The Monitoring Group: Forty Years on the Frontline.

AuthorNijjar, Jasbinder S.

December 2021 marked forty years since the birth of the Monitoring Group, a leading national antiracist charity in Britain that supports Black, Asian, migrant, and refugee communities at the sharp end of state and street racism. This piece examines some of the milestone struggles of the Monitoring Group, from the street campaigning against lethal racist violence in the 1970s to the landmark government-commissioned Macpherson Report, which acknowledged institutional racism in 1999.1 argue that exploring the formation and ongoing campaign work of the Monitoring Group offers vital lessons for present and future antiracist resistance.


And from there, what did we do? We just patrolled pigs. --Bobby Seale, Seize the Time (1970)

December 2021 marked forty years since the formation of the Monitoring Group. Originating from Southall, west of London, and in one of the first postwar settlements of so-called New Commonwealth Asian workers, the Monitoring Group is now a leading national antiracist charity in Britain. It supports Black, Asian, migrant, and refugee communities at the sharp end of police misconduct, violence, and wider forms of state and street racism. As part of that commitment, the charity has coordinated numerous defense and family-led justice campaigns, including for the Bradford 12, Kuldip Sekhon, and, perhaps most notably, Stephen Lawrence, whose racist murder in April 1993 is a landmark case in Black British history. For any grassroots organization to remain active for forty years is a monumental achievement. But the fact that the Monitoring Group has long been at the forefront of community-led campaigning for racial justice while remaining grounded in a radical tradition of understanding and resisting the shifting politics of racism necessitates a special salute to its ongoing legacy.

That acknowledgement is important, not least because it prompts us to collectively consider the necessary strategies and methods for doing longterm antiracist work. As such, we are compelled to actively guard against being swept away with passing trends, fashions, and fads of this or any other political and historical moment. In other words, to recognize and think through the motivations and conditions behind the Monitoring Group's forty years of community-based antiracist campaign work is to recognize and think through the virtues of having a clear, committed, and enduring vision of what community empowerment, racial equality, and social justice more broadly look like. That vision is inevitably shaped by a proactive political culture with progressive principles and values from which sustainable, radical, and transformative antiracist strategies are forged to resist state violence, deliver racial justice, dismantle racist institutions, and rebuild a fundamentally different society (Bourne 2020, Owusu 2016).

In this piece, I argue that examining the emergence and ongoing significance of the Monitoring Group offers vital lessons for present and future fightbacks against state and street racism. This is because it teaches us about doing antiracist work that is historically specific, but always committed to political change, community empowerment, and collective resistance. The first part of the article considers the historical conditions and motivations that led to the birth of the Monitoring Group in December 1981. Recalling that history of institutional racism, overpolicing, and under protection from far-right violence means recalling a unique political environment that has, nonetheless, transformed in shape, purpose, and function to continue conditioning racial injustice in contemporary Britain. With that shifting continuity in mind, I then discuss the Monitoring Group's strategic approach to coordinating defense and family-led justice campaigns over four decades, some of which have prompted significant political and legal changes. I do so to foreground a set of enduring principles and values that challenges dominant neoliberal ideals and that should invariably inspire and influence antiracist activism despite the historical character of institutional racism.

The Origins of the Monitoring Group

As this article's epigraph suggests, the idea of a monitoring group is rooted in a radical form of antiracism stemming from the community-centered activism of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. Indeed, the birth of the Monitoring Group in Southall was directly inspired by the BlackPanthers (see Nijjar 2021). Among the main activities that the Black Panthers undertook upon forming in 1966 were armed and unarmed citizen patrols to monitor the belligerent policing of predominantly Black, economically impoverished, and socially marginalized neighborhoods in Oakland, California. "We floated around the streets, and we patrolled pigs," recalls co-founder Bobby Seale (1970, n.p.): "[w]e followed pigs. They wouldn't even know we'd be following them." The aim was to organize as a Black community to observe and hold to account a police force that was systematically overpolicing, violating, and denying the basic rights of Black Americans. However, these are hallmarks of virtually every society that is institutionally racist. Thus, in addition to serving as "conditions of being or living" (Goldberg 2004, 217) for Black Americans, overpolicing and underprotection were, and remain, the lived experiences of Black, Asian, migrant, and refugee people in Britain.

In Southall, Gurdip Singh Chaggar, an 18-year-old Sikh, was stabbed to death on June 4, 1976, by white youths outside the Dominion Cinema, "a symbol of Asian self-reliance and security" (Campaign Against Racism and Fascism 6c Southall Rights 1981, 51). Chaggar's killing occurred in a popular and political climate inspired by Enoch Powell that regularly framed Asian migrants as welfare scrounging so-called illegals who were swamping Britain, African-Caribbean households as pathologically dysfunctional, and their children as idle and criminally inclined (see Gilroy 1982, Hall et al. 1978). (1) Referring to Chaggar's death, John Kingsley Read, leader of the National Party (a group that had split from the fascist National Front and tasted electoral success), declared "one down, a million to go" (Higgs 2016). (2) The confidence of the far right to inflict such deadly violence on racialized communities was also fueled by a climate of policing that "afforded no protection against [fascist attacks], condoned them, even, by refusing to recognise them as racially motivated" (Sivanandan 1981, 141). Indeed, the Monitoring Group's Suresh Grover recalls that when he saw Chaggar's pool of blood on the pavement and asked a police officer what happened, the officer replied that "it was just an Asian" (Puri 2015).

The callous indifference of police toward Southall's Black and Asian working-class community reached new levels on April 23, 1979, during a peaceful protest against the National Front, which planned to hold an election meeting at Southall Town Hall that evening. Despite that provocative move, it was the community that was at the sharp end of militarized policing and punishment, as 2,756 officers with dogs, horses, shields, vans, and a helicopter trapped thousands of protesters in three double cordons before going "berserk" by driving vans into crowds and then hitting them with truncheons...

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