Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg

Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg
Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg © Gernot Keller, 2007
Blinkered Justice articles also appear on CrimeTalk and Government In The Lab

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Prediction for 2012: Dow, Anna Hazare and an Indian Summer

Anna Hazare (c) Rajvaddhan
Republished in full from The Pryer.

As 2011 winds down and turns into 2012, my ‘mystic Mark’ crystal ball and I have been locked in deep, dark contemplation over where next for Time’s person of the year, The Protester. Next up, a move east and an Indian summer.

Many of you will be aware that the Olympics are due to take place in London next year. For India, Dow‘s sponsorship of the Olympic stadium prior to the games has been stirring up controversy and protest.

I have covered Dow’s suspect choice as London 2012 partners here, but their direct link to Union Carbide and the Bhopal disaster can not be underestimated in the current global context. Residents there continue to live with the effects of this disaster.

The tragic events in Bhopal have received international media attention and condemnation; more so recently, because of Dow’s sponsorship of the Olympics.

Dow’s international presence, and 'reputation', means that influential pressure groups are able to lobby governments and organisations in India and the UK, with greater effect. As such, the globalisation of Bhopal makes it a worthy focal point for the Indian public to register their discontent over a range of social malpractices regardless of caste or religion.

Ranjona Banerji lays the blame for the current protests against Dow at the feet of the politicians. Rather than evaluate her lacklustre criticism of Dow, she queries the whereabouts of monies received by government officials as compensation for families affected by Bhopal.

She also refers to the Lokpal bill. Authored by social activist Anna Hazare, this bill seeks to establish an independent authority with the powers to investigate politicians and government officials accused of corruption. Politicians are dragging their heels reaching a consensus on the bill, despite recent notable corruption scandals.

Lokpal bill protest (c) Pranav 21391
However, the lively and determined Hazare will not let things lie, and has gathered a young team around him to press regional governments to adopt it. Amongst the Indian people, he is recognised as a national icon in the fight against corruption. With legislative elections on the horizon, set against a backdrop of a predicted economic downturn, this makes Hazare a dangerous catalyst for protest.

Given India’s borders with the People Republic of China (PRC) and Pakistan, and the disputed regions around southern Kashmir, any protests may spark further regional uncertainty. This is especially important in light of the PRC government’s issues with the Uighur community in Xinjiang province, and reports of their deployment of troops to quell rebellions in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.

So there we have it. A global protest movement, local social grievances and forthcoming elections, all filtered through a focus on the Olympics, with a charismatic campaigner ready to put his life at risk for his nation’s people.

An Arab spring will bloom into an Indian summer.  Maybe.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Luis Suarez, racist language & punishment

Luis Suarez (c) Ilya Khokhlov
Following Luiz Suarez's punishment by the Football Association (F.A.) for using “insulting words”, which included references to the colour of Patrice Evra, I am going to begin this post by setting out the following quotes and statements on this issue:

Today is a very difficult and painful day for both me and my family.
(Luiz Suarez on Twitter, 20/12/2011)

Very disappointed with today's verdict.

Liverpool Football Club is very surprised and disappointed with the decision of the Football Association Commission to find Luis Suarez guilty of the charges against him...
(Liverpool FC statement, 20/12/2011)

Suarez..told media in Uruguay that he "called him [Evra] something his team-mates at Manchester call him".
(BBC Football post, 20/12/2011)

It is quite an unbelievable statement and a harsh statement. Suarez could be suspended for 20% of the season - it's devastating for Liverpool
(Mark Lawrenson, BBC Football Sport Expert, 20/12/2011)

From what I understand from the likes of Liverpool-kop.com, the word Suarez used to abuse Patrica Evra was “negrita.” BBC Sport's, Tim Vickery, has written a good post on the use of similar words and their context in Uruguayan, and South American, football and culture.

The context of the use of “insulting words” appears to have been key in this judgment. The incident that seems to be relevant, happened when Suaraz and Evra were tussling for a ball towards the bye-line and corner flag.

From the TV cameras, it appears that Suarez was initially upset with Evra for what he thought was a dive. The crowd appear to have agreed and were baying at Evra. The two players can then be seen exchanging words, with both players appearing to be unhappy with each other.

Patrice Evra (c) Gordon Flood
After both players were called to speak to the referee, Suarez put his hand on the top of Evra's head. Evra took offence to this gesture and Suarez said something to him, which again woundd Evra up. Evra was obviously upset, as he was then booked.

