Life in CrazyLand

Egipto: A Luta Continua!

The revolution in Egypt is not over.  An alliance of the armed forces and the Muslim Brotherhood is on the verge of consolidating its power and turning back the fundamental goals of the revolution.  But the true revolutionary forces in Egypt are not yet ready to comply.

Dateline Egypt: Everything up for grabs in ongoing revolt

On September 9, a huge protest took place outside the Israeli embassy in Cairo. The protest was driven by anger at Israel’s killing of Egyptian police in August, the deep solidarity the Egyptian people feel towards Palestinians and frustrations at the slow pace of change.

By Raul Bassi, Cairo

September 11, 2011 — Green Left Weekly — After the overthrow of Egypt’s dictator Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, a new chapter in Egyptian history is being written and its authors are the people themselves. Anything could happen and everything is up for grabs given the profound political, social and economic crisis in which Egypt’s neoliberal system finds itself in.

These events are part of the broader process of revolutions sweeping the Arab world, but Egypt’s future will in no small part be influenced by the characteristics and history that make the country what it is today.

Read More

‘Fuck the police!’ Working-Class Youth and the Routine Abuse of Power

Honestly, these fuckers never change - they just have different uniforms.

On Monday 8th August, in South London, three hundred young people gathered outside Battersea’s Lavender Hill police station “taunting” the police to come out. In Nottingham, three police stations were attacked including Canning Circus police station, which was firebombed. The Pembury Estate in Hackney erupted when the police stopped and searched a teenager. As one young girl said in Peckham that day:

“I will die for the cause of FUCK THE POLICE! They fuck our lives up every day!”

These were outbursts of anger and even hatred towards the police. If any part of the post-Tottenham riots had political content, this was it.

The knee-jerk political responses to the England riots distracted parliament and the public from a key issue which that girl from Peckham understood: the significant and sustained misuse of police powers.

In the week of the riots, when Tory MPs variously demanded that rioters be detained in Wembley stadium, sprayed with indelible chemical dye, water-cannoned and tear-gassed, former minister Peter Lilley demanded that the government stick to its plans to cut police budgets.

Based on my own and my family’s experiences I suggest cuts to bureaucracy would not — in Peter Lilley’s words — “make the police more efficient” but instead would lead to further abuses of power by the state, abuses which ultimately endanger all civil rights.

Stop and Search: A case study in vindictive policing

As a 29-year-old black man born and bred in London, I have never been stopped and searched by the police. Perhaps it is because I look like and am a computer geek, I don’t know.

My 24-year-old brother Gus has been stopped and searched countless times. For months on end, he was subjected to sustained police harassment.

It started in 2001, when he was 14 years old. Wimbledon’s Criminal Investigations Department (CID) came to our home and charged him with robbery. Gus admitted taking a school friend’s house keys after an argument and explained that he had tried to give them back. The police gave him a final caution and warned him that next time he’d be going to court.

After that, Gus was frequently stopped and searched in the Mitcham and Colliers Wood area of South London. He would complain to my mother that he wanted our family to leave the area as he hated it, but nobody took his allegations seriously.

A few weeks after the robbery accusation, Gus was with friends on his way to school when plain-clothes police officers arrested him alone for ‘causing an affray’. The Magistrates Court threw out the case due to the officers’ unreliable testimony, calling the charges spurious.

It got worse. Gus said he could identify which cars were following him but I dismissed that as paranoia. He told me that once police driving a car spotted him on a bus, flagged it down, marched him off and then searched him in the road. He hated walking the streets alone, knowing that he would be subjected to a “routine check”, as illustrated by this rap song by British duo, The Mitchell Brothers.

This became a regular ritual of aggression and shame. It wasn’t just because he was black, it developed into a personal vendetta.

Six weeks after the farce at the Magistrates Court, my brother and his friends were walking home from a local youth club when police sirens and lights headed towards them. “They are coming for me”, he said. His friends laughed and joked in disbelief, but he was proved right.

