The EDL came to Leicester and did what they were good at – they had a few beers, fought the police (hospitalising at least one who was dragged from police lines unconscious) and shouted some anti-Islamic chants. Then they broke out of police lines, had a brief go at some local lads, smashed a couple of windows and went home.
The police, however, created more fear amongst the people of Leicester than the EDL could ever do. As soon as the demo was called, they were out amongst Mosques, community groups, youth centres and anywhere else where they would be listened to. Their message was stark: attending counter demonstrations would lead to serious rioting and violence, and young Muslims would be locked up for a long time. People should stay at home.
They persuaded local groups, many of whom are in PREVENT funded partnerships with the police, to warn their members and followers to stay away from planned demonstrations. Imams called upon the community not to respond to EDL provocation, and to ignore them. The unspoken message was that anyone (EDL or Muslim) who went into town to protest must be looking for trouble, and would be treated as such by the police.
Operation ‘stay safe’ meant that anyone under the age of 18 they could be picked up by police on the day and taken into ‘police protection’ to ‘keep them from harm’. Shops were advised to board up their windows and shoppers to keep out of the city centre. Public sector workers were warned not to attend the demo even in a personal capacity. Youth centres were ordered to open to provide ‘distraction’, and more activities were organised for the 11 – 25 age range than has been seen in Leicester for many a year.
Unsurprisingly, faced with the prospect of out of control violence or being picked up by the police, most of the community chose to stay at home. Counter demonstrations, organised both by local people and by the UAF, remained relatively small, with police estimating 700 at the UAF site.
Police locked down the city, closing most of it off. They pointed long zoom camera lenses at anyone who looked as though they were coming to demonstrate, for either side. Those who found themselves wearing the wrong clothes, or having the wrong colour skin for the section of the city they were in, came under aggressive police scrutiny. One group of white boys in casual clothes were lined up against a wall, filmed and had their details taken because they were apparently ‘about to engage in anti-social behaviour’, although they had done nothing at all to make anyone think that.
Despite all this, a few hundred local people, almost entirely young, Muslim and male, did come out on the streets to protect their communities and Mosques from EDL attack. There were a few skirmishes after the EDL, predictably, broke out of police pens.
After it was all over, police and councillors congratulated themselves on a ‘successful operation’. Next month, the EDL will travel to a different city, but then it will be ‘somebody else’s problem’.