Protesters gathered in Tower Hamlets on Saturday to stop the racist EDL in a show of unity and defiance. The police’s approach was provocative and confrontational.

Some thousands of anti-racists assembled Saturday morning in Whitechapel to ensure that the racist English Defence League could not make an appearance in Tower Hamlets in East London – the home of Britain’s biggest Muslim community.

The mood was upbeat. Various attempts by the EDL to make plans to assemble in or near the borough had been scuppered. Under pressure, Sainsburys had refused to allow the EDL to meet in their car park. Union members of the RMT at Liverpool Street station had threatened to close the station down if they tried to assemble there. So the EDL had nowhere to go in the borough.

The growing crowd was addressed by a wide range of speakers from the local community, trade unions, political parties and campaigning groups. Speaker after speaker made the point that it wasn’t Theresa May’s ban on marching that had kept the EDL out, it was a popular campaign that meant they weren’t even able to assemble in the borough.

In fact the outrageous blanket ban on all marches imposed by the government had made it more difficult for the organisers, United East End and Unite Against Fascism, to mount an effective protest.

The speeches were interspersed with music and by midday all four corners of the junction at Whitechapel and Vallance Road at heart of Tower Hamlets was full of protesters and well wishers, draped with banners from unions, anti-racist groups, LGBT campaigns and many more. Across the road, the East London Mosque was being protected by a good crowd.

By early afternoon news came through that members of the EDL chanting threatening and racist slogans, were being escorted across London by the police to assemble in Lehman Street near Aldgate station, on the west side of the borough. So much for the police wanting to keep tensions to a minimum. As anti-racist contingents moved west to keep the EDL out, hundreds of police, many in full riot gear, were deployed to protect the racists.

Unsurprisingly, some scuffles broke out and at one point a coach full of EDL members was actually allowed to pull up outside the East London Mosque in Whitechapel, one of the biggest and oldest mosques in London, while EDL members inside shouted abuse and made obscene gestures. This provocation was too much for some local people who attacked the coach and forced it to drive off. The coach escaped to Stepney where EDL members attempted to go on the rampage until they were rounded up by the police.

The behaviour of the police in actually ensuring members of the EDL got to the borders of Tower Hamlets is an outrage, and underlines the fact that a state ban can’t deal with racist aggression. It emerged on Saturday that the head of Scotland Yard’s Domestic Extremism Unit, Adrian Tudway, had decided that the EDL were not an extremist group and has recommended that the best approach for Muslim groups would be to ‘open a direct line of dialogue with them’.

Saturday was a victory for everyone who loathes racism and Islamophobia. The kind of mass campaigning organised in Tower Hamlets is the only way to deal with the likes of the EDL. But it is clear that as well as confronting the racist thugs we need to campaign against the Islamophobic ideas that allow them to flourish, amongst politicians, in the media and the police.