Above, Suarez reckons that Evra's team-mates call him something that might be the equivalent of “negrita.” Do they? Does Glen Johnson, the only other black player I know of on Liverpool's first team get called “negrita” in training? If so, do Liverpool FC condone this, and if so, why?

Whilst arguments are made for Suarez on grounds of the cultural differences between English football and Uruguayan football, Suarez has been playing here since January 2011. Prior to this, he played for Ajax Amsterdam from 2007. The cultural differences between Holland and the UK are less wide.

The response to this punishment by Suarez, Liverpool FC and noted pundits, however, is seriously lacking in understanding being a victim of racial abuse. 

Suarez refers to it being a tough day for him, and Liverpool FC and Dalglish are very disappointed. Was it a tough day for Evra too when he was disparaged? Was he disappointed at being slurred by Suarez? Neither Suarez, nor Liverpool FC, have shown any dignity in their reactions to this decision.

Whilst Liverpool FC claim that nobody heard the remarks other than Evra, it does not mean that they did not occur. As noted above, it was very noisy in the area that these words appear to have been uttered. Besides Suarez admitted to Uruguayan media that he had said something. Perhaps he can be brave to tell us what he said to Evra.

As for Lawrenson's statement, it is nothing short of diabolical. Referring to the length of suspension, and the harm that it causes Liverpool FC in their vain quest to reach the dizzying heights of fifth place, it demonstrates what he knows about the harms associated with racial abuse.

More erudite commentary on the F.A.'s punishment comes from the likes of Rueben Hazell and Les Ferdinand, as players who have been on the receiving end of racism in football.

It was only last month that we were up in arms over the racist rant by a woman travelling on a London-Croydon tram. She has since been to court over the incident; Suarez has not. What might be the cultural context of her rant, i.e. the socio-economic reasons as to why she chose to use the awful words that she did, will not be accepted as a defence.

Whilst we regard Premiership footballers, and clubs, as celebrities, and therefore beyond reproach, neither football, nor those within it, are separate to society. Football reaches out to local communities and beyond; it is both in the community and of the community, in which we are all supposedly bound by the same laws, rules and regulations. 

However, like major corporations and other powerful institutions, the FA has special dispensation to punish the social harms caused by their members, whilst ordinary members of the public have to face an inflexible criminal justice system. 

Suarez and Liverpool FC should count themselves lucky.

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Monday, 19 December 2011

Aidan Burley & the face of crime (part 2)

Aidan Burley MP (c) altogetherfool
Further to my post on Margaret Moran and the inequalities inherent in criminal justice systems, it seems apposite to mention the (in)action of Aidan Burley, Conservative MP for Cannock Chase.

From what the papers say, the objective of those attending the party was: 
"We are trying to intimidate as many people as possible. A lot have been quite offended, especially one guy who was both Jewish and gay." 
Another member of the party allegedly toasted the ideology of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party. This makes Burley an accessory to inciting to intimidation, and potentially hate crimes.

Returning to the UK riots, and those who incited them on Facebook, even though none occurred as a result of their actions, why is it that someone in political power is facing nothing more than an internal inquiry into his conduct into something that caused harm?

What took place in France is little different to what took place on the internet. The objective in both cases was to intimidate and incite. Whilst one might argue that these incidents took place in separate geographical locations (France and the UK), I would counter this. 

The incitements to riot took place online. This is a space not confined to geographical boundaries, as Brown (2003) makes clear:
"Cyberspace can not be treated as a neutral space, or as a definitvely different space, but neither can it grasped by existing notions of crime and the law."
Besides, as Wall (2007) points out we have two separate ways of policing cyberspace. Distal (offline), as in traditonal, conventional policing and proximal (online) through the likes of internet service providers and community vigilante actions. Therefore, this space is different, in that it has different crimes, bound by more than just the UK's criminal justice system.

Buchenwald disabled Jews (c) United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Moreover, who is to say that the crime has stopped? As a publicly elected official, I am assuming that Burley represents constituents from diverse backgrounds, with different needs. I wonder how the Jewish, homosexual, disabled communities in Cannock Chase feel about having an M.P. representing their interests, yet one who is willing to condone intolerance against their groups. 

