Saturday 10 May 2008

Two wrongs can take a right

Still on the subject of New Labour's fanaticism for law and order, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has urged Police to 'harass young thugs' (BBC News: Harass young thugs, police urged)

There are a number of problems with this tabloidocratic idea. Firstly, it legitimises police harassment, which is unsavoury at the best of times. Even worse, what is there now to stop incidents of police racial harassment, which have occurred in the past - indeed, it is understood to have been police harassment of young black people which was the flash-point triggering riots (such as those in Brixton, Handsworth and Toxteth) in the 1980's. Even now, black people are significantly more likely to be stopped and searched by Police than white people, a problem which is hardly likely to be helped by Ms Smith saying that police harassment is a good thing!

Then, there's the nature of the harassment that Jacqui Smith is advocating - namely, the persistent checking of 'thugs' for fairly trivial offences such as benefit fraud and TV licence evasion. Is this an admission that the government has passed so many laws (literally hundreds, possibly even thousands since 1997!) that the Police can't enforce them all, so they need to enforce them selectively? If so, I guess this kills the myth of everyone being equal in the eyes of the law :-P

Finally, what is a 'young thug'? Don't get me wrong, I have no time at all for bullies who threaten people, i've been on the wrong end of quite a few myself over the years. But I don't think 'playing them at their own game' is the answer, especially when the Establishment's definition of 'thug' seems to not necessarily be the same as how ordinary people understand the term. One of the criteria mentioned in the BBC News article is 'street drinking' which, like drug use, underage drinking etc, is not a violent or threatening act in and of itself. Also mentioned is breach of ASBO's - yet some of the ASBOs served are unfair, occasionally ridiculous (some examples are quoted on the ASBOwatch website).

This isn't the first time a Home Secretary has suggested the increased use of a flawed practice by the police. Back in 2004, David Blunkett urged police to increase the use of police informants ('coppers' narks', 'green giros'. 'PFI CSI's', call them what you will) - despite the fact that many informants abuse their near-untouchable status to commit more crimes, violence and bullying included :-(

Then again, if Ms Smith really wants the Police to harass some thugs, I can point them in the direction of a few. In Westminster, there is a gang of people who have instigated mass violence in Iraq and Afghanistan, and have indulged in threatening behaviour towards Iran and Syria. Maybe the Police could also investigate these people for theft from low paid workers, vandalism of public services, milking House of Commons expenses , etc, etc :-P

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