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Archive for August, 2011

The EDL and freedom

Today it was announced that the Met have requested a ban on the proposed march by the EDL in Tower Hamlets on September 3rd.

I was initially pleased with this as it seems obvious to me that the march would be less about genuine protest than a chance to provoke and manufacture a violent reaction from extremists on the other side. And even if they couldn’t achieve that they’d end up fighting each other and the police in their usual ‘non-violent’ manner.

Then another factor came into play with the riots earlier this month. The reaction of many on the EDL forums regarding the riots was one of unbridled aggression and almost lust at the chaos been shown on our screens and the Tower Hamlets demo took on another dimension, that of seeking ‘revenge’ on the ‘scum’ – the EDL did come together to form vigilante groups, but their sole actions seemed to consist of threatening and running at any non white youths who crossed their path. The situation in London has calmed but with that recent history, and the history of violence at EDL ‘protests’, an already heightened sense of unease was added to.

All this served to make me think that a ban on the EDL marching, as opposed to a static demo which I understand is still on the cards, would be a good thing. I then started to read some of the many tweets on the matter, tweets from people diametrically opposed to the EDL but considering the ban objectively. The gist was that the ban should be seen in terms of freedom of speech/movement/assembly and sets a dangerous precedent; if this march can be banned, then why not others? We have already seen the political policing (and sentencing) that comes into play when the loose coalition of groups opposed to the cuts organise and act; we should be against any oppression of freedom of expression, no matter how vile that expression is.

This had me conflicted.

The problem I have with discussing freedom of anything when it comes to the EDL is that I know it is not something they practice themselves, despite their claims to the contrary. It reminds me of people telling me that the BNP were a ‘democratic’ party when their constitution excluded non white Britons. So I decided to test their freedom.

I went on to the EDL’s Facebook page and saw that they were talking nonsense about ‘immigrants’ being able to claim anything they wanted. Now, here’s a thing, the EDL still officially claim to be solely against ‘militant Islam’, despite their leader, Stephen Lennon, having proclaimed several times in interviews that Islam itself is the problem. However, read their forums and you’ll see that the majority of EDL supporters have a problem with all ‘immigrants’.

I ‘liked’ the page and posted some facts concerning what immigrants can claim as I’ve worked in housing for 15 years and am pretty clued up on the relevant legislation. It started off reasonably enough, I was polite and they were in return. Early on one of them stated that the Koran is full of hatred to which I replied all religious books can be interpreted according to an individual’s agenda, even the Bible – people like to pick and choose. The same chap then asked me for an example of hatred in the New Testament – like I said, picking and choosing is great! About 20 comments in he asked me again and inferred that I’d somehow lost to his fallacious argument. So I gave him an example that someone on Facebook referred me to, that being Luke 19:27:

But those mine enemies which would not that I should reign over them bring hither and slay them before me.

Bang. I was banned. The thread was deleted.

And that’s the reality of freedom of expression and the EDL. But we should strive to be better than that, right? Of course we should, but the irony of an organisation bleating about ‘freedom’ but denying it themselves is not lost on me.

Anyway, I’m still conflicted.

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London’s burning

It’s always slightly surreal when you see someone or somewhere you know on the television, even more so when there’s a burning bus in the middle of a road you’ve walked down hundreds of times…

Tottenham and me go way back, from my teenage nights at the horror that was The Ritzy nightclub (it didn’t live up to its name), to working in Seven Sisters for the last 15 years. I know the area well, have partied there and have friends who live there. I’ve walked the streets of Tottenham on many a night and never felt threatened – yes, it has its problems, but it’s like anywhere else, full of of people just trying to live their lives.

So what happened last night? In black and white terms Mark Duggan was shot dead by police on Thursday, some people unhappy with that protested outside Tottenham police station, and then it all kicked off. The morning after police and politicians tell us the protest was hijacked by thugs and criminals and it’s all very regrettable.

Except it’s not so black and white. There are complex social, economic and historic factors to take into account here that make Tottenham if not unique, then certainly not an average case. Death at the hands of the police has happened before in Tottenham: in 1999 Roger Sylvester died after being restrained by six officers in a hospital room, and in 1985 Cynthia Jarrett collapsed and died when police raided her home – only a week before Cherry Groce had been ‘shot accidentally’ by police in Brixton at the other end of the Victoria Line from Tottenham. The distrust of and anger at the police led to riots breaking out in both places and in the aftermath change was promised, but here we are again.

So let’s take a look at the history. During the intervening years there have been further deaths related to police actions in London, including most recently those of Jean Charles de Menezes, Ian Tomlinson and Smiley Culture. In the first two cases the Met initially obfuscated and outright lied about the circumstances of the deaths before being found out in their mendacity. The investigation into the death of Smiley Culture continues but under much scrutiny from his family and supporters who firmly refute some of the allegations made by the police concerning what went on at the scene.

