Tag Archives: UK riots

The Metropolitan Police are institutionally racist

Mark DugganA year ago today, an armed Metropolitan police officer shot Mark Duggan in the chest and killed him. There was a gun in the cab but Duggan was not holding it and the gun had not been fired. [Evidence from the inquest: there is no evidence the gun was in the cab at the time the police caught up with him. The only shots fired were from police guns: Duggan was unarmed when he was killed.]

Our mission: Working together for a safer London

Duggan’s parents found out that their son had been killed by the police from a newspaper headline.

Our values: Working together with all our citizens, all our partners, all our colleagues:

The police who had killed Duggan lied: They claimed there had been an “exchange of fire”.

We will have pride in delivering quality policing.

Metropolitan Police confront bleeding protestersTottenham police station refused to meet with the peaceful delegation of protesters come to ask questions about the police killing of Duggan. Instead, they sent out a squad with riot shields.
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Filed under Racism, Riots

Constable Savage

On Thursday 4th August 2011, the Metropolitan Police shot Mark Duggan in the chest and killed him. The police story at the time was that Duggan had fired on them: a story later confirmed to be false. Having killed Mark Duggan, the police do not appear to have made any attempt to contact his parents to let them know he was dead until Friday: his mother discovered the shooting from a newspaper headline.

Mark Duggan

Since 1990, 1433 people have died in police custody or after police “contact” – such as Simon Harwood’s baton knocking Ian Tomlinson to the ground – and not one police officer has been convicted of a criminal offense. Continue reading

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Filed under Olympics, Riots

The judiciary is playing Daily Mail politics

On 8th August, Gordon Thompson was with a group of rioters who broke into Reeves Furniture Store, Croydon. While they were there, he stole a laptop. As they left, he was heard to say: “Let’s burn the place”, and asked, “Who’s got a lighter?” Someone handed him a lighter, he lit it, and set fire to a sofa in the window display.

Furniture is flammable. The whole building burned to the ground. Thompson was arrested when he was identified from a picture on the front page of the Croydon Advertiser. He claimed he was planning to turn himself in: he initially denied arson but in court he pleaded guilty to burglary and “arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered”.

That crime – burning a 19th-century business to the ground – was one of the most spectacular crimes of the London riots last August. Continue reading

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What do the rioters deserve?

I’m walking from my home to the bus stop, about five minutes away. It’s dark. There’s a group of youngsters walking towards me. One or two of them are taller than me, but all of them are under fifteen, and the youngest and smallest is probably about ten or eleven. As I pass them, one of the biggest boys grabs the youngest boy and shoves him hard, so that he’s thrown against me. I’m solid and steady enough on my feet that the boy doesn’t knock me over, but I’m startled and angry and I yell at them. They laugh.

Search “rioters” on the government’s e-petitions site, and you get about 150 petitions, many of which of course have just one signature – the person who proposed it. Probably the majority of petitions accepted have less than ten signatures. Notoriously, one petition has over two hundred thousand – the one demanding London rioters have their benefits removed. Out of all of those petitions, I counted nine that were for mercy and justice: all the rest demanded that rioters should be stringently punished, with mandatory sentences of two years in prison (the British prison system is about 200 places from being completely full: take a look at this if you want to know what a prison system based on mandatory minimums looks like), with removal of benefits from the parents of rioters, giving the police powers to use tear gas on rioters, and of course, a handful of people who want to bring back flogging and don’t care who knows it. (Only two petitions for justice and mercy looked like they had some chance: Homelessness – Not in my name and Do NOT remove all the benefits of convicted London rioters – so I urge you to go sign those.)

That incident with the group of youngsters was just the start. Have you ever had a raw egg dropped on you from a fourth-floor flat? It doesn’t do any lasting harm – the shell smashes on impact – but it stings, and of course, it makes a godawful mess. I had stones thrown at me and once an apple. (The stones were small ones.)  The gang was notorious around the neighbourhood, I discovered – the local police had set up a “special task force” to deal with the problem. They lived in the Fort House housing estate – an ugly block of flats in Leith, now scheduled for demolition. Many of the families there were on benefits, most of the flats were owned by the council.

I had a visit by two coppers soon after I first reported an encounter, a few weeks after the incident of the boy being thrown at me – a kid yelling abuse at me in the street and then throwing eggs (either deliberately to miss, or else he had very bad aim). They told me about the special task force, and warned me, under no circumstances, strike any of them, do them any physical harm – they’re kids, you’re an adult, you will be in trouble. (This sounds more intimidating than it was, I realise on writing it down. They were very sympathetic, they assured me they understood it was infuriating and worrying, and they all but said they understood I would want to strike back – but don’t.)

This went on for well over a year. It seemed like it would never end. It was scary. It was infuriating. I learned to avoid certain places in my neighbourhood, learned that packs of kids can be outright frightening, got the local police on speed dial.

