ON Thursday, the Home Office thought they were leading an intelligence-led immigration raid. Had Priti’s finest bothered to check, then they should have known that Pollokshields was the most diverse community in Scotland with the highest population of Muslims.
Such sheer stupidity meant that within seconds of two Indian men being grabbed from their beds, their neighbours had mobilised and via social media called on others to rush to Kenmure Street to surround the enforcement van. One hero of the day now known as van man planted himself under the wheels of the van refusing to move.
Inside the van, both detained men had little clue of what was going on other than that noise outside was increasing by the hour, as were the chants of “let them go, they are our neighbours”.
From 10.30am onwards Pollokshields was being “swamped” by Police Scotland and a tense standoff was taking place. Local activists and politicians were concerned that their community had the potential to explode. After seeing videos of up to 40 public order vans flood the area, I had no choice but to join the protest and I suspect many others felt the same.
In over 30 years of protests, I have never seen such a diverse protest take place on the streets of Pollokshields. I spoke to the crowd after being introduced by community activist Mohammed Asif who became a friend after his arrival in Glasgow over 20 years ago as an asylum seeker from Afghanistan.
Standing in Kenmure Street brought back memories of Sighthill 2001 when Kurdish asylum seeker Firsat Daag was stabbed to death in what many believed was a racist murder. That day Asif and myself led a march of over 1000 asylum-seekers from Sighthill on Glasgow City Council to demand justice, a few nights later we were back in the Southside of Glasgow as the police tried to evict protesters from the Govanhill Pool protest. My words to the commanding officer that night were if you wish the protest to stop, if you want disorder to stop, then retreat, this is our community and peace will descend. That was exactly what happened.
My experience time and time again has been when you put police in riot gear, into the heart of a community you have already lost control.
My message to senior officers of Police Scotland that day was simple, there was only one way this was going to end and that was with the unconditional release of the two men, the alternative of using force to disperse the local community from their own streets would lead to a riot.
For me, the picking of Eid by immigration for a raid was reckless, cynical and provocative. Initially, the cowards from the Home Office would not even respond to repeated calls by the First Minister or Humza Yousaf and in the end, they were left to deal with some useless junior minister. Can you imagine Priti Patel (below) not picking up the phone to the Metropolitan Police if London was about to explode?
It was as though the Home Office had lit a fuse in the heart of our community but wanted to watch from London as carnage ensued. This must never be allowed to happen again – as for our police, they need to remember they work for us and not Priti Patel, they need to change protocols fast, as next time there might not be any second chances. As for our politicians, the SNP, Greens and Labour showed exactly what can happen when we work together to save lives. Their conduct was impeccable.
The police subsequently stated that public safety must be paramount and just after 5pm released the two men into my custody to march to freedom, with a police cordon, ironically “kettled in” by a crowd of several hundred.
It was an amazing moment to open the door of the van and speak to Lakhvir and Sandhev, to speak to them in Punjabi and tell them they were free and turn round and say it is because of them, because of the people of Glasgow. Both men were overwhelmed and with tears in their eyes said thank you to Glasgow and Scotland.
Glasgow is a city built through the blood sweat and tears of generation after generation of immigrants. In Kenmure Street it was people power that won these men their freedom, because they are our neighbours, we have done it before and we will do it again.