This afternoon Ashley and I walked down to Queens Road to show our support for the counter-protest against the EDL‘s “March for England”, a horrible little rally organised ostensibly as a St. George’s Day event, but in reality it was little more than a platform for the EDL’s Islamophobia and general bigotry.
We saw an impromtu EDL protest outside Churchill Square a few weeks ago which consisted of five overweight blokes, two of whom had their faces covered, and was shut down by the police almost as quickly as it began. This was a slightly more high-profile affair though, with around 200 EDL members facing off against a few thousand counter-protestors, separated by around 500 police.
As the march made it’s way down Queens Road there were small scuffles here and there as EDL members lashed out against those opposing them, and anarchists tried to break through police lines to attack the EDL.
When the EDL reached the main contingent of anarchists and Socialist Worker signs the real trouble began. We were disappointed many of those present for the counter-protest seemed more interested in starting fights with the police than focusing their energy on the EDL.
About one hundred people seemed determined to stop the march altogether and attempted to push back the line of police horses, which somewhat inevitably led to them being rushed and truncheons being unsheathed.
The vast majority of the anti-EDL crowd were well behaved, and employed my preferred method of counter-protest; derision and humour. This lady told us the first draft of her sign read “Nazis are not nice”, but she changed it to “Nasty” to make it that much more forceful -
The EDL were as charming as you might expect. I noticed they’d called this a family event, which apparently means plenty of swearing, throwing things, and constant threats of violence. Even my fairly benign chants of “Boooooo!” were consistently met with invitations to fight. But if you don’t have a shred of logic or reason to pin your arguments on, I suppose punching is all that remains.
As I write this the remnants of the protest has been kettled by police in Victoria Gardens, and apparently have begun to give speeches, which are being expertly drowned out by the opposition.
In the aftermath of the march, there are lots of accusations being thrown around about police brutality, mainly based on this video. It’s difficult to condone police attacking protesters of any kind, but in this instance it’s definitely not a cut-and-dry case of police violence. We were stood about two metres to the left of where the video was filmed, and this is what we saw:
- The anti-fascist protesters jumped into the road to form a barrier to stop the police (and the EDL behind them) advancing
- The line of police horses stopped, and the anti-fascist protesters began trying to physically push them back.
- Various protesters made grabs for police horse reins, in the process hitting and jostling the horses, all the time being shouted at by the police to move back
- Everyone on the raised pavement (where we were) was by this point shouting at the protesters to leave the horses alone
- The line of protesters eventually fell back when they realised the horses were difficult to move
- After several minutes of telling the protesters to move back, the police charge (this is where the video starts)
As I was saying on Twitter all last night, I don’t agree with what the police did, but the protesters were guilty of bad behaviour here too.
The biggest disappointment was that some people clearly showed up just to have a fight with police. Why all that energy couldn’t have been directed at the bunch of marauding racists a few feet behind the police I do not know.
And speaking of the EDL…
In a couple of news stories I’ve seen the following quote from Matt Silva, a spokesman for March for England:
“From my side, we did all we could to facilitate a peaceful and lawful gathering. There was no provocation, no racial chants, no homophobic chants which we have been accused of doing in the past. This was a family event but I was completely appalled at what we saw. There was no excuse for the violence.”
He also said women and children had missiles thrown at them, and there was “no provocation from any of the marchers who sang the national anthem because it was the Queen’s birthday on Saturday”.
I don’t know which march Mr Silva was attending, but the vast majority of the attendees seemed there exclusively to provoke violence. A bald, overweight man challenged me to a fight, and when I politely declined he challenged Ashley. Take a look at any of the pictures from yesterday and tell me the EDL aren’t provoking violence. It’s ridiculous.
Also, I saw the entire march go past twice and I didn’t see a single child. What responsible parent would take their child to such an event, anyway?