The Battle of Pollokshields

At lunch time yesterday I saw some reports that people from a quiet residential street not far from me were preventing an immigration raid from taking place. Neighbours of the two men who were being detained for deportation had blocked the van from moving by lying both in the road, as well as underneath the van itself.

These kinds of ‘dawn raids’ are a particularly despicable tactic carried out under the auspices of the UK Government’s ‘hostile environment’ policy which is specifically designed to make the immigration system as miserable as possible for anybody who gets caught up in it.

At first I was conflicted. It would take me about 20-30 minutes to get there. I wasn’t really mentally prepared to get involved in a position of conflict with the police. My camera batteries weren’t charged. I’d have to take the afternoon off work. What if it was all over by the time I got there? I don’t really like the whole flag-waving, slogan chanting type of activism… etc.

In the end, I decided I had no choice really but to go. This issue in particular is something that I have consistently spoken out about and taken direct action in the past. I couldn’t really just sit in my flat and ignore the chance to get involved when it was happening down the road from me. So, I grabbed a couple of cameras (each with half a battery left in them, since I hadn’t shot anything in almost a year), and headed over.

When I got there, it was clear that my concerns were (largely) unfounded. The nature of the incident meant that this wasn’t going to be over any time soon, and since the action was spontaneous – and not linked to any particular groups – this was much more of an evolving community action, rather than a calculated political one. Some people were handing out bottles of water; others were handing out leaflets with advice on what to do if you got arrested; local cafes were delivering food, and other businesses were letting people use their toilets. It was very different to many other protests I have been involved in. In the middle, a single white immigration van surrounded by officers.

Given the particulars of the situation, the layout of the street, and the political considerations involved, there was no clear way this was going to be resolved. As the hours ticked over, and more and more people arrived, the police presence increased exponentially – complete with horses, riot vans, and vast numbers of officers. At one point they attempted to break through the crowd with force – allegedly to gain access for a paramedic – but this failed.

By about 5pm, the entire street was full of people, the figure growing rapidly as those who had followed the events of the day on the news finished work and headed round. Spilling out into the neighbouring roads. It’s hard to tell just how many were there, but it wouldn’t seem to be that far off the thousand mark. It was at this point, the police announced that they were making the ‘operational decision’ to release the men who had been detained into the care of the prominent human rights lawyer and advocate Aamer Anwar, who had spent hours negotiating with the authorities how to defuse the situation. Bluntly: if the men weren’t released, the police would have done what they tend to do in these kinds of situations: deploy a massive amount of force to clear the street of its residents… many who were there with their dogs, kids, and simply sitting in the road. It would not have ended well.

As it stands, the men were released, and we then had this incredible display as – flanked by the huge crowd – hundreds of officers formed a massive perimeter to escort the down the road to the local Islamic Centre, where they gave thanks to the crowd. It was unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed before.

Many critics and couch-commentators have come out of the woodworks since, decrying the idea of ‘mob rule’, or claiming that nobody should ever interfere with the actions of the police. This is quite clearly hypocritical nonsense. Respect for the rule of law is a critical element of Democracy, but equally so is the refusal of people to accept laws which they believe to be unjust. In practice, clearly not one single person would ever actually operate on the basis that the State is always right, and to do so solely in circumstances where they disagree with the views of those protesting is clearly deficient.

Ultimately, it was a long and emotional day, where the people of Glasgow stood up and firmly rejected the disproportionate implementation of the despicable ‘hostile environment’ policy (which they have consistently voted against), and I am proud to have been there.

Some pictures I took are below. A lot of them focus on the police and their interactions with the protestors, as I didn’t want to focus too heavily on the faces of those who were in attendance. They don’t really show the true scale of things, as I was down on the ground in amongst it, rather than up in the neighbouring flats. Plus, I’m out of practice…

p.s. these are CC BY-NC 4.0. Free to share/use unless the use is commercial. In other words: newspapers/TV etc have to pay because they can and should afford it. Regular folks do not.

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