The Case for Self-Defence

 Published by the National Council for Civil Liberties  in Rights  Vol 3. mo 3 Jan/Feb 1979 with Jenny Bourne  (includes foot notes in text)

No community should have to defend itself. That, in a democracy, is the function of the forces of law and order. But when those self-same forces have repeatedly and over a period of time shown beyond any reasonable doubt, that they are unable to protect that community, that inability becomes a refusal. If then such a denial of the right to be protected is upheld by judicial decision (or indecision), compounded by bad law and justified by the media (if only by default), such a community is reduced to one of two choices. It can either submit to indignity, harassment, brutalization and even murder – or it can defend itself.

It is a choice – or rather a ‘choice!essness’ which no society which prides itself on being free should visit on its citizens, let alone whole communities. For, in the final analysis, the measure of a free society is in the range of effective choices available to its peoples, irrespective of class, colour or creed.

Without redress

The black community* is a community under attack and, increasingly, a community without redress. The debates on race relations and immigration, whether in parliament or in the mass media, have from the beginning been couched in racialist terms _ the legislation itself sanctifies and legitimises racialism – and it finds echo in the overt violence of the streets. There is no room here to convince the liberal or the sceptic through massive documentation that such violence is neither ‘isolated’ nor ‘superficial’. That it has become a way of life for many black people and especially for those sharing the poor amenities of decaying inner city areas with poor whites, is well documented.The following cases have been selected to show the kind of vicious circles and double-binds that face the black community, where self-defence is the only feasible way out. 

*By black community we mean all non-white groups whose common experience of (racial) oppression outweighs the (socio-cultural) differences.

ln April 77 four Asian brothers, repairing their car outside their house in East London, were attacked by a gang of white youths. The brothers used tools lying at hand to defend themselves from the attackers. One brother went to call the police. When the police arrived they arrested the victims of the attack and let the whites go free. Judge Argyle sentenced the Virk brothers to 3 months, 2 years, 3 years and 7 years imprisonment.


·In the early morning of 3 July 1978, seven white men broke down the door of a house belonging to an Asian family in Longsight, Manchester, and proceeded to ransack the house. The family was terrified, convinced that this was a National Front attack. The son tried to phone the police, the father tried to defend his family. The white men ripped out the telephone cord and said that they were in fact police. The father (who was so badly beaten that he needed hospital treatment) has been charged with wounding with intent to do grievous bodily harm (which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment) and his son has been charged with assaulting two policemen and possessing an offensive weapon: 


In ’76 Mustapha Siddiqui was helping in a Brick Lane shop when he was stabbed by a white man. Members of the local anti-racist committee were at hand and witnessed events. Police arrived and were handed the weapon. They put the white attacker and Siddiqui in the same car, took Siddiqui to hospital and failed to charge his white assailant. They later suggested to Siddiqui that he should not press charges. 


An Asian member of the High Wycombe anti-racist campaign was arrested whilst being assaulted by a National Front member at a demonstration held during the recent by-election campaign. He was detained at the police station for six hours under suspicion of being an illegal immigrant. Later he was summoned to the Home Office to explain why he was on a political demonstration. Finally he was fined £25 by the local magistrate for obstruction.


An Asian family in Newham were repeatedly abused and attacked. They took pains to report all incidents to the police who said that they could do nothing without evidence on the perpetrators of the attacks. On 22 October 1978 when the glass pane of the door was again smashed, the father managed catch one of the boys ‘red-handed’ as the police had suggested. His wife called the police. But seeing the boy’s father approaching him with a knife and a dog, the Asian retreated into his house. The youth’s father broke down the door, went into the house and abused the family. When the police finally arrived, they accepted the white man’s version that his boy had been assaulted by the Asian without any provocation. He was and charged. A week later the same Asian was beaten on his doorstep with a metal bar. He fell to the ground and was kicked and hit needing a long treatment in hospital. Although he recognised one of the attackers (a neighbour) the police refused to prosecute, claiming that the attack was merely between neighbours. 


Case after case shows that the police are not interested in providing protection, that they are unwilling to take witnesses’ statements, that they concerned with arresting attackers, that they prefer to recommend victims that they themselves apprehend their assailants and/or take out which in itself can put the family greater risk. More often than not, the police do not treat attacks as a priority, they arrive many hours after a phone call about an attack – certainly long enough for the assailants to have left the scene.

Half an hour before the gang of 150 white National Front youths rampaged through Brick Lane in June ’78, attacking people and damaging property, the owner of a saree shop had phoned the police to say that a gang was gathering the police should be on hand. But they did not turn up until after the mob had run amok: their excuse for the delay was the changeover of shifts.

When the police do provide reinforcements and actually patrol an area in strength, as happened in and around Brick Lane, they appear to use this as a pretext for making further arrests within the Asian community itself. There have been numerous raids for ‘illegal immigrants’ and many cases of young Asians being charged with possessing offensive weapons, since the increase in police ‘protection’ this summer.

Black self-defence – a term which has recently been co-opted and advocated by the white left – has emotive and contentious connotations for those who do not appreciate either what it means or the fact that it is forced upon the black community. Firstly self-defence of a community does not mean mounting ‘vigilante’ groups, inflicting random and racially motivated revenge attacks on the host community or ‘taking the law into one’s own hands’. Racial violence can in no way be equated with black self-defence. For it involves the patrolling of areas by members of the community to allow its children to return unmolested from school, its workers to reach home unharmed, its youth to walk the streets without fear, its houses and businesses to withstand vandalism. Communities are being forced to adopt self-defence to restore those rights which are taken for granted by every member of the white population.

Secondly, unlike other forms of community control, black self-defence does not signify a ‘no go area’ for the forces of law and order, but rather like the defence the Jewish community mounted against fascist attacks some 40 years earlier – reflects the fact that the forces of law and order do not operate for them. To counsel the black community to ’keep calm’ or to ‘ignore fascists’, in a mistaken hope that racism or fascism will go away of their own accord, ignores the experience of communities that find daily life increasingly unbearable and it is certainly belied by history, which shows such counsel leading to the gas chambers.

The Virk brothers’ case referred to above has raised fundamental issues in the relationship of the state and black self- defence. The case epitomises the negative role that the police can play in investigating cases of racial attack. The officers apprehended those who had in fact been forced to defend themselves in a street attack. Judge Argyle accepted the police version of events and sentenced the brothers to prison. He went one step further he deemed as ‘irrelevant’ the introduction of ‘racial prejudice’ by the defence and reprimanded them for enquiring whether the white attackers were members of the National Front. When judges unquestioningly accept police versions of events, turn a blind eye to the racial dimensions of a case and even accuse black defendants of introducing racial issues where there are none, justice is not only not done, but is no longer seen to be done. 

In the face of such a massive onslaught from the fascists, the police, the politicians, the press, the judges and the law – the black community must perforce defend itself. But in so doing it raises questions not of civil rights and liberties per se but of their function in in-forming and cohering a free society. Thrown back on itself, it throws us on first principles. Where is the justice in a law that ordains some of us inferior?  How effective in fact is a law that is enforced lawlessly? Should a free press be free of social responsibility? What is this freedom of speech which exhorts to kill (One down, a million to go’) encourages to harass (being ‘rather swamped by an alien culture’)? Of what use is it, if it takes precedence over the first freedom – the freedom to life?