This past Wednesday saw another gathering of racists in the city centre of Glasgow. Organised by the ‘National Defence League’ (the new name of the far right, racist group ‘Scottish Defence League’) a large group appeared in George Square to intimidate peaceful protestors as they tried to raise awareness to the shocking conditions that asylum seekers are being forced to live in. Regardless of your opinion on the validity of protesting in the current lockdown; the rise of violent right-wing groups, emboldened by increasingly populist rhetoric by people in power is a serious problem.
Being banned from Facebook prompted the organisers of the SDL to set up a page with the new name National Defence League in June last year. They are a fiercely loyalist group that continues to share memes about hatred of Irish republicanism, Muslims, and anyone they see as being on the Left.
Wednesday was not the first time they have been active and aggressive. You may remember an incident which happened in 2018 in which a catholic priest was spat on outside his church as an Orange march passed by. This prompted the Glasgow council to start rerouting marches away from catholic buildings and the response to this from loyalist groups was to form Scottish Protestants Against Discrimination (SPAD) as they accused to council of singling out unionists and treating them unfairly. This group would be the cause of multiple riots last year with the council deciding to ban all marches as a result of a riot in Govan in September. Just before marches were called off a couple of republican marches were allowed to go ahead, and this is when the National Defence League decided to act. Creating a Facebook event for a counter protest they turned up to oppose the republicans with footage being released of attempts at violence towards them.
So, to the unrest this past Wednesday. The group ‘No Evictions’ organised a demonstration to bring attention to the horrible conditions that asylum seekers are being forced to live in in Glasgow. This is in large part because of the contractor that is being used for the accommodation of these people called Mears who are working on behalf of the Home Office. Over 400 asylum seekers have been forced from their homes, transported in crowded vans and cars with no PPE and placed between six hotels across Glasgow. They live in close proximity to others and often have to share facilities like bathrooms. They have also had their financial support stopped by the Home Office. Repeated requests for help with medical issues have been met with a lax attitude from Mears who refused to take a man with a broken foot to the hospital and ignored an elderly man that was having cardiac issues. One of the residents that Mears ignored when he pleaded for help was Adnan Olbeh who fled the Syrian Civil War. On the 5th May he was found dead in McLays Guest house.
The demonstration was set to start at 6pm and the NDL once again organised a counter protest. They occupied George Square claiming they were “making a stand” and protecting the Cenotaph, something that was never in danger. Once the No Evictions group arrived at the square the NDL protestors started clashing with police in an attempt to get to the demonstrators. The No Evictions demo was moved away from the square and eventually had to disperse.
The NDL is nothing more than a group of racists out looking for a fight. There is no place for them in Scotland and need to be opposed at every turn. The important thing, however, is that the message of solidarity with asylum seekers is not drowned out by the violent far-right. What these human beings are going through is disgusting and must be changed. For more information and to find out how to help visit the No Evictions website or visit their twitter page for up to date information.
As protests start to be organised across the UK in support of the Black Lives Matter movement it has been troubling to see the criticism that has been used against them. A lot of people in the UK like to look to America and criticise the failings of its systems but put the blinders on when it comes to being a bit more introspective and taking a look at the country we live in. This phenomenon is even more prevalent in Scotland. There is a tendency to think of Scotland as the “best wee country in the world”; a place where the majority of us reject Tory rule and are proud of an international reputation for friendliness and good humour. Many only think of the wars of independence and our countries involvement in the world wars when they think of the history of Scotland. While being important parts of the history of the Scottish people they are not the only parts. Ignoring Scotland’s role in the British Empire and involvement and benefit from the Atlantic slave trade, as well as ongoing issues with racism and tribalism invalidates the experiences of people of other ethnicities and makes it less likely that these issues will be meaningfully dealt with.
To be clear, this article is not here to proclaim that Scotland is a racist nation and all Scottish people should be ashamed of themselves (although some definitely should be!) It is simply a candid look at the issues, both historically and currently, that contribute to inequality. There absolutely is reason to take racism seriously in this country and the people marching for Black Lives Matter have every right.
