PEACE POLICE; Rasta Volunteers Join Bobbies on Beat SPECIAL REPORT

Article excerpt

Byline: AMARDEEP BASSEY

THE introduction of Rastafarian 'peace officers' patrolling the streets of Handsworth alongside beat police officers has been heralded as a breakthrough in community relations.

Decades of mistrust appear to have been overcome as the unlikely alliance with the Haile Selassie Peace Foundation (HSPF) has already resulted in several arrests.

But, according to the group's president and self-styled prophet, his volunteers are there to keep an eye on the police as much as help them.

'We are not the police and we do not want to be,' said Itabarica Napthali.

'We are not here to inform on our brothers and sisters. We are observers only, watching the police as well as the community.'

Jamaican-born Mr Napthali, 54, is the spiritual head of a worldwide Rastafarian movement and is revered as a living prophet from his spartan offices on Holyhead Road.

In his own words, he will soon rule the planet after the creation of a new world order which will be headed by Rastafarians who he describes as God's chosen people.

Birmingham, and Handsworth in particular, is home to the biggest Rastafarian population outside Jamaica.

Their goal is to one day return to their spiritual homeland of Ethiopia, which, according to scriptures, will be the new world power.

Helping the police in Birmingham is seen as playing a vital part in the grand plan.

'By helping the police in this way we are getting an idea of how to organise ourselves when it is our time to govern,' said Mr Napthali.

'We are a peaceful people and we are helping the police to bring peace back on our streets.

'Black people are killing their own brothers and sisters and it is our duty to stop this.

'But we are not the eyes and ears for the police and if we know about certain criminals it is not our job or aim to inform on them.'

The peace officer initiative came about after the donation-funded HSPF was approached by West Midlands Police.

Currently there are three unpaid volunteers from the foundation who accompany regular police officers on patrol for up to six hours a day.

Ostensibly their role is that of observers but they have used their persuasive powers to quell potential trouble.

Their presence has proved to be a massive publicity coup for West Midlands Police, which openly admits that Rastas 'carry a lot more sway than police in Handsworth'.

But one potential stumbling block which has made Rastas and police natural enemies in the past has been glossed over by both parties.

All three peace officers openly admit to smoking marijuana for spiritual meditation and ironically one was present during the arrest of a man for possessing cannabis. …