Anita De Clerk argues that Edward Woolard’s punishment is being used to distract public discourse from the crimes of the state.

During the Millbank demonstrations, student protestor Edward Wollard threw a fire extinguisher off the roof of Tory HQ into an open clearing below. On the 11 January 2011 the 18 year old was jailed for two years and eight months for violent disorder. On the 12 January, 12 year old Nicky Wishart was threatened with arrest after anti-terror police pulled him from his classroom. They had discovered he was organising a rally to save his youth club in David Cameron’s constituency. On the 15 January an unnamed 14 year old boy was bailed until March on suspicion of throwing a “flaming object” during the third student protest in London. On the 17 January a counter-terrorism police officer wrote to London universities requesting information about future student activity.

The message is that students are the new terrorists and considered a serious threat to national security, regardless of their age. These examples illustrate the failure of the Criminal Justice System and its agents. This is not an argument around police brutality and their escaping accountability for viciously attacking Alfie Meadows, 14 year old Poppy or hundreds of other students. This is an argument about the state hiding the crimes of the powerful from public view by scapegoating students. The role of the Metropolitan police has changed since its inception in 1829. No longer are they simply criminal-catchers and law-protectors, they have become the social control agents of the state; protecting power and privilege over the oppressed majority.

Crime cannot be simply defined as an act which is punishable by law, as the state would have us believe. In the UK, as it is in many other countries around the world, a criminal offence is considered an act against the state. The state and its agents of social control cannot be held accountable for crimes under this definition. In so defining crime, the state distracts the attention of the public from the more serious social harms orchestrated and imposed by the ruling classes, allowing crimes against humanity to go unchallenged. In challenging this definition you have to ask yourself; did Edward Woolard actually commit a crime or did he simply step over the boundaries of social control? Potentially his actions may have caused serious harm. Potentially he could have killed somebody, but he did not. The only damage he caused was to the fire extinguisher. The custodial sentence imposed on Edward Woolard is not proportionate to the harm caused.

These petty acts (as mentioned above) are unduly publicised as ‘serious examples’ for the purpose of invoking public fear of anarchy and excluding the state’s criminality from general discussion. We must never forget why students took to the streets in protest over the rise in tuition fees. It wasn’t just about students being hit by increased tuition fees. It was also about the social oppression of the working class by the rich, directly aimed at the young and future students. Never before has this country seen over 20% of its 18 to 24 year olds unemployed, as they are today. This is not just an outrage. It is an outright criminal attack on our future generations.The state is the criminal here, not an 18 year old student.

The Con-Dems are attempting to treat the economic harms of the bankers and the social injustices of the state as a by-product of the economic crash by saying ‘we are all in this together’. As unemployment rises and councils up and down the country are implementing the Con-Dem austerity cuts, we need to challenge and reject the state’s definition of crime. Instead we must concentrate on what the ruling class is imposing on our society, and not buy their diversionary tactics. We are witnessing a full-scale ruling class attack on the working class, students and the welfare state.

An unknown 19th Century poet once wrote: “…the law of theft includes the man or woman who steals the goose from off the common, but leaves the greater villain who steals the common from the goose.” Our focus should never be the goose, but always the common. We call for justice for the crimes against our youth!

Sign the online petition to Free Edward Woolard.

Join the Facebook group Free Edward Woolard – No Police State

Anita De Klerk

Anita de Klerk is a lecturer in Criminology and Criminal Justice Policy, Marxist activist and founder of the People's Flotilla Against Austerity.