As part of the British Empire, Scotland had an incredibly involved role in all its aspects. From military to plantation ownership and even as settlers the people of Scotland were involved all over the world. North America, the Caribbean, Australasia, South Africa, India as well as colonies in South-East Asia and Africa all saw involvement from the Scots.
One mainstay of Scottish history is the wealthy elites of Scotland jumping on any opportunity to make more money and grab more power. It was true in the 1707 Act of Union between Scotland and England which, after the failure of the Darien venture, gave the wealthy in Scotland access to all of England’s colonies as well as to the East India Trading Company. This meant that Scotland became heavily involved in the colonies in India and the Caribbean very quickly with many plantations in both areas. And with plantations came involvement in the slave trade.
Glasgow is most notorious for its involvement in the trade, especially with the so called “tobacco lords”. Men that made so much money through dodgy dealings and the slave trade that they were said to live as well as aristocrats, these men were well respected in their times. Glasgow was seen as the second city in the Empire and reaped a lot of benefit due to the slave trade. Many streets in the city are still named in honour of these men, something that has recently come into the conversation again. Over 16,000 people have signed a petition to have the names changed and one activist has attached alternative street signs such as ‘Fred Hampton Street’ and ‘Rosa Parks Street’.
Moving on from the 18th and 19th centuries, let us look at the 20th century. You may have heard of the “Battle of George Square” in 1919, the day that between 30,000 to 60,000 peaceful protestors in Glasgow were violently put down by the police for asking for the 40-hour work week, amongst other basic workers’ rights. This was the famous event in which Winston Churchill was so afraid that it would turn in to a revolution that he had Scottish soldiers contained in the Maryhill barracks and ordered tanks into the city. A moment of pride to many in the struggle for workers rights, however the labour movement at the time was also implicit in racism. Just a few days before the Battle of George Square one of the ugliest events in Glasgow’s history took place. Known as the ‘Broomielaw Race Riot” it was the result of speeches delivered by local delegates of the National Seamen’s Union in which they scapegoated, mainly black British colonial and Chinese sailors as the reason that the white Glaswegian sailors were finding it hard to get work. It was all an attempt to gain support from the local seafaring workforce in the general strike that was planned for that Sunday. Such inflammatory speeches simply stoked fires that had already been lit. The shipping trade already enacted racist policies with many shipowners instigating a ‘colour ban’ in response to trade unions opposing the hiring of non-white British subjects.
The events unfolded later in the day as sailors were waiting at the port offices to try and get work. A group of around 30 African sailors were harassed by a much larger group of white sailors, it got so bad that the African sailors ran away to seek shelter where they were staying in Broomielaw. The mob of white sailors followed them and attacked the building causing the African sailors to run again to a nearby lodging house. Again, the crowd followed them, now numbering in the hundreds, and attacked the building with bricks and bottles. The police eventually arrived and took the African sailors away in ‘protective custody’ but subsequently charged them with riot and weapons offenses. None of the white rioters were arrested or charged.
Scotland has always struggled with poverty and is a place in which the scapegoating of immigrants has always had purchase. Whether it’s African and Chinese sailors in 1919 or South Asian migrants in the 50s and 60s or more recently the Syrian refugees; there has always been a narrative pushed that the poor people of this country have the poor people from other countries to blame for their woes.
If you read all of that and scoffed, thinking them the actions of a past nation no longer linked to the Scotland of today, think again. The systemic racism of that time has reverberated through the generations and is still evident today.
In response to a Glasgow Times article discussing the Black Lives Matter protest, this is what the comments section looked like –
We also have similar issues with policing. Although nowhere near the extent that the policing in America is a problem, a remarkably similar incident to the murder of George Floyd happened here in Scotland. In May 2015 in Fife, police were called out to reports of a man acting erratically with a knife. The mans name was Sheku Bayoh and by the time the officers arrived he was in no possession of a knife. The officers used CS spray, leg restraints and batons to subdue him resulting in 23 separate injuries. Much like George Floyd he shouted that he could not breath, he died in hospital after the incident. The officers denied all wrongdoing and were never charged for his death, luckily the incident is being investigated in a public enquiry.
