Members of the English Defence League (EDL) gathered in Leicester on Saturday 9th October 2010. All marches had been banned in the centre on that day, but static demonstrations were still allowed.
The EDL was formed some time during spring 2009. They claim to be a peaceful organisation who exist to bring attention to and eradicate Muslim extremism in the UK. Some reduce the interests of the EDL down to right-wing racist politics. Since the inception of the group their often violent marches have received increasing amounts of media attention.
Members of United Against Facism (UAF) are always present at EDL marches. UAF members are also starting to get a violent name for themselves, encouraged by the EDL who know that they only have to stand next to a UAF member to get them angry. Several people around Leicester actually thought they were being warned out of town because there were two rival gangs who were fighting.
Twelve marches were held during the first year of the EDL. What happened as a result of the attention from these marches? Was there be an explosion in membership? The league proposed to march across Bradford in August 2010, but as a result of a violent history, the authorities denied them permission. Instead the EDL were instructed to hold a static demonstration which the authorities were powerless to ban.
One Sunday morning during August 2010 – around the same time of the Bradford visits, hundreds of leaflets were discovered scattered around the city centre. Leicester was getting dated by the EDL. On Saturday 9th October 2010, the EDL planned to come together in Leicester – it would be their 16th gathering.
Residents of Leicester started talking about the EDL’s intended visit many weeks before they arrived. In an attempt to destroy any piece of mind, the local newspaper – The Leicester Mercury (owned by the Daily Mail) would repeatedly emphasise the impending doom due on the 9th October. It seemed that entertainment in the form of scaremongering sold more newspapers than good old fashioned honesty.
In one month the Mercury printed 63 articles related to the EDL. Titles of such articles included ‘Anger as date set for English Defence League march in Leicester city centre,’ ‘Police fear protestors plan to attack Leicester mosque,’ ‘Home Secretary agrees to ban on EDL march in Leicester,’ ‘EDL is a threat to community.’ And 2 days before the event ‘So, who are the English Defence League exactly?’ The last article to have been published at this current time is entitled ‘War and Peace – Two faces of Leicester in weekend of high drama‘.
In spite of this, in an attempt to introduce some calm into the city – a Hope Not Hate event was held in the city centre the day before the EDL march. If people wanted to express their opinions against the EDL visit – then this would seem to be the place to do it! The authorities preferred that people stay away from the centre (and therefore from potential trouble) on Saturday..
Several hundred people attended the peace vigil at the Clock Tower. Everyone was encouraged to tie green ribbons around everything as a symbol of unity with fellow city dwellers ’against’ the upcoming visitors. The phrase ‘an attack on one faith is an attack on us all,’ was sung by all of the speakers – with the leader from the Cathedral even slipping in the chant ‘Leicester, United, will never be defeated.’ Maybe the sermons could be quite entertaining at the cathedral? A universal plea was made for all to stay away tomorrow and come back for the ‘We are one Leicester festival’ on Sunday.
The atmosphere was bubbly. People seemed excited to be at the Peace Vigil, and were smiling and shaking hands, hugging with old friends. A determined look took over the faces of people tying ribbons to the streets.
30ft away from the crowd stood a group of 10 people. The men of the group had the torsos of lions and the women had the fragile, tiny bodies of captured gazelles. Red crosses decorated their clothing. A few Policemen stood chatting amicably with the biggest members of the group while photographers circled around like vultures waiting for an opportunity. But nothing happened – everyone behaved and all was – well – peaceful.
A peaceful night passed over the city.
The sun cast long shadows over the smooth boarded-up windows of many shops on Humberstone Gate East that Saturday morning. Most market traders had even chosen to stay away, reducing the normally bustling market down to a blip of 10 stalls. It was unusually quiet save for the occasional scraping-crackle of an inflated wind-propelled carrier bag running along the road.
To contain the EDL, a 12ft wall that had been set up by the Police. Around 100 people were milling around (which eventually grew to 700), listening to people talk on the stage. Children played with their placards – bashing their siblings repeatedly with their newly found weapons.
Although the EDL were no more than 150ft away straight over the top of the tall Police wall, it still took a good 10 minute walk around various back streets and through the Police lines to get to the pro-EDL side of the wall.
The no-mans-land between each of the walls was located on a shopping street containing a Sainsbury’s. Although the front of the shop looked out across this no-mans-land and was locked up, the back door to the shop was still open. It was still possible to collect weekly groceries while looking out at snarling Police dogs, ready to start eating anyone athletic enough to clear the tops of the walls – or foolish enough to walk out the front of the shop.
On the EDL side there were a similar number of people who were behaving in exactly the same way as the people on the other side of the wall. Everyone was just milling around.
Suddenly a constant stream of coaches brought hundreds of EDL supporters to the Police wall within minutes bringing the total number to around 1000 supporters. The occupants were thumping and banging on the windows of the coaches, shouting and roaring at anyone that would look in that general direction. After people had used their chances to say hello to old friends all agreed that they had better get down to business and charge at the Police. In the confusion and excitement someone thought it would be a good idea to cause explosions by throwing fireworks inside beer cans at the Police and anyone standing near them. It was at this point that the Police pushed the photographers back some distance for their own safety.
Various rumours went around by text and Twitter. Tales such as Muslim women being attacked in certain neighbourhoods of the city, or tales of bombs or buildings burning to the ground were extinguished by @leicspolice on Twitter.
Games of ‘cat & mouse’ sporadically blossomed throughout the network of streets around the Police wall. The Police were doing their best to monitor the area, but occasionally opposing groups did find each other without any kind of watchful eye –
A variety of people waited by the Police lines on the EDL side of the wall. Photographers, journalists and people on the way home from doing their shopping. There were also people who were as frustrated with authority as the EDL supporters themselves. Some members of the public accused Officers of concealing their ID.
90 minutes after getting off the buses, the EDL supporters were being escorted back to their seats. There was some shouting and a few drunken challenges at Police Officers, but the coaches shipped the majority of crowds to the train station and out of town. A few escaped the Police lines and went for a quick walk around town. Eventually everyone went home, except for the Leicester members of the EDL – who were already home.
17 people were arrested as a part of the demonstrations on Saturday, 6 were from the Leicestershire area. 10 people have been charged. Crimes included the assault of a Police Officer, possession of an offensive weapon and public order offences. It cost a six-figure sum to Police the event. Businesses were smashed and people were harassed. Some businesses closed from the fear of the EDL/UAF demonstration reaching their premises – losing trade.
The night passed without any serious incident. Just had the demonstrations in the city.
Sunday 10th October brought along the Marathon and the We Are One Leicester festival. The sun was shining from a bright blue sky above the runners and festival staff. Shoppers in the city centre would stop to clap and cheer any random runner that happened to sprint by – regardless of the colour of their skin or religion or sexual orientation.
After all – these are the residents of One Leicester, who celebrate diversity.
Some people would prefer that organisations like the EDL do not exist, and if they do then certainly shouldn’t be given the oxygen of publicity. But one of the beautiful things about freedom of speech? You let people decide which side they want to be on. The EDL have been running for nearly two years, and despite several high-profile marches and demonstrations – have failed to have any significant effect on public opinion. Aside from the opinion that a group which causes so much disruption must consist of, erm, gentlemen………….