man said.

“They always hide behind the word ‘Islam,’ but how many Muslims do you see getting stoned out of their minds on vodka and coke, sticking needles in their arm, chasing after young girls. Their parents are decent people who have no idea what their kids have got into.”

Two blocks away, the police have raided another house. Boys bicycle up to the new police tape at the end of the street. Neighbors politely ask to duck under to take their groceries home. People sit on their stoops as the plastic sheeting goes up again. There is nothing to see anymore, but still they look.

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