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Among the Young Of Multiethnic Leeds, A Hardening Hatred

The Leeds Grand Central Mosque, at right in background, forms part of the skyline of the majority-white city, where 75 nationalities live side by side. At 4.5 percent of the population, South Asians and their British-born children form the largest minority group in the city of 715,000.
The Leeds Grand Central Mosque, at right in background, forms part of the skyline of the majority-white city, where 75 nationalities live side by side. At 4.5 percent of the population, South Asians and their British-born children form the largest minority group in the city of 715,000. (By Christopher Furlong -- Getty Images)

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."

For 12 years, Lani Ralph has been an outreach counselor in the nearby city of Bradford, where tensions along similar ethnic lines erupted in race riots a few years ago. The frustration and rage among young people has become so high that she now specializes in anger management for 13- to 17-year-olds. It won't be long, she suspects, before Leeds will follow suit.

"The Asian kids here are very well community-minded, they get together, back each other up," Ralph said. But that loyalty also has created loose-knit gangs, mustered as needed by mobile-phone messages.

"It makes them powerful," Ralph said. "They can control something: the streets."

The harder-core element falls into drug dealing and pimping, she added. "They've lost their way here. . . . It is so sad. I don't know a way out of it for them. They're in a cycle of no hope."

Meer, of the Leeds Racial Harassment Project, sees the isolation, prejudices and lack of opportunities taking a toll even on the vast majority of Pakistani youths who don't turn to crime or gangs.

"It's not unusual to see young people facing real mental health issues here," he said. Such programs as the Islam awareness training the organization has done for police, schools and health care providers has resulted in "some progress" but no solutions, Meer said.

Pedaling around the steep streets of Beeston on their BMX bikes, older Pakistani boys glare at the lingering TV news crews and shout obscenities about the war in Iraq, cursing President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair before speeding off.

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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