Thursday, June 10, 2010

Michael Gove - 'The Heroes of Balsall Heath'

Anyone else on the blog heard about the 'Heroes of Balsall Heath"? Michael Gove mentioned it as an example of the power of civic action. Here's the quote:

"If you have an institution like the group of people who transformed Balsall Heath in Birmingham, a group of citizen volunteers, who've taken an area that was polluted by prostitution, that was scarred by drug addiction, that faced underdevelopment and deprivation - and those individuals, by their own efforts, working in partnership with Birmingham Council - they've transformed Balsall Heath for the better - now, I'm talking about that part of Birmingham on the Radio 4 Today programme for the first time, because Today, and the press generally, always tend to look at Government initiatives, they always tend to say 'how can we spend more State money ?'. What they rarely do is celebrate the power of civil society to transform our lives. Now I believe that Government, if we have a change of government, can do that, and the heroes of Balsall Heath can have their achievement celebrated on the Today programme, and the heroines of Birkenshaw and Gomersall , the mums and dads who want a transformed education system, they too can have their moment instead of being marginalised".

Here's a bit more info on the campaign he mentions:

"At the height of the picket, Amin had 500 people on the streets every night, armed with notebooks to take down the numberplates of kerbcrawlers and posters which warned, 'Your wife will get to hear of this.'

'The Muslim community had the will-power, the determination and the cohesion to act,' says Ward. The Christian community was split over the need to be compassionate towards the prostitutes' problems, an approach which baffles and infuriates the Muslims. As a result, Ward was the only clergyman to give the campaign his backing.

Meanwhile, the police were watching the pickets with concern. 'We were afraid of a backlash from the pimps,' says community liaison officer Sergeant Steven Bruton. 'We thought any day one might wind down his car window and blast away at the pickets with a gun. We were afraid the prostitutes might get assaulted. And we were afraid there might be riots. When it first started, the picket attracted a lot of people from all over. We thought the hotheads might have a go.'

In spite of a few allegations of assault, threats from the pimps and accusations from a group of liberal feminists, these fears did not materialize. 'The people involved were decent, God-fearing people,' explains Bruton."

This campaign also inspired one in Bradford a year later:

" On the edge of Bradford's red-light district, in a dimly lit Indian restaurant, sit two scared prostitutes. They shake, smoke and drink coffee. Sally and Fran have just been chased from their regular spot on Lumb Lane, north of the city centre, by a car of masked youths which hurtled towards them, almost knocking them from the pavement. The driver warned them to "stay away"...

But while the action has ostensibly been modelled on a similar campaign in Birmingham's Balsall Heath, where prostitution was beaten by peaceful picketing, the scenes here are more menacing. Punters have been stoned and prostitutes have been picked up and physically carried from the area. Some "vigilantes" have been threatened by pimps waving sawn-off shotguns.

The self-appointed guardians retaliated by hospitalising a prostitute's boyfriend who had spoken out on local TV. ("Let's just say he was a bit lippy, so a few of us did him over," grins an Asian youth.) Last week there was a firebomb attack on a cafe used by local prostitutes. Police are struggling to control all sides, but pleasing none...
From 8pm each evening, up to 100 local vigilantes from a pool of 500 are out in force and stay into the early hours. Most noticeable are the youths. They patrol in boisterous packs, clad in baggy jeans, big trainers and bomber jackets, often wearing bandanas as masks.

Typical of these is Abdul - not his real name - a bright-eyed, highly charged A-level student. "We've had guns, baseball bats and knives put to our heads by pimps," he says. "Our mums can't sleep at night - mums have that sort of mentality, they're weaker-hearted - but someone has to do it. The vice squad won't ever stop prostitution because they'd do themselves out of a job. In six weeks we've turned Lumb Lane from the M1 into a minor road. Now we're guarding our territory. We'll stay out until everyone knows this is no red-light district any more."...

So far, only one vigilante has been arrested for breach of the peace. "We're desperately trying not to make martyrs out of this. The last thing we need is a folk hero."

So finally, to my question, I wondered if other impdecers agree with this blogger "that While the urge of the Muslims to clean up their streets (although, as one prostitute remarked, 'we were here first') was understandable, there can be no doubt that a similar campaign by white Christians would have encountered both the full weight of the law and the full weight of liberal opinion, amplified in the liberal media feedback loop to one long howl of outrage."

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