Riots backlash shows racism and class hatred

Submitted by Matthew on 1 December, 2011 - 1:53

A YouGov poll for the Sun showed 33% apparently favouring the use of live ammunition against rioters in defence of their property rights.

In the same poll, three-quarters said troops should be called in, curfews were backed by 82 per cent, using tear gas got 78 per cent and Tasers 72 per cent.

The longer-term response to the rioting has also seen a number of authoritarian measures introduced, with a large number of draconian sentences handed down to those whose involvement in the trouble in many cases involved only minor infractions of the law.

Danielle Corns was sentenced to 10 months in prison for momentarily stealing two left-footed trainers during riots in Wolverhampton. Two young men who set up a Facebook page encouraging a riot (which they never attended and which never took place) were sentenced to four years in prison, and a young mother of two — who herself slept through the riots — was sentenced to five months for accepting a pair of shorts, looted by a friend (although she was later freed on appeal).

In justifying the severity of the sentences handed down to those involved in the August trouble, David Cameron said at the time that it was important that judges send out a “tough message”.

Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge defended some of the most severe decisions, remarking, “Given the overall ghastliness of what was going on in the country, these sentences had to be significantly higher.” Judges concluded that the sentences should reflect the mood of public indignation.

The attempt by the media and the establishment to portray what took place in August as “sheer criminality” motivated by greed — the justification used by the Government for its draconion sentencing policy — has not, however, been borne out by the facts. Of the 1,984 people who had appeared before courts for these offences by 12 October, 53% were under 20, according to an analysis of Ministry of Justice figures carried out by the Howard League for Penal Reform, and they came disproportionately from areas with high levels of deprivation; 42% of the young people seen by the courts received free school meals (compared with 16% of all pupils) and 66% of them had some special educational need (compared with 21% of all pupils).

Even before the latest flurry of authoritarian sentencing, justice was already skewed against those from poor and ethnic minority backgrounds. A recent study carried out by the Guardian found that black offenders were 44% more likely than white offenders to be sentenced to prison for driving offences, 38% more likely to be imprisoned for public disorder or possession of a weapon and 27% more likely for drugs possession. Asian offenders were 41% more likely to be sent to prison for drugs offences than their white counterparts and 19% more likely to go to jail for shoplifting.

The rioting gave the establishment the pretext to offer simplistic yet satisfying solutions to more complex problems of widespread poverty and the resulting hopelessness.

“Bang ‘em up” has been the dominant long-term response to what happened in August, and the “bang ‘em up” mentality guarantees what took place will reoccur at some point.

But the draconian response does shed some light on a much bigger question: what would be the establishment reaction in the face of social unrest on a much larger scale?

As Hari Kunzru pointed out a few months back in the Guardian:

“The smug sense of disconnection (this is nothing to do with me, or my comfortable middle-class life — it is an affair of the poor, in places I choose not to go) was soon replaced by panic. ‘Where is the army?’ Screw civil liberties, time to declare martial law.

“How easy it would be to install fascism in this creaky little country! No need to torch the Reichstag — all you’d have to do would be to burn a few more sports shops.”

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