BY SEAN SEYMOUR-JONES
& TONY ILTIS
MELBOURNE — On November 22, 300 people rallied in Footscray Mall to protest against police racism and violence, and to call for an end to religious profiling and attacks on youth. The protesters marched through the streets of Footscray chanting "Equal rights? Yes! Racism? No! Footscray police have got to know!", finishing at the police station.
In the weeks leading up to the rally, police put pressure on organisers in the Western Suburbs Community Coalition Against Racism, a coalition involving the Somali Youth Association (SYA), the Socialist Alliance and the construction workers' union, to call off the march. As a result of police pressure, elders in the Somali community withdrew support from the rally.
The 23-year-old student, whose assault by Footscray police on October 7 was the catalyst for the protest, was told by police that if any violence occurred at the rally it would be used against him in court. However, he and the other young people involved in the SYA decided that the silence on the issue had to be broken, and went ahead with the rally.
The first speaker at Footscray Mall, Somali-language journalist Liibaangeeddoon, congratulated all those attending the rally for standing up to the violence and intimidation. "Unless you leave your mark on history the crimes will continue", he said.
Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union state secretary Martin Kingham said that "all people of Australia are entitled to the same respect and dignity". He commented that a traditional slogan of construction unionists was applicable: "Touch one, touch all!"
Muslim community leader Abu Hamza spoke about how the level of acceptance towards Muslims in Australia had declined since September 11, 2001. He stressed that Islam was a religion of peace and tolerance.
"Howard can introduce the GST, go to war on Iraq, destroy Medicare, make higher education a privilege for the well-off few — all these things against the wishes of the Australian people. How can he do it? By whipping up fear, racism and suspicion so we are weak and divided", Linda Waldron, the Socialist Alliance candidate for the federal seat of Gellibrand, told the protesters.
After marching to the police station the rally was addressed by Jess Melvin from the socialist youth organisation Resistance and Axmed Ali from the SYA.
Ali, who also co-chaired the rally with Ray Fulcher from the Socialist Alliance, referred to his own experience of police racism, saying he had been called a monkey. "They called me a monkey using human language", he quipped, "then told me I had a right to remain silent". He said that good and evil were to be found everywhere, including in the police force. "Those who tarnish the uniform with their violence and racism — their days are numbered."
From Green Left Weekly, November 26, 2003.
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