Sunday, 11 September 2011

Organised Vengence Called Justice?

On Wednesday the Guardian reported that 'Magistrates and crown court judges could be asked to dock benefits from convicted criminals under preliminary proposals being drawn up by the government in response to the riots ...'

Under these proposals anyone convicted of a crime could be punished by a magistrates court and then by the benefit office. In a hectic attempt to meet an October deadline, Whitehall is rushing through plans to publish its post-riot response: such as withdrawal of child maintenance or child benefit from parents who let their children truant, or repeatably let them stay out on the streets late at night. Some councils already have plans to evict families of convicted rioters from social housing and other court action and ideas such as parenting orders and care proceedings are now in the pipeline.

Meanwhile, a Northern Voices' contact in Bristol reports:
'I have just started voluntary work at The Methodist Centre which is a Drop-In Centre for homelessness people' and last Sunday 'I witnessed a blatant incident of Police Harassment ... I went to a small community festival in a Park. About a dozen stalls including Palestine Solidarity, Energy Awareness, Craft stalls etc. A band was playing Irish music on a small stage. A homeless guy of about 35 & his dog sat on the grass near the centre of the stage.He was doing nothing wrong but he had a can of drink in his hand. Four Police Officers (three hefty males & one female) took him behind a Food Stall - nearly out of sight. They stop-searched him. He kept his cool. I watched to see the Police behaved themselves. The Police seemed to have finished with him and I spoke to him. He was not drunk just fed up with being picked on. The three police then came over and served him a 12 hour exclusion notice to keep him out of the park. Very heavy handed tactics. I tried to keep him calm as they were on the edge of arresting him. One also provoked him with a few comments. He had to leave the park in the end.'
Bristol was caught up in the riots last month but certain areas have had a history of local riots for some time, particularly last May with the campaign against a branch of TESCOs in one district. In that case the riot was provoked after police intervention in a squat. Our reporter says:
'What I think is happening is the police are singling out people they think may have been involved in the recent rioting' and he concludes, 'at these small festivals you only usually get the soft cops - the PCSO's ... the three large police officers at this event were bullyboys looking for trouble.'
There are unique localised aspects to the recent riots that don't fit any single-factor explanation. The riots received some scrutiny this week in the Guardian: 'Different kinds of disorder erupted in different towns towns and cities - Birmingham, Manchester, Wolverhampton, even Gloucester ... [i]n each, we will doubtlessly find, the dynamic was different.' Yet, in Tottenham, where the riots started on Saturday the 6th, August, there was a clear pattern to the events beginning with what seemed like a sloppy response by the local police

Likewise, Northern Voices' correspondent in Bristol also suggests some over-reaction and provocation by the police now:
'I think individuals are at risk at present following the riots if they show any signs of dissent. What I saw on Sunday was intimidation tactics. The event was Mina Road Park Community Festival, St Werburghs, Bristol and was meant to bring the community together!!! Drinkers use that same park every day of the week without causing problems because its very near a privately owned hostel and its their back garden in effect. Apart from which St Werburghs is a very tolerant area and I am sure the community copes very well with those members unfortunate enough to suffer from homelessness & alcoholism.'
In Tottenham, local 'socialist historian' and convenor of Tottenham Trades' Council, Keith Flett, who witnessed the start of the riots there, told the Guardian: 'we struggle to know why these things turn into riots ... to can put the same elements together and 99 times out of 100 it won't happen' but 'then something happens ... and that proves to be a spark.' Now, the Guardian and the London School of Economics is preparing to do a study of this, the most serious bout of civil unrest in a generation entitled 'Reading the Riots'.

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