SHOCK IS spreading through Bradford and beyond as more and more young Asian men are given long prison sentences after defending themselves against a racist onslaught last year. Some 300 people attended a meeting on Thursday of last week to set up a campaign to defend over 200 men charged with riot.
That is the most serious charge that can be brought following street disturbances. Already over 60 men have been jailed for up to five years. 'Solicitors and barristers across the country are deeply concerned about the severity of these sentences,' campaigning lawyer Imran Khan told last week's meeting.
He was the solicitor for the family of Stephen Lawrence as they battled to get answers from the Metropolitan Police over the mishandling of the investigation into the racist murder of their son. Three years on from the inquiry into what happened to Stephen the sentences in Bradford-and pending cases in Oldham and Burnley-are fuelling a similar burning sense of injustice.
Naseem Akhtar told the meeting what happened to her brother: 'He has been jailed for four and half years. He was told to plead guilty by a solicitor. My brother is the second eldest in the family, and all of us are suffering as a result. The solicitor said he would get ten months if he pleaded guilty. He got four and a half years.'
Another woman said, 'We are hearing nothing in the media about the National Front protest which was called on the day and started the trouble. When people asked the police to arrest a well known racist from Leeds who had come to join the NF rally and who was harassing people, they just refused. Then the police rioted. They pushed people into a residential area. Now we find out that a white man who had come all the way from Essex to be part of the National Front rally got 18 months in prison while Asians are getting four, four and a half or five years.'
There is a deliberate attempt to humiliate and intimidate people who fought back against the Nazis and racism in Bradford, Oldham and Burnley last year. Bradford council has just honoured Judge Stephen Gullick, who is handing out the sentences, by giving him the freedom of the city.
Women organised the meeting and set up the Fair Justice For All campaign. One organiser told the meeting, 'I look out here and I don't know how many of you brothers will be taken from us over the next few months. We can do something about this. This campaign is passionate. I make no apology for that. It will not be easy. But we have got to stand up as a community.'
'Drug gang' slurs
GERRY Sutcliffe, MP for Bradford South, has disgracefully attacked the campaign for justice, claiming that 'collective action is wrong'. This from a member of New Labour, which says it wants to build 'strong communities'.
He said last week, 'This is the day when we are supposed to be marking 12 months on from the riots, and we are being taken back.' Bradford council leader Margaret Eaton admitted the sentences were politically driven.
She said, 'They were passed by the judiciary because the prime minister, and home secretary David Blunkett, had set a clear framework for sentencing.' Ann Cryer-Labour MP for Keighley, next to Bradford-went even further at the weekend.
She claimed the problem in Bradford and other northern towns is 'Asian drug gangs' terrorising the population. The Nazi British National Party will be happy to use her words in future elections. Cryer doesn't appear to believe that poverty, unemployment, decades of segregation imposed on working people by employers and local politicians, and racism are problems.
She didn't even talk about drug dealers in general, but 'Asian drug gangs', as if 'white drug gangs' were either alright or non-existent. There is no evidence to back Cryer's claims. There is more drug use in overwhelmingly white Doncaster, which has been savaged by the pit closures, than there is in Bradford.
There is not a single Asian councillor in Keighley. When Labour national executive member Shahid Malik pointed that out to Cryer she had the cheek to accuse him of wanting to become an MP. He is right to demand her sacking.
THE DIRECTOR of Public Prosecutions, Sir David Calvert-Smith, has to authorise bringing riot charges. Calvert-Smith admitted earlier this year that the Crown Prosecution Service he heads is 'institutionally racist'.
But two weeks ago he claimed that was not exceptional, because 'most people in Britain are racist'. 'I'm sick of this,' one Asian woman at the Bradford meeting told Socialist Worker. It's just a PR stunt. You say you have owned up to a problem, and then you say it's everyone else's problem. That's a fat lot of good. The truth is that Asians are being discriminated against.'
It's no crime to defend yourself from racists
JUDGE STEPHEN Gullick has said he is not interested in what people individually did or did not do on the day, but only in the fact that they were there. He told two Asian men jailed for four and four and a half years last Friday, 'The charge includes not only the actions of individual defendants such as yourselves, but also the unlawful conduct of all those around you as well.'
He gave a white man 21 months for his part in last year's disturbances. Asian people are getting, for example, four and a half year sentences for merely picking up a stone and not even throwing it.
'If people are given no other option but to plead guilty it is not surprising that they do,' said Imran Khan. 'But there are defences. If people are in fear of their life or facing attack then they can be acting in self defence.'
That is what 26 Asian men in Burnley are arguing. Their cases start in September. One man in Bradford who is pleading not guilty told Socialist Worker, 'Why should I plead guilty when I haven't done anything wrong? They claim I was 'directing the riot'. The only evidence is that they claim they have a picture of me using a mobile phone. My brother has already been sent down for five years. I am the only breadwinner for my wife, my six month old child, my mum and my dad, who is disabled.'
The justice campaign has agreed to fight on three fronts:
- Legally-by collating all the cases and involving campaigning lawyers such as Imran Khan.
- Building support nationally and raising awareness of the scandal in Bradford. That also means fundraising.
- Fighting to get the truth into the media.
There was anger at last week's meeting at those local politicians and self appointed leaders who have told people not to campaign over the last 12 months.
Fawning over Judge Gullick
'A GALAXY of robed judges from across the North East Circuit sat on the bench alongside Judge Stephen Gullick and watched as the Lord Mayor, Councillor Richard Wightman, awarded him one of the highest honours the city can bestow.' That's how local paper the Bradford Telegraph & Argus reported the nauseating pageant last month to honour the man who is jailing young Asians.
It continued, 'The judge in now the city's first Honorary Recorder. 'Councillor Wightman', who is a Tory, 'said he hoped the daily sound of the City Hall bells would be a reminder of the new official link between the local authority and the judiciary. But last night there was a special, extra peal.'
All the political groups on Bradford council agreed to give Gullick the honour. The chair of Bradford Law Society 'described how she was quietly sitting in Judge Gullick's court room one day and appreciated his awareness of Bradford's special problems as he meted out justice.
'She said she had witnessed his sense of setting damage right and restoring confidence in the people who had been afraid during Bradford's troubles.' The local establishment in Bradford is lining up behind Gullick.
The Bradford Telegraph & Argus has attacked the justice campaign set up in Bradford last week to defend over 200 men charged with riot. In an inflammatory editorial last week it linked young Asians to terrorism. It said, 'After murder, rape and terrorism (of which this is a kind), causing riot is one of the most serious crimes.'
It's up to everyone who is ground under by that establishment to line up with his victims.
To contact the Burnley campaign phone 07930 889 895. The Bradford campaign is setting up contact details.