Racism is not something that can be ignored until it goes away. It is a parasite that must be confronted head on. The collective ignorance or wilful dismissal of the issues of racism in Scotland, whether in the past or the present, simply entrench the problems further. As a people we need to be educated and mindful of this country’s historical place in the implementation and complicity in scientific racism and can only claim to be the friendly wee country we seem to think we are if we start acting like it.
The murder of George Floyd has galvanised a desire for change extending far beyond the borders of the United States. The most recent in a long line of racially motivated police killings, George’s death and the resultant police response to protests, have revealed the callousness with which a great many law enforcement officials wield their power. Amidst a backdrop of coronavirus, social disenfranchisement, and police brutality, peaceful protests have erupted into riots and looting across America, invariably with police inciting or exacerbating through excessive force. As video after video surfaces online of police engaging in violent suppression of largely peaceful protesters, many are recognising the need for a serious and widespread interrogation of our relationship to the mechanisms of power and social control.
With that said, hand wringing over the validity of rioting and looting as a form of political protest threaten to overtake the issues; predictably, conservatives- who portray themselves as gun-toting freedom fighters ready to go toe-to-toe against government tyranny- are positively salivating at the prospect of government violence being meted out against their enemies- these violent thugs with no respect for property rights or law enforcement. This gleeful inconsistency on their part is par for the course; what is more insidious, however, is the tendency of supposedly well-meaning liberals to hijack social movements and placate them while performing their support. The anger and desire for change which liberal protestors feel is often proportionally less than that of others involved in rioting and looting, no matter their radical rhetoric (adopted as it comes in and out of vogue).
This article will consider the role liberals play in de-fanging and disowning protest movements, often demeaning or erasing the very people they purport to care about, all whilst demanding little in the way of change.
One of the recurring criticisms levelled at protests by conservatives and liberals alike is that rioting- and especially looting, the wanton infringement of property rights- in some sense diminishes the seriousness of the demonstration, detracts from “the message” and robs them of their political legitimacy. This claim is nothing new; as far back as the 1960s conservatives and liberal elites have attempted to police the boundaries of acceptable protest by casting aspersions on the working classes engaged in acts of social disorder, like property damage and looting. For conservatives, this means characterising riotous protesters as violent degenerate thugs, often with racialised overtones. Liberals- who typically place themselves ostensibly on the side of change and progress- weaponize Martin Luther King Jr in decrying rioting and looting; here, they say, is evidence of the evergreen effectiveness of peaceful protest. Offering up a palliative and reductive distortion of the civil rights movement, liberals effectively erase not only Malcolm X, but almost the entire revolutionary character of the civil rights movement; Martin Luther King Jr existed against a tumultuous and violent backdrop of rioting in which marginalised communities strove to assert themselves against an oppressive system which routinely and openly denigrated them. While MLK had his own perspective on the righteousness of rioting, this was not shared by all who were fighting for emancipation. Had there been no civil unrest as a threatening backdrop, MLKs tactics would likely have proved less effective in bringing lawmakers to the negotiating table.
Additionally, this liberal invocation of Martin Luther King Jr, with various sombre references to the world he envisioned in his famous “I Have A Dream” speech, betrays its insincerity in its depthlessness. Opinions are, of course, not static and towards the end of his life MLK had begun to show a greater understanding for rioting and its legitimacy as a means of political dissent. “Riots do not develop out of thin air… a riot is the language of the unheard.” While still critical of the effectiveness of riots in achieving political goals, MLK did not, in doing so, undermine the legitimate grievances of the working class, or fail to recognise the conditions from which riots emerge. That MLK’s actions and previous positioning allows disengaged liberals to pay lip-service to social progress- while simultaneously preserving their own economic interest- was perfectly encapsulated by such individuals accusing MLKs son of misappropriating his own father’s words. Perennially, these predominantly middle-class, predominantly white people stand atop the moral high ground, tutting paternalistically at the huddled masses who don’t know what’s good for them.