There was an awful thing that happened in the block of flats these kids lived in, a couple of years before this gang became notorious. The oldest of the gang would have been about 12 at the time. A woman died. She was on benefits, she was a drug addict, her only close family was her child, a a boy aged about three. One morning, as far as anyone can tell, she simply didn’t wake up. The door was locked, the boy couldn’t reach the lock. The boy survived alone in the flat with his dead mother for ten days before someone noticed and the boy was taken into care.

I don’t know where in the big block of flats that particular flat was. But I walk along the street beside this estate several times a day. For ten days I was less than a hundred yards from a child locked into a flat with the rotting corpse of his dead mother, and I did not know.

What does it do to a child to live somewhere where a thing like that can happen?

In London and in other places, when street violence broke out – windows smashed, police and sometimes bystanders attacked – there was looting. The bulk of it appears to have been done by professionals – masked to avoid CCTV evidence, loading quantities of saleable stuff into vans. The small stuff – the bottled water and doughnuts looting – seems to have been done largely by people who were as startled by the street violence as anyone, who simply saw an open shop and walked in. There’s a good case to be made they deserve more lenient sentencing, not exemplary sentencing: good characters caught up by the pressure of events.

Anyone who offers a simple cause or claims a simple solution to the riots is simple-minded. There are multiple, complex causes.

One of them, fairly obviously, is that the Metropolitan police have made themselves into a policing force distrusted with reason by black people (policing the most multicultural city in Europe, an institutionally-racist police force that notoriously categorises people as criminal suspects by the colour of their skin!) and the police response to the student protests earlier in the year demonstrated that in London at least, a peaceful crowd of kids demanding investment in their future is regarded by the London police force as the enemy to be rounded up and kettled – taught a lesson.

Another fairly obvious one: it is a truth universally accepted that young people today should expect to be worse-off than their parents – and this has been true for twenty years. Children should expect to be worse-off than their parents, who in turn expect to be worse-off than their grandparents. We are watching a regular and consistent transfer of wealth from the many to the few. An agitprop theatre group in the 1970s named itself 7:86 – 7% of the population own 86% of the wealth – and now it would have to call itself 0.5:99 and be mistaken for a broken clock.

The end of the story with the boys who were throwing eggs and yelling abuse? It was very Scottish, really.

The ringleader of the gang turned 16. In Scotland, with parental consent, a sixteen-year-old can leave school without waiting for June. The ringleader had multiple ASBOs and I for one had been indulging in Daily Mail type fantasies of hanging him up by his heels. The police got him a joinery apprenticeship. Six months later – which was when I saw the news story about him – he was gradually working all of his old ASBOs off and had got no new ones: the group he’d led had broken up and was causing no more trouble. I guess he must be about twenty now, and I hope that by the time he’s thirty-five, and a master joiner, he’ll think of the stupid things he did when he was a teenager with pity for the no-hoper kid he was.

I’ve told this story several times, to people who knew I was being harassed by this group and to others, and most of the time, people take that resolution as a happy ending. Only once, I got a reaction: It’s unfair that a boy who caused so much trouble got an apprenticeship, when there are so few and so many good kids who would like that opportunity.

Unfair? Did this boy deserve special treatment?

Please take a few moments to read these, while I think about it.

“Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need. … Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.”

“God’s bodykin, man, much better: use every man after his desert, and who should ‘scape whipping? Use them after your own honour and dignity: the less they deserve, the more merit is in your bounty. Take them in.”

“The law hath not been dead, though it hath slept: Those many had not dared to do that evil, If the first that did the edict infringe Had answer’d for his deed: now ’tis awake Takes note of what is done; and, like a prophet, Looks in a glass, that shows what future evils, Either new, or by remissness new-conceived, And so in progress to be hatch’d and born, Are now to have no successive degrees, But, ere they live, to end.”

No, the boy didn’t deserve to get a good apprenticeship. But I deserved for him to get it. As did his future victims, if he’d been left to go on as he was – ratcheting up the violence until he ended up in jail or worse.

So with the rioters. Get them to apprenticeships, further education, proper training: build a society which gives them hope that they can live as well or better than their parents: that’s the thrifty course of action. Spending money and resources on sending them to jail, tracking down their families and evicting them – that’s pure waste.

(You probably know who the first two speakers were: Gandalf and Hamlet. The third was Angelo, from Measure for Measure, a strange grim play about a man who prides himself on virtuous justice, who wishes to apply the law stringently and without mercy… topical chap, Shakespeare.)

