Birmingham’s modern shopping centre, the Bull Ring, reflects a diverse and multicultural British city. On Saturday 8 August it was full of tourists and locals.
Birmingham City, the local football club, was hosting the Spanish team Sporting de Gijon in a friendly.
Families and groups of friends were strolling in the Saturday sunshine. White, black and Asian shoppers mixed with the tourists.
But there was a shadow hanging over the day. Nazi thugs, organised as the English Defence League (EDL) were planning to march into the centre of the Bull Ring that afternoon.
The EDL had paraded through the centre on 4 July chanting anti-Muslim slogans.
The same group had rampaged through Luton on 24 May, attacking Muslims and targeting Asian-owned businesses.
And last Saturday it planned to leaflet the football match to gather supporters for a “rally against Islam” in the Bull Ring at 6pm.
Strong rumours were circulating that the recent murder of an Asian taxi driver was racially motivated.
The attack heightened fears of more racist violence if the Nazi thugs were allowed to repeat their protest.
Local anti-racists were determined to stop them. Unite Against Fascism (UAF), along with community groups and trade unionists, called a counter rally in the city centre for 5pm.
The anti-racist protesters questioned the decision to allow the EDL march to take place. But West Midlands Police insisted it would go ahead.
In an email to campaigners the police said that despite “the nature of the march” the EDL “protest is a sign of a healthy democracy and police have a positive duty to facilitate that right”.
By 5pm some 300 anti-racists had gathered. Police quickly formed a cordon around them.
Behind the cordon a second line of police formed, while police vans were parked across the thoroughfare to form a huge barrier.
Police stopped many of the younger people from joining the rally. So they began to gather in small groups outside the cordon.
Among the onlookers word spread that “the BNP” were again trying to march in their town.
A group of young black women called their friends on mobiles. Two white women with pushchairs shouted encouragement to the rally.
Soon two demonstrations were forming, one trapped within the police cordon, the other a spontaneous gathering of young black and Asians—some as young as 14.
A number of speakers, including from the NASUWT teachers’ union and Birmingham Trades Council, addressed the rally.
Sadia from Birmingham UAF told the crowd, “The Nazis came here on 4 July to raise their flag. Can you see them now?”
“No!” the crowd shouted back.
Sam Hargreve, a former Labour councillor, said, “The message is that together we are stronger.” Respect councillor Salma Yaqoob told the rally, “We told the EDL that they will not march in Brum.”
She urged the gathering to remain peaceful and not react to any provocations.
David Hughes, a Birmingham City supporter, joined the rally after the football match. He told the crowd that the EDL received a cold reception when they appeared at the football ground. He said they where disheartened when they realised “that Birmingham City supporters are black, white and Asian.”
Weyman Bennett, joint secretary of UAF, told the rally, “Fascism is a dead ideology that should remain buried”.
At 6pm a huge cheer went up. The rally heard that police had kettled some 100 racists near the town hall in a car park. They would not be allowed to march into the city centre.
But tension continued to grow.
Outside the police cordon a group of some 30 thugs began to gather.
Feeling secure behind the double line of police, they began to goad protesters with anti-Muslim chants.
Those inside the cordon pushed angrily at the police lines but were unable to break through.
Sensing that they were safe, the Nazis burst into a chorus of “Rule Britannia”.
They were on the third line when groups of young black and Asian people, some on foot, others on bikes, rushed at the Nazis from side streets.
They scattered the gang of racists. Many of the Nazis fled away from the rally in panic, others took refuge in the shops. A few were caught.
By 7pm Birmingham’s Bull Ring was under the control of Blacks, Asians, trade unionists and socialists. The Nazis wanted to claim Birmingham city centre as theirs. But they did not pass.