While this moralistic dismissal of rioters is most readily observable in the white middle-classes, themselves removed from the protests and brutality of police oppression, it does in fact cut across racial boundaries, revealing the class interests at the heart of these criticisms. In the face of civil disobedience and protests in Atlanta, Run The Jewels MC and landlord Killer Mike took to a podium with Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. While wearing a T-shirt reading “Kill Your Masters”, a visibly upset Mike cautioned protestors against “burning down our own homes”, despite black people in Atlanta making up the bulk of the city’s workforce while being disproportionately less likely to own a home. As Mike took the opportunity to encourage people to vote their way out of oppression with a mishmash of buzzwords, absent from Mike’s T-shirt, the twin directive “Kill Your Idols” was a silent scream.
Both white and black middle class self-styled leaders attempt to hijack the rhetoric and trajectory of social movements, bringing them into the orbit of their own class interests, namely the aspirational preservation of their wealth, status and property. Another key way in which this manifests itself is in the scapegoating of the “outside agitator”. While conservatives use rioting as an excuse to legitimise violent and oppressive policing- the mobilising of state-sanctioned tyranny against their political opponents- liberals make reference to the presence of “outside agitators” souring the character and spirit of the protest movement. This spectral opponent allows Democrat senators and mayors to use the presence of subversive elements as a welcome excuse to distance themselves from uncomfortable social truths, to pretend there is no civil unrest bubbling over in their own citizenry, that white nationalists and/or antifascist organisers are using their once idyllic towns and cities as battlegrounds for a shadowy proxy-war. In Cleveland, a city with a Democrat mayor, Police Chief Calvin Williams preemptively claimed that the majority of detainees during protests had been from out of state. Jail records later showed that not only were those arrested mostly from Cleveland, most were also black. Frequently this attitude and rhetoric extends also to social leaders both black and white aiming to demobilize the more radical elements within the social movement. This is not to deny the presence of such actors within a widespread and diverse movement with no centrally planned directives; but the characterisation and insistent blame of the bulk of property damage and looting on white fringe elements effectively erases the black working class involved in more radical action. Fearful of playing into stereotypes, and of acknowledging the destruction of property as a legitimate expression of outrage at a culture which values and protects property over people, liberals instead marginalise radical black activists and the working class in favour of an anaemic version of social justice which seeks only to improve their standing within the status quo.
Perhaps most egregious in liberal insistence that rioting sets back social progress by entrenching prejudicial beliefs is that this claim is patently false. As recently as 2014, the Ferguson riots following the murder of Michael Brown present a microcosm of events which are now playing out on the national (and international) level. Despite an onslaught of negative press coverage, recent research has shown that the attention commanded by the Ferguson riots led to a significant increase in those who feel equality is still an issue which needs to be addressed, even among republican voters. To bring this closer to home for a moment, the 1990 riots in the UK against the poll tax lead to the bill being repealed and Margaret Thatcher’s resignation.
The duplicity of liberal involvement with and commentary on social movements should be of concern to any who desire fundamental change. By allowing them to take the reigns, we set ourselves up for more of the same with regards to policing and government. Already emergent in the wake of discussions around police brutality following George Floyd’s murder is a schism between liberal “reformists” and the radical desire for the abolition of policing in its current form. Liberals, keen to preserve the state’s monopoly on violence, seem to think institutional racism can be overcome with a diet of increased funding, sensitivity training and increased accountability, completely disregarding that all such methods have been tried and tested time and again and the results are plain to see. Yet with their aspirational and actual class interest in the preservation of the sanctity of private property, liberals cannot envisage a world without the need for police as agents of property enforcement, and so will continue to be ineffectual conduits for manifest social change.
No doubt you’re aware of the events currently unravelling in Minneapolis and now across other American cities. With so much noise and confusion on the subject we at the ACU thought we would do our best to provide our readers a timeline of the causes and responses to this wave of civil unrest that has swept across the United States.