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Filed under Epetitions, J. R. R. Tolkien, Riots, William Shakespeare

Lewis Carroll on the rioters

From Sylvie and Bruno Concluded:

“The causes, acting from without, are his surroundings—what Mr. Herbert Spencer calls his ‘environment’. Now the point I want to make clear is this, that a man is responsible for his act of choosing, but not responsible for his environment. Hence, if these two men make, on some given occasion, when they are exposed to equal temptation, equal efforts to resist and to choose the right, their condition, in the sight of God, must be the same. If He is pleased in the one case, so will He be in the other, if displeased in the one case, so also in the other.”

“That is so, no doubt: I see it quite clearly,” Lady Muriel put in.

“And yet, owing to their different environments, the one may win a great victory over the temptation, while the other falls into some black abyss of crime.”

“But surely you would not say those men were equally guilty in the sight of God?”

“Either that”, said Arthur, “or else I must give up my belief in God’s perfect justice. But let me put one more case, which will show my meaning even more forcibly. Let the one man be in a high social position—the other say, a common thief. Let the one be tempted to some trivial act of unfair dealing—something which he can do with the absolute certainty that it will never be discovered—something which he can with perfect ease forbear from doing—and which he distinctly knows to be a sin. Let the other be tempted to some terrible crime—as men would consider it—but, under an almost overwhelming pressure of motives—of course not quite overwhelming, as that would destroy all responsibility. Now, in this case, let the second man make a greater effort at resistance than the first. Also suppose both to fall under the temptation—I say that the second man is, in God’s sight, less guilty than the other.”

Lady Muriel drew a long breath. “It upsets all one’s ideas of Right and Wrong—just at first! Why, in that dreadful murder-trial, you would say, I suppose, that it was possible that the least guilty man in the Court was the murderer, and that possibly the judge who tried him, by yielding to the temptation of making one unfair remark, had committed a crime outweighing the criminal’s whole career!”

“Certainly I should,” Arthur firmly replied. “It sounds like a paradox, I admit. But just think what a grievous sin it must be, in God’s sight, to yield to some very slight temptation, which we could have resisted with perfect ease, and to do it deliberately, and in the full light of God’s Law. What penance can atone for a sin like that?”

“I ca’n’t reject your theory,” I said. “But how it seems to widen the possible area of Sin in the world!”

“Is that so?” Lady Muriel anxiously enquired.

“Oh, not so, not so!” was the eager reply. “To me it seems to clear away much of the cloud that hangs over the world’s history. When this view first made itself clear to me, I remember walking out into the fields, repeating to myself that line of Tennyson ’There seemed no room for sense of wrong!’ The thought, that perhaps the real guilt of the human race was infinitely less than I fancied it— that the millions, whom I had thought of as sunk in hopeless depths of sin, were perhaps, in God’s sight, scarcely sinning at all—was more sweet than words can tell! Life seemed more bright and beautiful, when once that thought had come! ‘A livelier emerald twinkles in the grass, A purer sapphire melts into the sea!’ ” His voice trembled as he concluded, and the tears stood in his eyes.

Protect the benefit system against attempts to use it as a weapon

Stop demonising the young, single mothers and benefit clamainants

Riot Offenders Should Not be Evicted from Council Housing and Should Not Lose Benefits

Politicians should pay from their own pockets the cost of telling courts to throw away the rule book on Riot sentancing

Amnesty for the rioters

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Exemplary sentences and collective punishment

Excellent comment on the UK riots by Iain MacWhirter in the Herald:

Boy steals bottled water worth £3.50 and gets six months in jail, while bankers who wrecked the economy are rewarded with billions in public money.

Politicians demand exemplary sentences for vandals who nicked clothes from Debenhams, ignoring the way MPs helped themselves from the John Lewis list courtesy of their fiddled expenses. Tabloid newspapers demand a crackdown on lawlessness, at the very moment they are found to be engaged in law breaking on an industrial scale.

The only person who has faced any punishment in the phone hacking scandal in recent weeks has been the comedian who threw a custard pie at Rupert Murdoch.

He was sent to jail faster than his feet could carry him. The rest of the Murdoch suits walk free, even as documentary evidence emerges suggesting that they have misled parliament and the police. No exemplary sentences for them. Which has absolutely nothing to do with the fact senior police officers have been revealed to have been close to the Murdoch clan.

It’s kind of bizarre when  I find myself in agreement with Iain Duncan Smith, too.

One of the first e-petitions on the UK government’s website to get over a hundred thousand and therefore meet their requirements for a debate in the House of Commons, is the loathsome demand that anyone convicted of rioting in London (but, apparently, not elsewhere) ought to lose “financial benefits” and their families should be collectively punished by  being evicted from council housing. (As John Perry noted earlier in the week, council housing isn’t welfare – the families evicted will probably cost the state more in benefits in private rented accommodation.)

The Change.org petition against evicting the innocent has reached nearly 2500 signatures, but nowhere near the 200K+ that vindictiveness demands.

