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Leicester - Community organises to resist EDL thugs
HUNDREDS, EVEN thousands, of local people turned out to defend their community in Leicester on Saturday 9 October when the hooligan English Defence League (EDL) came to stir up racism.
Steve Score, Leicester Socialist Party
The thuggery of the EDL was exposed when hundreds of them broke free of police control and attacked anyone who wasn't white as well as shops in the city centre.
They then attempted to march into the Highfields area close by. This is a large, mainly black and Asian area with a big Muslim population. There had already been threats that mosques would be attacked. The EDL were met and repulsed by over 1,000 local youth. Socialist Party members and other anti-racists stood alongside the local community as they organised their own defence.
The EDL had earlier attended a 'static protest'. Marches, including that of Unite Against Fascism (UAF), had been banned by the Home Secretary. At least 600 mainly local people attended a UAF static protest in the city centre to show their opposition to racism, separated from the EDL by 100 yards, a huge metal barrier, and police with dogs.
This turnout was despite the massive campaign that had been waged to keep people from going on the counter-demo.
A coalition of the council, police, the local paper, faith and community 'leaders' and 'Hope not Hate' had told people to stay away.
The police flooded the city with leaflets threatening dire consequences to young people in particular.
Distraction events were organised on the days either side of the demo, as well as across the city. Youth clubs were ordered to open up on the day and workers threatened with disciplinary charges if they didn't comply.
Various media reports continuously equated the anti-racist demonstrators with the violence of the EDL, possibly the worst being the BBC output.
The police lost control of the EDL, despite a massive operation. Parts of the city centre were cordoned off, and roads blocked. Drunken EDLers abused and attacked bystanders, for example some Socialist Party members witnessed a kebab shop being attacked, people inside being beaten up, and the window being kicked in by a large group of EDL thugs.
When they got onto the ring road and started to attack people, Asian people had to flee from their cars.
Socialist Party members supported the UAF rally and one spoke during it on behalf of the PCS union. But we also stood shoulder to shoulder with the community in Highfields. We had banners and placards saying: "jobs and homes, not racism" and gave out leaflets and sold our socialist papers.
We showed that the Muslim population is not alone in defending Leicester. We strengthened our local links and expect to build on them. The self-defence organised included scouts on motorbikes and in cars and rapid movement to where the EDL might turn up.
At one point, a huge crowd of 1,000 people or more blocked Kent Street, one of the ways into the area that the EDL attempted to get through.
There are many lessons to be learned. In part, the fact that some people were attacked in the city centre is the responsibility of all those who did their best to reduce the numbers of people coming into the city centre to oppose the EDL on the day.
Clearly we cannot rely only on the police to defend us. Nor can we simply listen to the 'respectable' civic and community 'leaders'. We need to build a movement that can mobilise tens of thousands of local people to defend not just the areas of the city under threat, but also the city centre itself.
We need to build that among all the communities in Leicester. Above all, we need to build a political alternative to cut across the dangers of division and racism; there were worrying reports of an element of ethnic polarisation taking place in some schools.
A movement that fights for jobs and services, a working class political alternative, is required. A start in Leicester would be to build for the demo against cuts in services taking place in Leicester on 30 October.
An eye-witness in Leicester, Darren, reported:
At the Conduit street mosque in Highfields, one young Muslim man told me that he was 'protecting the Highfields community and not just the mosque'.
The English Defence League (EDL) met a massive counter-demonstration in Leicester , photo by Pete Watson
He explained that he loves Leicester 'because it's full of different nationalities and everyone gets on'.
He added: 'these EDL racists are coming here to try to screw that up, and we need to tell them they're not welcome'."
While walking home from the protest I witnessed Silver Street being cordoned off from a group of multi-ethnic teenagers who were exchanging abuse with a small handful of apparently drunken EDL adults.
Within a few minutes, an ugly scene arose in which around 100 youth, possibly from both sides of the debate, were 'imprisoned' between two lines of tooled-up police officers.
In a police charge, one young man of around 17 years was hit around the head with a police truncheon and was initially refused permission to leave the cordoned-off area.
I said that his request to see a medic should be respected, to which one officer replied: 'he hasn't requested permission'.
At the same time as me responding that he couldn't do such a thing because he was confused and nursing a bleeding head wound, but that his friends had clearly requested permission, he was taken by friends and police to a police medic.