Among the Young Of Multiethnic Leeds, A Hardening Hatred
Wednesday, July 20, 2005
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.
In Beeston now, there is a familiar drill on the streets of tight rowhouses in rubbled lanes: Police raid a new address suspected of having something to do with the London bombs. Residents are bustled away to be questioned or arrested. Neighbors peer out grimy windows or step into the back alley to watch.
Then comes the truck with metal poles clattering in the back, and workers in yellow hard hats who drill into the scabbed brick. Soon the house is encased in scaffolding three stories high. Then it's wrapped with thick sheets of plastic until the whole place resembles a gargantuan shower stall.
As the forensic teams, tucked out of sight, continue their searches for evidence in the London bombings, the troubled neighborhood is left to carry on a search of its own, behind facades equally opaque.
With a population of 715,000, Leeds is 91 percent white but home to 75 nationalities. Its history of immigration dates to the Irish Catholic builders who came in search of work in the late 1800s. Today, South Asians and their British-born offspring form the largest minority group -- 4.5 percent -- and mosques spring up alongside the spires and stained glass of Anglican churches.
Government statistics also show that the 10 percent unemployment rate among minorities in Leeds is double that of whites, and in a neighborhood like Beeston, social workers say, the competition for limited resources has bred a desperate and potentially dangerous new underclass.