Yesterday hundreds of Glaswegians descended on Kenmure Street to defend two men swept up in one of the Home Office’s controversial early-morning immigration raids. The power of this mass mobilisation inflicted a humiliating defeat on Priti Patel and the Tory Government’s racist “hostile environment” policy.
The two men lived in the Pollokshields community where many were celebrating the Islamic holiday of Eid. Hundreds of local people were incensed by the Home Office’s decision to carry out the raid on such an important day for Muslim families, and suspended their festivities to join the growing demonstration.
The protest began with one local resident instinctively acting to prevent the abduction of two of his neighbours by crawling under the Home Office’s van. Within minutes, a crowd had started to form and by midday the street was filled with people demanding the release of the detainees. Families, students, workers, young and old stood together.
Officers formed a ring encircling the van, while an army of Police mustered around the neighbourhood. There was dismay at the nearby Glendale Primary School as mounted police ominously paraded towards Kenmure Street.
Several Police officers also wore ‘Thin Blue Line’ or ‘Blue Lives Matter’ badges, a global symbol of police hostility towards public accountability adopted in the wake of the BLM movement. This was taken as yet another insult to the predominantly Asian community, and the fear grew that a renegade officer may lash out and cause violent disorder.
As members of the IMT arrived, there were rumours circulating that Police Scotland were preparing to kettle the crowd, which certainly would have led to multiple casualties on the narrow residential street. Though there were some attempts at provocation from the Police, including cynically trying to force their way into the crowd with a paramedic in tow (who later calmly walked through), the mood of the protestors remained disciplined and non-violent.
Having seen police in England use any excuse to launch an assault on mostly peaceful crowds during ‘Kill the Bill’ demonstrations, and then lie about it later, the atmosphere was tense. Legal aid information was passed around, and food and water delivered in case the protesters became trapped.
Residents on the street hung signs from windows and shouted their support. Some even opened their doors to allow people to use the bathroom, or as a possible escape route from Police attacks.
The protest was bold and defiant, chanting “Let them go!” and demanding answers from Police Scotland. Supposedly it is Scottish Government policy for Police Scotland to not assist the Home Office in immigration raids, yet they were there in extreme force.
Confusion reigned as both Nicola Sturgeon and Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf – also MSPs for the area – publicly criticised the raid and voiced support for the protest, yet the Police were not stood down. Yousaf and the First Minister were apparently trying to get in touch with the Home Office about the situation, but not one Tory Minister responded.
In the late afternoon it was announced over a speaker that the Police would retreat and release the two detainees. The crowd was jubilant, though sceptical of the Police’s promise to withdraw if the crowd dispersed. The human rights lawyer, Aamer Anwar, negotiated that the detainees be released into his care and escorted to the nearby Madrasa Taleem ul Islam on Nithsdale Road.
One officer became argumentative about this plan, and the crowd lit up when Anwar told him loudly to “shut up for one minute”.
We waved to children in the flats overhead while awaiting the moment the van doors opened and the Home Office’s captives were seen for the first time – images that have been viewed across the world.
Though there was still an overbearing police presence, the short walk to the Madrasa was like a triumphant parade. Apropos of this stand against racist state intimidation in one of Glasgow’s working-class communities, the crowd was led by a red flag.
All felt the sense of victory when Sumit Sehdev and Lakhvir Singh stood on the steps of the Madrasa, thanking the crowd for securing their freedom. This ‘Battle of Kenmure Street’ was a shattering blow to the Tories’ racist immigration regime – they have already begun to complain of ‘mob rule’ in Glasgow.
To borrow a quip from another activist, let us then quote James Connolly: “All hail to the mob, the incarnation of progress!”
Above all, yesterday’s action by broad swathes of Glasgow’s working class has inspired thousands – if not millions – to see the power of mass mobilisation and how it can defeat the capitalist State. We say end all immigration raids and detention, and onwards to the final victory: the international socialist revolution!