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EDL try to act as vigilantes in Leicester
Becci Heagney, East Midlands Socialist Party
Yesterday afternoon in Leicester, shops closed early as police gathered on the streets in anticipation that the wave of anger shown across the country would arrive in the city.
While a few groups of young people gathered around the clock tower, in Highfields the community centre held a meeting. They discussed how they should respond to the riots; and also to the shocking number of people who have died at the hands of the police over recent years.
Around 20 young people marched into town holding banners saying 'Peace on the Streets'. Their aim was to speak to the youth thinking about rioting and convince them to protest peacefully.
Youth Fight for Jobs supporters and Socialist Party members went along to support the protest, which swelled to about 100 people. Many people there were looking for a way to fight back and organise - to turn in a positive direction the outburst of anger being seen.
There was interest in the Youth Fight for Jobs march against youth unemployment from Jarrow to London in October and people bought copies of our newsletter 'The Spark'.
One of the organisers from Highfields Community Centre said to me:
"This has been a long time coming. Even since the last government, the Labour government back in 1997.
"The youth have no power, no direction, they're full of anger. I'm upset about [the riots] but I'm not surprised".
Then a few members of the far-right English Defence League (EDL) turned up, coming into the crowd and deliberately provoking the mainly Black and Asian youth by disgracefully saying: "I'm glad Mark Duggan got shot, he deserved it." Once a few more had arrived they started chanting "EDL".
Understandably, the youth reacted to this. It was under a year ago when Highfields came under attack by an EDL protest.
There was a small confrontation between the youth and the EDL until the police stepped in and pushed the protesters back. The protest was then forced up the street by riot police and dogs as they tried to kettle the protest.
Anger was then directed at the police with people chanting "justice" and calling them racist. One young man stood on a bench to read a poem about corruption in the police force.
Eventually the protest was allowed to disperse.
There were groups of young people smashing windows and looting in Leicester late into the night but these were not connected to the organisers of the original protest.
Hypocritically, the EDL mobilised to act as vigilantes to 'protect Leicester' against riots. They called on their members to patrol the streets, even saying that they should cancel all their 'demonstrations' in August to help the police!
Last October they were not so concerned with posing as protectors, as they themselves were smashing windows of takeaways and shops in the city, attacking innocent bystanders and attempting to attack the mosque in Highfields.
The EDL and their racist views do not represent working class people in Leicester who are concerned about the rioting in the city. It is not something organised by 'Muslim groups' as they are trying to portray.
The protest that they attacked was peaceful, demanding that something is done to deal with the underlying causes of the riots. We need a community and trade union response to the riots, involving workers and youth.
We do not condone the riots and violence that is taking place. But, it is happening for a reason.
In Leicester, one third of those claiming Job Seekers Allowance are under 25. Highfields has the highest unemployment level in the city.
The government and the local Labour council should be investing in youth services and real jobs and a decent education for young people. The Jarrow March this year is an opportunity for young people to harness their anger in an organised and trade union backed campaign that is putting forward these demands [see www.jarrowmarch11.com].
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 10 August 2011 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.