There is also a marked lack of faith in the Independent Police Complaints Committee, the body tasked with policing the police. Questions have already been raised over why it took 36 hours for Duggan’s family to be granted access to his body. The IPCC has come in for some heavy criticism over the years and in 2008 over 100 lawyers resigned from its advisory body citing favouritism towards the police, indifference and rudeness from its staff, and strong cases made against the police being rejected. It is also true that no police officer has ever been convicted of murder or manslaughter regarding a death involving police contact, despite there being over 400 instances over the last decade or so. This may change as an officer faces trial in October this year for manslaughter in the Tomlinson case, but we shall see.

In an ideal word the authority of the police would be unquestionable but by their actions and the intransigence of the body charged with regulating those actions, we now have a situation where many people feel they cannot trust this authority, and only recently we have seen the most senior officers in the Met resign their posts over Hackgate, their protestations of innocence flapping in the breeze.

Is it any surprise that against this backdrop people reacted so strongly against what happened in Tottenham on Thursday night, and question the official version of what happened? Factor into this the fact that Tottenham is one of the most deprived areas in the country and that its residents felt disenfranchised, forgotten and demonised by the establishment even before the current attacks by government on the public services that serve a vital role in such areas, and you have a powder keg. This is not helped by the way the mainstream media reports on such areas and events – last night I found that, as is increasingly the case, the best source of news was Twitter: while the BBC took hours to swing into action in Tottenham and no UK TV channel was reporting on the spread of disorder to Wood Green that the police were denying, first hand reports were scrolling down my timeline. This apparent indifference can only add to a sense of marginalisation.

In terms of interaction between police and the public last night it is alleged that a 16 year old girl was hit by a police baton when she asked questions outside Tottenham police station, and a van full of officers was seen speeding towards Tottenham playing the Knightrider theme at full volume – rather less classical shades of soldiers preparing for battle to the strains of Wagner in Apocalypse Now.

Of course, this is not to excuse the vandalism and looting that went on and will cause even more problems for the residents of Tottenham with the negative impact on local services. However, rather than choosing to flatly condemn, authority figures should be questioning why the riot happened and taking lessons from it: while Tottenham perhaps has a more unique history in terms of police relations, there are many areas in the UK with similar problems and to ignore the underlying root causes could be disasterous over the coming months and years. To try and understand an action is not the same as justification of that action – to dismiss any attempt at understanding is to invite more of the same.

A short post about killing

August 4, 2011 2 comments

It’s 1996 and I’m standing in a bar near Euston railway station. I queue to get drinks and have a brief chat with the fella standing next to me. A nice bloke, nothing out of the ordinary – friendly and warm with a ready smile. But I found him an amazing example of humanity.

His name was Billy Power and in 1975, along with five other men, he was wrongly imprisoned for a terrorist attack committed in Birmingham.

We were at an evening to raise awareness for the group of men originally known as the ‘Bridgewater Four’. That had become three when one of their number, Paddy Molloy, died in prison. The other three men had, like Billy Power, been wrongly convicted, in their case of the murder of a paperboy called Carl Bridgewater in 1978. I had belatedly joined the campaign to free them which had been steadfastly led by Ann Whelan, the mother of one of the men, with the assistance of the great investigative journalist, Paul Foot. As well as Billy Power, other members of the Six were in attendance, and the likes of John McCarthy and a number of actors, some of whom had been drawn in when they appeared in a TV dramatisation of Foot’s book, ‘Murder at the Farm’. The convictions of the Four were quashed in February 1997, too late for Paddy Molloy.

Today the Daily Mail issued a call to arms for those who want the death penalty reinstated, I won’t link to it, their site doesn’t deserve the hits. This has been inspired by the creation of an online petition database aimed directly at government which went live today, one of the first petitions being a call for the return of the death penalty. The Mail has, of course, seized upon this opportunity to further its reactionary agenda and demanded that ‘the people speak’.

There are many coherent and correct arguments against the death penalty – ideological, sociological, its effectiveness, its morality etc. – and I agree with them. But here and now, my personal argument against it is the memory of a short conversation with a man who had lost 16 years of his life, who had been beaten and vilified, but who, to my eyes, held no bitterness. Billy Power unknowingly taught me a lesson that evening, just by being this normal, affable bloke who had somehow come through a hell not of his own making. If the death penalty had been in place he probably wouldn’t have been there. I probably wouldn’t have been there as the Bridgewater Four may have been executed nearly 20 years previously, and there would be no campaign to free them.

An opposing petition has been set up on the e-petition site and I ask that you sign it and share it.

Click here to sign the petition against the reinstatement of the death penalty.

Thank you.