On the 25th of May police were called to Cup Foods– a supermarket in Minneapolis- as it was reported by the teenage clerk behind the counter that a man by the name of George Floyd had attempted to use a fake $20 bill to pay for his groceries. It was never proven if this $20 bill was a forgery or not. When the police arrived on the scene four officers restrained George after pulling him out of his car. The police force would later claim that George was resisting arrest, a claim which has not been backed up by any video evidence, but bystanders did manage to capture the image of Derek Chauvin- one of the arresting officers- kneeling on George’s neck. During the film George repeatedly pleaded that he could not breath, and eventually lost consciousness. The crowd can be heard begging the officers to let him up at this point, with people pointing out that he was not resisting and that he had a bleeding nose. Officer Chauvin did not respond to these pleas and instead kept his knee on George’s neck for a total of 8 minutes; he did not release his grip on the man’s neck until 7 minutes after George had started gasping for air, 6 minutes after the crowd had started to beg for the man’s life and 3 minutes after George had lost consciousness. Instead Derek put his hands in his pockets and maintained the choke hold that would take George’s life, with three officers in support who at no point acted to prevent their colleague from murdering George Floyd. George never regained consciousness from the police assault and died from his injuries in hospital.
The video of this incident would go viral and strike a chord with many communities across America, with its brutal similarity to the racially charged murder of Eric Garner (17 July 2014), where Eric also repeatedly said on video that he could not breathe as police officers used a chokehold to bring him to the ground. He was also pronounced dead at a hospital hours later.
The local government in Minneapolis was quick to respond to the outcry and all four officers involved in the arrest of George Floyd have been fired. The mayor of Minneapolis, Jacob Frey released a press statement on how the incident showed just how far America still has to go in terms of racial equality. The same day, members of George Floyds family began to push for the four former police officers to be charged with murder, feeling that simply firing these individuals did not go far enough to deliver justice. The next day Mayor Frey would add his voice to this demand for justice.
By the 28th of May prosecutors were still undecided on whether or not to charge Derek Chauvin for the murder of George, and as a result of this indecision and the slow action of authorities, protests began in the city, in front of the police station. Similar protests in support also got underway in other cities across America. Once these peaceful protestors had been outside the police station for nearly half a day, the police force opened fire into the crowd with tear gas canisters and rubber bullets.
The next day, President Trump tweeted out several things regarding the protests, including calling the protestors thugs, offering the support of the military to the Governor of Minnesota Tim Walz and ending by quoting Miami police Chief Walter Headley from the 60’s- a man famous for his bigotry and racism to the black community in Florida- saying, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts”. This, alongside the violent police response the day before and the release of information showing that Derek had been involved in 18 police complaints– including one involving the shooting of another person of colour- only raised passions further.
In the most decisive blow ever struck by Liberalism against the Trump administration, Twitter, seeing the reckless incitement to violence of the commander-in-chief, decided to… put a warning tag on the tweet.
On the same day another video became public as a CNN news crew was arrested live on TV. The video showed the black newsman asking multiple times if where they were standing was okay with the police, while showing his media pass. The police never responded and then put the man under arrest whilst not reading him his rights. The entire crew was released later that day but the incident only served to further distance the police from public sympathy by highlighting another incident where they broke the law to put yet another black person under arrest without cause.
This was the day that Derek Chauvin was finally put under arrest. He had been in police custody from the night of the incident, but this was actually a police protection measure as there had been credible threats on his life, rather than as part of any formal criminal proceedings: where he had previously been treated like a witness under protection, he was now being treated as a murder suspect. However, another point of contention emerged as the charges were revealed; third degree murder and manslaughter, without any of the other arresting officers being formally charged. The charge of third degree murder- essentially murder without foreknowledge, malice or intent- became especially difficult to justify when it emerged that Derek had known George for 17 years, having previously worked in security with each other.
Protesters again took to the streets and this time burnt down a police precinct, after looting and redistributing goods from a Target supermarket. 8pm on Friday, Mayor Frey declared a curfew that started at 8pm that night.
We at the ACU would like to encourage readers to support the protests in any way they are able. For those of us watching across the world, the most easily accessible avenue for support will be the Minnesota Freedom Fund.