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Filed under Riots, Scottish Politics

Forward to the 18th century!

In England, in the 18th century and earlier, someone who stole goods valued at more than a shilling could be hanged or transported for life. A person who brought an indentured servant to England was entitled to pay them badly and feed them cheaply, to set strict restrictions on where they could go outside working hours, and indeed to ensure that they worked every hour they reasonably could; and of course, to beat them, providing they used a stick no thicker than their thumb. Actually killing your indentured servant was a crime, but treating your servant with hideous inhumanity was perfectly legal, even if they then died of it.

Times have of course changed. Now a person who steals goods worth less than £2000 can only be sentenced to a maximum of 6 months imprisonment. And a person who brings an indentured servant from Tanzania to work for her, will also be sentenced to 6 months in prison and will have to pay her former servant, abused for six months, a lump sum equivalent to the amount she would have had to pay someone to work for her for three and a half months, assuming a 40-hour week and minimum wage. We are a much more civilised society now than we once were.

Aren’t we?

Via Avedon Carol’s Sideshow, I find that in at least one part of London, the police were simply corralling off rioters to let them loot in peace – and for months afterwards, police personnel will be searching for individuals who are identifiable on CCTV images who took part in the looting. This will provide work for police who might otherwise have been cut (the Tories still plan a 20% cut in UK police funding) or god forbid spending time investigating the corruption at News International.

David Cameron declared publicly that Andy Coulson, whom he knew to be involved in the illegal phonehacking at News of the World, deserved a second chance. If Andy Coulson deserved a second chance, why don’t people like Nicholas Robinson, who walked into a Lidls while it was being looted, took no part in any violence, had no previous convictions – he was an electrical engineering student on his way home – and stole six bottles of water priced at £3.50 because he was thirsty? He’s guilty of burglary of goods worth under £2000 right enough – but I’m thinking of the property owners in the 18th century who, when they charged people with theft, would charge them with theft of “goods to the value of 11d” because they did not want to be responsible for having someone hanged or transported. Is the magistrate who decided that an exemplary, life-wrecking sentence should be passed on a young man because of London’s riots, really more civilised than an 18th-century shopkeeper declaring that the goods that were stolen were valued at less than a shilling?

(Granted the shopkeeper could look forward to seeing the thief in the stocks or getting a public whipping, which judging from the way many people in London and elsewhere are talking, is something that would give many of them unspeakable joy if we were to do it to rioters today.)

At Question Time on Thursday night, a man pointed out to the largely-white panel that he, a well-educated middle-class man with a good job, is regularly, routinely, stopped by the police. Because he is black. (The only black person on the panel, the Archbishop of York, was – when he was the Right Reverend of Stepney – challenged by a white copper of the Metropolitan Police while he was unlocking his bicycle outside the House of Commons during the Lawrence enquiry. John Sentamu, being far too much of a Christian, took no vengeance on the copper – he’s never named him – beyond letting the man squirm for five minutes or so after Sentamu explained who he was and that he would quite happily go with the copper to the nearest police station and let the copper explain to the desk sergeant why he’d thought a respectable middle-aged man unchaining his own bicycle in Whitehall one evening, was a suspicious character who needed to be questioned by the police. Then the bishop let the racist copper go, and over ten years later that white cop probably still sees nothing much wrong with the practice of stopping black men and treating them as suspicious characters.

We can talk about race. We can talk about poverty. Ignorant right-wingers can talk about the welfare state. We can talk about the failure of the education system. We can talk about the profound gulf of inequality that exists – how even ambition and brains are not a way out, because who can afford the tuition fees? – but what we need is a revolution.

Not, I hope profoundly, a riotous revolution. A revolution as peaceful and as profoundly changing as the Labour government after World War One. The NHS was a revolutionary concept: don’t struggle to provide the poor with minimal healthcare, make everyone pay up with taxes and provide everyone with the best healthcare the country can afford whenever they need it. Don’t struggle to help the poor in their slums, build good council housing and let people pay rent to their local government for as long as they need it. Don’t struggle to pay alms to the elderly and the disabled, provide a solid pension to live on and solid benefits to help people with a disability live as normal a life as they can. Don’t struggle to provide the poor with minimal education, follow the example of 17th century Scotland and tax the rich to provide every child with the best education the country can afford to the utmost of their abilities. The universal education system in Scotland was revolutionary – and it brought about profound and permanent changes.

In the 18th century, Scotland had four universities in a country a tenth the population of England, at a time when England had two. In the 21st century, when a Labour government was voting to make students pay tuition fees, the Scottish parliament collectively stood together and said no.

That is the revolution I want. Not violence. Don’t struggle. We know the nation we want to live in – most of us. We’re willing to pay for it. We should get it.

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Filed under Benefits, Healthcare, Poverty, Riots