Posts Tagged ‘unite against racism’

Londoners Defeat the EDL: 2012

Wednesday, September 1st, 2021

Londoners came out to defeat the racist EDL when Tommy Robinson decided to hold a march to a rally in Walthamstow against Muslims and Sharia Law. The area is one of London’s more ethnically diverse, with a large Muslim population as well as others of Asian and Caribbean origin and, at least in 2012, many from Romania, Poland, Hungary and other EU countries. Roughly a quarter of the population of the borough of Waltham Forest call themselves Muslim though around twice as many identify as Christian.

The ‘We are Waltham Forest’ campaign brought together many groups from the community to oppose the march, including many from the churches and mosques in the area as well as the main political parties and trade unionists as well as more active anti-fascist groups including Unite Against Fascism.

From a well-attended rally in the centre of Walthamstow people marched to block the road along which the EDL intended to march. As they marched people came out of shops and houses to applaud them and it was clear they enjoyed wide community support.

When they reached the crucial road junction, many of them sat down on the street, while others stood and watched. A samba band played and people danced and it was clear that there were more than a thousand people determined that the EDL were not going to be allowed to pass.

I went to meet the EDL march on its way into the area, and found a group of perhaps 200 surrounded by a police escort which made taking photographs difficult. But since I was getting sworn and and threatened by the marchers the police presence was welcome, and they held back one man who made a determined effort to assault me. I followed their march for some distance; there were a few protesters at the side of the road against them, but police stopped them coming close. Along around half a mile only one person shouted support, leaning out of a first floor window, and was met with a huge response from the marchers.

Police took the EDL along some back streets that led them close to the site where they had intended to hold their rally but then kettled them. Tommy Robinson and the other EDL leaders had set up a PA system but the police held the marchers a short distance away and it soon became clear that a rally there would be impossible. Although most of the opposition was non-violent, stones and other objects were soon flying through the air, and the EDL leaders had to retreat, as I did too, watching from the sidelines.

I’d decided long ago that I was not prepared to wear the kind of protective armour that many photographers use to cover protests – including various kinds of helmet, bullet proof vests, shin pads and more. Fortunately such things are seldom needed at protests in the UK, though photographers have often been targets, particularly at extreme right protests. Here it was the anti-fascists who were throwing things, not at photographers but towards the EDL, but many were falling short.

It seemed to me that a stalemate had been reached and that nothing of interest was likely to happen and I decided to go home. For once I was right – often my leaving seems to be a signal for things to kick off – but this time little more happened. Eventually the police escorted the kettled EDL march away to an Underground station so they could safely leave the area.

More about the event and many more pictures at Waltham Forest Defeats the EDL.

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

Unite Against Racism

Tuesday, April 27th, 2021

Two years ago today, 27 April 2019, I joined with a large crowd in Southall remembering the murders there of Gurdip Singh Chaggar and Blair Peach, calling for unity against racism.

The march took place on the Saturday after St George’s Day, and marked the 40th anniversary of Blair Peach’s murder by police officers. Several thousand police had packed the town to defend the National Front who were holding a meeting at Southall Town Hall. A large group of the local community and supporters from across London had come to oppose the meeting, and and police rioted and attacked what had been a determined but largely peaceful protest. Wikipedia has a long and well referenced article on the murder from which many of the facts below are taken, though speeches at the 2019 protest also included some eye-witness accounts. Peach was a member of my own union at the time, the NUT, which also made me very aware of the events and was prominent in the fight to see justice.

Blair Peach was in a group of friends who tried to escape the violent police attacks on Southall Broadway and make their way home down a side street, but unfortunately this led nowhere and the police Special Patrol Group drove up in several vans and began attacking the crowd there, who responded with bricks and bottles. Witnesses, including residents on the street say the police were hitting everybody and fourteen saw a police officer hitting Peach on the head.

People obseve a minute of silence where Gurdip Singh Chaggar was killed

Forensic evidence found he had been hit with an illegal weapon, probably a lead-filled cosh or pipe, and searches of the lockers of the SPG unit involved found 26 illegal weapons. None of the witnesses were able to identify the police officer involved – perhaps because one officer had shaved off his moustache and another grew a beard and refused to take part in the identity parades. Many also had their uniforms dry-cleaned before the police investigation inspected them.

Although the police investigation had produced a great deal of evidence against the SPG, the DPP decided it was insufficient to justify a prosecution. The report was kept secret, though parts appeared in the press early in 1980, and the inquest was hampered as the legal team acting for the Peach family were not allowed access to it. The verdict of the inquest, ‘death by misadventure’ was widely considered – even by The Times – to have been inappropriate. The coroner afterwards wrote an article including his comments that some of the civilian witnesses had lied as they were “politically committed to the Socialist Workers Party” of which Peach was a member and that some Sikh witnesses “did not have experience of the English system” to enable them to give reliable evidence but was persuaded not to publish it.

At Ramgarhia Sabha Gurdwara

The fight to get justice over the murder continued, but none of the officers involved was ever brought to trial. Apparently all left the police force shortly after the investigaton. Peach’s family were awarded £75,000 compensation in a tacit admission of police guilt by the Metropolitan Police in 1988, but requests for a public inquiry were turned down by the Home Office. The SPG was disbanded in 1987, but replaced by a very similar Territorial Support Group. It was only following a member of the TSG killing newspaper vendor Ian Tomlinson as he was walking home past the G20 protests at Bank in 2009 that the report of the police investigation into Blair Peach’s death was finally made public.

The 2019 march and rally in Southall convened close to where Gurdip Singh Chaggar, an 18 year old student, was murdered by racist skinheads in June 1976 as he left the Dominion Cinema and began, at the request of his family with a karate display. It paused for a minute of silence where his was killed before moving on to stop at the Ramgarhia Sabha Gurdwara which the Chaggar family attend, where prayers were said.

Flowers were handed out which were then laid at the street corner where Blair Peach was murdered before we moved on to a rally outside Southall Town Hall where the National Front held their meeting. Peach’s murder inspired the formation of both the anti-racist grassroots group The Monitoring Group, whose founder and director Suresh Grover introduced the event and of Southall Black Sisters, whose founder Pragna Patel who was one of the speakers, along with other community leaders and anti-racists.

Perhaps surprisingly absent was the local Labour MP, Virendra Sharma, who in 2019 lost a vote of no-cofidence by the local party apparently due to his low attendance at party meetings, slow responses to constituents and failure to campaign over local redevelopment issues. John McDonnell, Labour MP for a neighbouring constituency and then Shadow Chancellor was there from the start of the march and made a powerful speech.

More about the event and many more pictures: Southall rally for unity against racism