Gus was charged for robbery of an off-duty police officer’s chequebook. As he was forcefully handcuffed on the floor, his friends attacked the police car in outrage and retaliation; two of his peers were arrested but later one was released without charge and the other was subsequently charged alongside my brother. The allegation was that Gus, with two other boys, had pounced on an off-duty police officer at night and stolen the officer’s chequebook.

The police kept my brother overnight in South Norwood Police Station where, he claims, two police officers punched him in the head, directing blows at the temples and at the back. (We later understood that this was to avoid visible bruising). This happened a few days after his 15th birthday.

The following morning, when my mother was on her way to collect him, Wimbledon police came to our home to search for the “officer’s missing chequebook”. My grandmother and my youngest brothers (then aged 6 and 7) were present and the youngest even had a pleasant chat with one of the officers while our house was being turned upside down. The chequebook wasn’t found but the police still pursued the charge of theft to the Magistrates Court.

Gus and a friend were convicted of robbery but Gus’s conviction was overturned on appeal, as it came out in the Crown Court that his alibi — he said he was in the youth club — was corroborated by youth workers and the youth club register.

My mother got support from the local MP, Siobhan McDonagh, who told Wimbledon police that she would help our family sue for them for harassment. After McDonagh’s intervention — and only after that — we received a written apology from a chief constable, and the campaign of harassment ended for Gus.

Is this a tragic, isolated case? I cannot produce concrete evidence that on dropped or acquitted charges, black family homes are more likely to be searched than those belonging to white or other ethnic groups. However, let’s look at the context: people of African descent are seven times more likely to be stopped and searched in the UK than white people.

The day after the Tottenham riots, thirty South London leaders of Ashanti, a Ghanaian ethnic group, held their bi-monthly meeting. Every parent who attended reported that at least one of their children had suffered sustained harassment by the Metropolitan Police. It was always between the ages of 13 and 17. This is the experience of just one of many African and African-Caribbean communities in the UK. Rather than upholding the law, some elements of the Metropolitan Police across London are misusing their powers for extra-judicial punishment meted out to those they happen to despise.

Stop and search is a pernicious power. The received view is that it is used by the police in too blanket a fashion, and by indiscriminately selecting entire groups - young men with hoods, young blacks - causes generalised grievance. My experience is that the police use the power in a discriminating and selective fashion, singling out individuals they decide to ‘get’ and then getting them.

This is not just a race issue but also a class issue. When David Starkey claimed the whites had become black, he was referring to white working class children adopting popular black youth culture. His claims (evil black youth corrupting previously innocent whites), allude to a truth: that many white working class youths of Nottingham, Manchester and Liverpool suffer similar abuses of police power and thus express similar anger towards the police.

What is wrong and what must be done

The Tottenham and subsequent riots must be seen in the context of the death of Mark Duggan, the Met’s 320th death in police contact since 1990. The riots were fuelled by the perception and experience by some communities of persistent discriminative police brutality. The Scarman Report of 1981 was supposed to resolve this and now in 2011, the same issues are being repeated. The police are now allowed to arrest based on race. How did we get here again?

Since the Blair premiership, tabloids - especially the Murdoch press - have portrayed The Hooded Teenager as the bete-noir of local high streets. A group of children sitting outside a shopping centre became a “gang”, and ephebiphobia (the fear and loathing of particularly working class youth) became a national past-time.

The New Labour era ushered in performance targets. Funding for police constabularies was contingent on meeting these targets set by Whitehall, and this filtered down into a perception of police officers having to make a certain number of arrests each year in order or face punishment. This was especially true in Merton, the borough my family still live in, where in 2007, one officer was being threatened with action for failing to achieve three arrests in 15 weeks.

Policing was turned on its head: crime prevention was no longer a priority — the police now relied on crime to save their own jobs. This perverse incentive combined with tabloid hysteria (“feral hoodies”, “chav scum”) and institutional racism, creating a climate of hostility towards young people who hung around street corners listening to grime and hip hop. After the terrorist attacks on 7th July bombings, New Labour also brought in special anti-terrorism laws. David Davis, former shadow Conservative Home Secretary, recently remarked that “not one of its 100,000 stop and searches under the Terrorism Act had led to a terror-related arrest”, let alone a conviction.

