The Metropolitan Police arrested over 280 anti-fascist activists, local community members, and passersby in East London on 7 September, as up to 700 English Defence League supporters were allowed to march over Tower Bridge and rally at Aldgate without encountering any mass opposition.
A large community demonstration was restricted to Altab Ali Park, well out of sight of the EDL’s march route and rally point. A bloc of around 600 within the demonstration, coordinated by the Anti-Fascist Network (AFN), attempted to hold a march to get within sight of the EDL’s route and present a visible opposition, which was then blocked and kettled by police. Despite police attacks the front of the AFN bloc did manage to get within sight of the EDL march, meaning the only political opposition the racists saw on the day was a direct result of the AFN mobilisation.
Sarah Smith from London Anti-Fascists said:
“The number of people who joined the Anti-Fascist Network bloc on the day shows that there is a real mood for forms of anti-fascism that go beyond static rallies where mainstream politicians and religious leaders spout liberal platitudes. The 600 people who attempted to march with AFN on Saturday shows that a moderate, ‘respectable’ anti-fascism based on deference to the state and the political status quo is no longer the only show in town.”
Anti-fascists, independent legal observers, and people who were just passing by were detained on the street for over six hours before the police announced their intention to make mass arrests. Arrestees were taken to police stations on the outer extremities of London — including Colindale, Sutton, and elsewhere — mostly under the pretext that they had committed an offence under the Public Order Act. Their alleged ‘crime’ was to march down a street the police didn’t want them to march down.
Some arrestees were held for up to 15 hours in total. Were it not for the work of arrestee support groups, many of those detained would have been thrown out of police stations in the middle of the night on the outskirts of London with little way of getting home. Most have now been released with highly restrictive bail conditions preventing them from opposing the EDL and other racist groups.
Tony Dixon from the Anti-Fascist Network said:
“These mass arrests, following a similar operation at an anti-BNP demonstration in May, show how the state is using political policing to criminalise protest and intimidate people out of taking political action. Only the tamest, most moderate forms of protest are sanctioned; anything else is met with police violence, kettling, and mass arrests.”
Val Swain of the Network for Police Monitoring (NetPol), added:
“Carrying out mass arrests on any demonstration is an excessive and draconian measure. In this case it was clearly not necessary to prevent disorder – many, if not most of the arrests were carried out after the EDL had left the area.
“In this case the police have taken 286 sets of names, addresses, fingerprints and dna. It has been a highly effective data gathering exercise. They have also imposed bail conditions preventing all of those arrested from participating in future protests – even though they have not been charged, let alone convicted of any offence. The police have had a successful operation to disrupt, deter and prevent anti-fascist protest.”
Notes for editors:
– The Anti-Fascist Network is a network of independent anti-fascists and anti-racist groups from across Britain, fighting the far right on the basis of direct action and working-class politics.
– The Anti-Fascist Network can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org