As tough sentences are handed out, Joe Glenton questions the rationality of heavy-handed policing, and calls for a united campaign against authoritarian and racist policing.
An establishment backlash has followed the recent riots in Britain. On Monday the widely-read free newspaper, Metro, announced – above a series of mug shots of arrested rioters – that ‘payback’ was looming. It is imperative we respond to the drastic measures taken against many of the rioters.
Only days ago the reality of the clampdown touched the life of one Counterfire activist. The activist’s son ticked every box; young, black, male, as well as being a vulnerable adult. Wrestled to the ground by police, he was then snatched away to one of the capital’s over-subscribed holding pens. Conditions were dire: cells crowded, water and access to toilets denied.
The posturing tells us the government is rattled – rattled enough to threaten the use of suppression equipment completely at odds with the situation. For example the threat of water cannons, used to break up crowds, against groups too small and mobile to be dispersed by them. Scared people posture: they try to make themselves appear bigger and tougher than they are.
Many hundreds of people hauled into custody, 24-hour court sittings, the pointing of firearms at the heads of children after they had been handcuffed and put face down on the pavement, a six month sentence for taking a bottle of water from a looted shop. Shock and awe, it seems, isn’t reserved for troublesome natives in arid places. What possible sense can it make to use heavy-handed policing when that is exactly what sparked the riots?
There is a need for a campaign. If you're being sentenced alone at 2am you are going to feel powerless. The message is clear: put up and shut up. A campaign can bring isolated people together to fight the heavy sentencing. It can refocus people on one of the main causes of the riots – heavy, authoritarian and racist policing.
After the hot blood has cooled, any sensible person can see that a clear-headed analysis of the causes would be the right way to begin to respond, as opposed to a knee-jerk purging of the very ghettos created and ignited by social injustice. A campaign can be built which includes the families and communities of those given outlandish sentences.
Imagine, finally, if 24-hour courts were introduced to process the crooks/bankers/politicians/serial tax avoiders. We should remember who created the conditions in which riots and social unrest erupt.
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