When the coalition government came to power, Theresa May rightly called for an end to the target culture and has scrapped performance targets in policing. May also pledged to scrap unnecessary paperwork. In February this year Parliament approved alarming reductions in the information recorded on stop and search which, according to the Runnymede trust, “will now make it impossible to measure repeat stops and harassment; the effectiveness of a stop and search; and any misuse of force.”

What’s more, said the Trust, “police will no long be required to record the use of ‘stop and account’, which will make it impossible to determine if stop powers are being used proportionately and remove local community scrutiny of stop practices.”

This drive to cut bureaucracy conveniently forgets that much of it provides a necessary check on those officers inclined to misuse their powers. It is particularly troubling at a time when the Prime Minister has sanctioned the use of rubber bullets and water cannons and declares that our “human rights culture” is a problem.

Though I am not more than a community activist, from my experience, I would recommend the following:

1. Stop police cuts to enable local police transparency: Ensure a minimum ratio of back office staff to police officers/activity. Local police constabularies must publish online police activity/arrests maps alongside already existing online local crime maps. They should detail aggregate non-identifying information such as postcodes and wards that have had stop-and-account and warrant searches, and this should be traced to conviction rates.

2. Scrap Sus, anti-protest and other illiberal laws: Abolish stop-and-search, the SOCPA Act of 2005, remove the ability to create non-protest zones, repeal the parts of the Counter Terrorist Act which criminalises photographing the police. Remove provisions in the current Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, which allow police constables the power to confiscate personal property in Parliament Square.

3. Demilitarise the police: Ban the use of tasers, rubber bullets and water cannons. Reinstate the division between arrestable and non-arrestable offences. Abolish the Territorial Support Group.

4. Reform the IPCC: All IPCC investigations should be public unless requested by the complainant. Make the IPCC commissioners directly elected, not appointed by the Home Secretary, with powers of recall initiated through a process that involves complainants creating a petition. Enact the proposals made by INQUEST’s Response To IPCC Stock Take Consultation 2008.

The way things are now, the police do not act as a public service for all. For many they are a brutal, malicious force who use their powers in both arbitrary and despotic ways, punishing individuals without due process. As such they are, as we can see, intensely resented not just by the individuals who directly experience this but also by their relatives, friends and contacts who live in fear of the police, a classic and familiar consequence of despotism. It is certainly a very long way from policing by consent.

Justin Baidoo-Hackman is a software developer and Community Activist from South London. He edits a political blog called “The Multicultural Politic”.

Full references can be found here. Cross posted with thanks from openDemocracy.

A low dishonest decade

Against the Current, the bimonthly magazine of Solidarity, reviews the carnage.

The Years of 9/11

— The Editors

THE DECADE THAT opened with the attacks of September 11, 2011 may have symbolically closed with the elite U.S. death-squad assassination of Osama bin Laden. But the turmoil of these post-9/11 years, notably the self-inflicted wounds of U.S. capitalism, have exceeded the terrorist mastermind’s wildest dreams. There are the wars that George W. Bush, with the support of congressional Democrats, launched in Afghanistan and Iraq — wars that the government promised wouldn’t have to be paid for — leading to a major U.S. defeat in Iraq, a defeat all the more damaging because it is not acknowledged as such, and a quagmire in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

There was the drowning of New Orleans by the sheer racist and cynical neglect of its Black and poor population in the wake of Hurricane Katrina — and the followup catastrophe of the 2010 BP Gulf blowout, the product of regulatory negligence over the insane search for ever-more-remote sources of non-renewable planet-destroying fossil fuels.

