There were two brutal racist murders last weekend. Both victims were Asian men. In both cases the police have received reports of racist language being used towards the victims and both murders are being treated as racially aggravated.
Shezan Umarji, a 20 year old call centre worker, was fatally stabbed in Preston in the early hours of last Saturday morning.
Police later arrested two men on suspicion of murder and another six on suspicion of violent disorder.
Shezan’s family have issued a statement saying that they are devastated by the murder and that Shezan has been taken from them “in the cruellest possible way”.
On Saturday night, Mohammed Pervaiz from Huddersfield was killed while working as a taxi driver.
Police said that he died from head injuries sustained in a serious assault and believe that he may have been deliberately ambushed by his killers.
Five teenagers have been arrested in connection with the murder.
People in Huddersfield and Preston have been shocked by the racist murders. Dave Ellis is a college caretaker in Huddersfield.
He was standing as the Respect candidate in a council by-election, due to take place after Socialist Worker went to press, in the Greenhead ward where Mohammed Pervaiz lived.
He told Socialist Worker, “I heard about the murder last Sunday when I was out canvassing. Like everyone else in the area, I was shocked.
“I have spoken to lots of people from the area. Everyone is horrified that this could happen to an ordinary local man who was going about his business and working to earn money for his family.”
Dave has lived in Huddersfield all his life. “I have lived here for 60 years,” he said “Huddersfield is a mixed and multi-faith city. Relations between different people are usually very good.”
He is worried, however, about racists and fascists breaking that unity.
Dave said, “We don’t want to see the British National Party (BNP) or anyone else destroying the good relations that we have.”
The Sunday Telegraph carried an article last week claiming that Preston, where Shezan was murdered, is the most racist city in Britain.
Michael Lavalette, a Respect councillor in Preston, told Socialist Worker that the Telegraph is wrong.
“Preston is not the most racist city in the north west of England, never mind Britain. The figures they quote reflect, in part, the increased reporting and monitoring of racist incidents.
“Relations between black, white and Asian people are generally very good in the city. People work together and live together.”
He believes, however, that the government’s “war on terror” has scapegoated Muslims and created a climate of increasing racism:
“Over the last year there has been a rise in Islamophobia nationally, and Preston is no exception to that.
“There has been an increase in racism in line with the rest of the country. You have to put this murder into that context.”
Home secretary John Reid has also helped to fuel fears over immigration by making talking tough on immigration a central plank of his reorganisation of the home office.
This includes proposals to introduce armed border guards at Britain’s ports and airports.
Dave Ellis said, “The Labour government is looking for scapegoats to cover up for their own failings.
“This is creating incidents such as the ‘terror’ raid in Forest Gate. This encourages Islamophobia.”
Last year, Preston’s deputy major Bhikhu Patel, who works as a racial equality officer for the Racial Equality Council, said that there had been a racist backlash since the London bombings.
The fascist BNP has tried to exploit the rise in racism against Muslims. They now have three councillors in Kirklees, the council that covers the Huddersfield area.
Mohammed Pervais was killed in the Golcar area of the city. The BNP won 22 percent in that ward in the local elections in May, beating Labour into third place. The BNP is also standing in the Greenhead by-election.
Huddersfield’s trade union council (TUC) is centrally involved in organising a Unite Against Fascism campaign in the city.
On Saturday trade union members and anti-racist campaigners delivered leaflets across the Greenhead ward as part of their campaign against the BNP.
Bob Stoker, secretary of Huddersfield TUC, told Socialist Worker, “We are doubling our efforts to oppose the BNP across Kirklees.”
There has been a groundswell of sympathy and support for the families from local people in both Preston and Huddersfield.
Michael Lavalette said, “There is a tree next to the spot where Shezan was murdered that has become a site of floral tributes. Most of these tributes are from the local white population.
“This shows the cross community support for the family.”
Anti-racist campaigners in both cities have called for justice for the families.
The Umarji family said, “We want justice for Shezan. We are appealing to everybody to stay calm for our sake.”
Michael Lavalette added, “There are also other questions that need to be asked. How long did it take for the ambulance to arrive?
“Could Shezan’s life have been saved if the emergency services had responded quicker? And what is the impact of cuts in services in the north west?”
Around 100 people attended a meeting last Sunday in Greenhead ward, Huddersfield, where a council election was due to take place on Thursday of this week.
The meeting was organised by the local Muslim community centre, who wanted to find out more about Respect.
The meeting was addressed by local Respect candidate Dave Ellis and broadcaster Yvonne Ridley.
Issues raised ranged from the attack on the Lebanon to the racist murder of Mohammed Pervaiz who lived in the ward. People were angry and shocked by the murder.
Roger Keely Huddersfield Respect