On Saturday 10 April in an angry but peaceful protest up to 3,000 people marched from Parnell Square in Dublin to the Dail to express their disgust at the killing of 15 year old Toyosi Shitta-bey from Tyrelstown in Blanchardstown on Good Friday.
The march organised by the Toyosi Memorial Committee was attended by Toyosi’s mother, Bola, and brothers as well as members of his extended family. It was the biggest anti racist protest organised by the African community in Ireland. While the majority of the march came from the Dublin 15 area, there were groups from African, Irish and other communities throughout Dublin and beyond. Groups of children came in football shirts from different clubs as a tribute to Toyosi’s love for football and his great talent as a player.
The trade union movement, community groups, anti racist groups and left political parties were represented. The turnout of ordinary people from all racial backgrounds was very impressive. They were there in sympathy and solidarity with the Shitta-bey family and to say “Never Again” must a crime like this occur, nor will racism be tolerated in our society This was in spite of an intervention by some religious leaders to try cut across the protest on Friday, claiming that it would cause “division”!
This march was one of the most youthful protests in decades with Toyosi’s teenage friends, black and white, from the Blanchardstown area playing a key role in the demonstration. His close friends took on the role of stewards and led the march with chants of “No More Racism” , ‘We want Justice’ and “Toyo, Toyo We Love You”
There was a broad range of speakers and a gospel choir at rallies at the beginning and end of the march. In Parnell Square the crowd was addressed by community leaders and church leaders from Tyrellstown. Jack O’Connor President of SIPTU also addressed the crowd pointing out how the issue of immigration and racism is an issue that Irish people have faced in the past, there was also a speaker from the Chinese community amongst others. Toyosi’s cousin, Abisoye, in a moving tribute, told how he was just a normal football obsessed 15year old, how he would bring a football to school instead of his books if he could get away with it.
The rally at the Dail was addressed by more speakers including a Green Party Minister of State and local Councillors from Fine Gael and the Labour Party. Joe Higgins MEP spoke on behalf of the Socialist Party and received a very warm response. He pointed out that there was a real problem with so called “low grade” racism in society, meaning people of colour other than white, being verbally harassed as they go about their daily lives. He called for communities to unite and have an absolute no tolerance policy for such behaviour anywhere from the workplace to the street. He also demanded of the agencies of the State, including the Garda, to take complaints of racism made by victims very seriously.
Joe Higgins also explained that in times of economic crisis brought about by the greed and speculation of bankers and speculators, there was a danger of minorities being scapegoated for rising unemployment and scarce resources for public services. He warned that right wing politicians might attempt this to cover their own failures and that any such opportunism they should be taken head on. The alternative was a society where the major economic levers were in democratic ownership and control so that there would be adequate resources for all.
The poignant human tragedy behind the event was shown when one of Toyosi’s teenage friends was overcome by emotion as he tried to articulate to the crowd what had happened to them on Good Friday and how their young lives can never be the same again. Toyosi’s mother through a spokesperson thanked the crowd and the organisers on behalf of the family.
The reaction to the killing of Toyosi Shitta-bey was one of horror right across the country and has shown that the majority of people living in Ireland do not want racism in their society. The youth in particular can play a crucial role by organising in their schools and local areas to combat racist ideas and actions and by having a united front of youth from all ethnic backgrounds in this.
The working class should stand united to fight for jobs, homes and facilities for all. That was the spirit of Saturday’s historic march and rally and that it really the best tribute that ordinary people in society can give to the tragically short, but very full, life of Toyosi.