Then came the financial meltdown and housing crash that helped bring on the Great Recession, as the dismantling of banking regulation (another product of the much-praised “bipartisan” spirit) enabled those exotic derivatives, credit-default swaps and other instruments certified by rating agencies like Standard and Poor’s as the highest-grade investments — which were in fact the quality of used toilet paper. Now, those same rating agencies see fit to “downgrade” the credit status of the United States itself.  

For those who choose to look, these years have brought our society face to face with its real condition, and it’s not pretty.

Read More

What Next for Greece and Europe

If you’re following the Eurozone crisis, this piece by Peter Boone and Simon Johnson in Baseline Scenario (essential reading, in any case) gives you a guide to what’s likely to happen next.

Noam Chomsky revisits his classic essay

Noam Chomsky writes in the current issue of Boston Review:

The Responsibility of the Intellectuals, Redux: Using Privilege to Challenge the State

Since we often cannot see what is happening before our eyes, it is perhaps not too surprising that what is at a slight distance removed is utterly invisible. We have just witnessed an instructive example: President Obama’s dispatch of 79 commandos into Pakistan on May 1 to carry out what was evidently a planned assassination of the prime suspect in the terrorist atrocities of 9/11, Osama bin Laden. Though the target of the operation, unarmed and with no protection, could easily have been apprehended, he was simply murdered, his body dumped at sea without autopsy. The action was deemed “just and necessary” in the liberal press. There will be no trial, as there was in the case of Nazi criminals—a fact not overlooked by legal authorities abroad who approve of the operation but object to the procedure. As Elaine Scarry reminds us, the prohibition of assassination in international law traces back to a forceful denunciation of the practice by Abraham Lincoln, who condemned the call for assassination as “international outlawry” in 1863, an “outrage,” which “civilized nations” view with “horror” and merits the “sternest retaliation.”

In 1967, writing about the deceit and distortion surrounding the American invasion of Vietnam, I discussed the responsibility of intellectuals, borrowing the phrase from an important essay of Dwight Macdonald’s after World War II. With the tenth anniversary of 9/11 arriving, and widespread approval in the United States of the assassination of the chief suspect, it seems a fitting time to revisit that issue. But before thinking about the responsibility of intellectuals, it is worth clarifying to whom we are referring.

The concept of intellectuals in the modern sense gained prominence with the 1898 “Manifesto of the Intellectuals” produced by the Dreyfusards who, inspired by Emile Zola’s open letter of protest to France’s president, condemned both the framing of French artillery officer Alfred Dreyfus on charges of treason and the subsequent military cover-up. The Dreyfusards’ stance conveys the image of intellectuals as defenders of justice, confronting power with courage and integrity. But they were hardly seen that way at the time. A minority of the educated classes, the Dreyfusards were bitterly condemned in the mainstream of intellectual life, in particular by prominent figures among “the immortals of the strongly anti-Dreyfusard Académie Française,” Steven Lukes writes. To the novelist, politician, and anti-Dreyfusard leader Maurice Barrès, Dreyfusards were “anarchists of the lecture-platform.” To another of these immortals, Ferdinand Brunetière, the very word “intellectual” signified “one of the most ridiculous eccentricities of our time—I mean the pretension of raising writers, scientists, professors and philologists to the rank of supermen,” who dare to “treat our generals as idiots, our social institutions as absurd and our traditions as unhealthy.”

Who then were the intellectuals? The minority inspired by Zola (who was sentenced to jail for libel, and fled the country)? Or the immortals of the academy? The question resonates through the ages, in one or another form, and today offers a framework for determining the “responsibility of intellectuals.” The phrase is ambiguous: does it refer to intellectuals’ moral responsibility as decent human beings in a position to use their privilege and status to advance the causes of freedom, justice, mercy, peace, and other such sentimental concerns? Or does it refer to the role they are expected to play, serving, not derogating, leadership and established institutions?

Read More

Tea Partiers get their groove on by cheering the proposition that the uninsured should be left to die.

Think they can’t win?  If the economy stays this fucked up (and who would bet that it won’t?), then you’d better get a reality check awfully damned fast.

So, what exactly do you plan to do when the brownshirts come marching in?