I understand that what happened in France is illegal, although not in the UK. Given our recent political spats, it is possible that Burley will criminal charges. If he were to, then beware the political and mainstream media fallout. 

By recreating ideas of an 'us' and 'them' and a 'right' and 'wrong', we will no doubt hear that this incident was not really a crime, just because under UK law it is not. As such, he would have people in powerful positions distancing him from being constructed as a criminal. 

Due to these unequal power relations in society, the notion of crime is no longer an adequate term for understanding the experience that victims suffer and face. Ideas of 'social harm' would seem to be more appropriate for determining what constitutes what we call a crime.

Because as things stand, this case is just another example of what the face of crime looks like. 

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Fighting freedom or freedom fighting: Newt Gingrich & Palestine

Meagermind (c) DonkeyHotey

Originally published in full here on The Pryer.

Republican frontrunners vying for the Presidential nomination for next year's election, including Cain, Romney, Perry and Bachmann have all dined at the dunce's trough over the last few months. 

The Guardian reports that Newt Gingrich referred to Palestinians as an “invented” people and “terrorists” last weekend. 

Originally populated by Native Americans, then European colonists, the United States of America (USA) of today has been transformed by further migrations of peoples from Latin America, Africa and elsewhere. Borders and boundaries have been redrawn, so that what constitutes the USA now looks different to how it did 200 years ago.

Each nation, and the nationals within it, is/are invented. What Gingrich says is true, but it is the way that he uses this idea that bothers me. Would he also agree that terrorism and the 'war on terror' is invented too?

The notion of a Palestinian homeland has been at the very heart of the 'war on terror' since 9/11. Osama Bin Laden refered to it in the second of his fatwas.

Gingrich's use of an “invented” people, and his association with ideas of terrorism is somehow meant to make the justification for a homeland less deserving. However, it is precisely this issue, still as yet unresolved, and rarely cited as an imperative for bringing the 'war on terror' to an end, that makes Gingrich an ignoramus.

The USA suffered a terrible loss on 9/11. This superpower and (self-appointed) arbiter of international justice since World War II, had an opportunity to reflect, re-imagine and re-construct itself and what it stood for in the 21st Century.

Why had this happened? Had the USA harmed anyone? If so who, and what steps should it take to get it right? What would be the best means of securing justice and a future security?

For many of us, it appears that the USA concluded that that this was the deed of irrational terrorists solely intent on destroying the American freedom and its way of life. The most effective means of dealing with this threat and effecting justice, it seems, was to use its military power.

The 'war on terror' began. In truth, terror was merely being exported.

Montage War on Terror (c) poxnar/US Army/Navy
According to the latest report from the National Counterrorism Center:
  • Over 11,500 terrorist attacks occurred in 72 countries in 2010, resulting in approximately 50,000 victims, including almost 13,200 deaths. Although the number of attacks rose by almost 5 percent over the previous year, the number of deaths declined for a third consecutive year, dropping 12 percent from 2009...
  • Attacks in Afghanistan and Iraq rose in 2010. Almost a quarter of worldwide attacks occurred in Iraq, a slight increase from 2009, although deaths fell for the fourth consecutive year...
  • The fewest incidents in 2010 were reported in the Western Hemisphere, where both attacks and deaths declined by roughly 25 percent. Western Hemisphere attacks fell from 444 in 2009 to 340 in 2010 and deaths fell from 377 in 2009 to 279 in 2010...
  • Muslims continued to bear the brunt of terrorism based on the fact that most terrorist attacks occurred in predominantly Muslim countries.

What is evident is that terrorist incidents are on the increase. By focusing its 'war on terrorism' in Afghanistan and Iraq, the USA has used its military power to enforce a transfer of terror on civilians who previously neither suffered from it, and are less able to withstand it.

They may have had less freedom, if you define freedom in its politico-democracy cloak, but equally, they have less freedom to walk around safely; they have less life security. A by-product of the 'war on terror' is that it has wrought more terror, not less.

Terrorism has not gone away, just because the US government has relocated it, and it will not necessarily remain relocated. Current ideas of western citizenship come with responsibilities, as well as rights. Gingrich's comments are irresponsible.

It is a shame that those in power talk about freedom so vacantly as to mock those that those do not have it. If Islamic Jihadists hate us for our freedom and our way of life, then Gingrich is adding fuel to the fire. 

Friday, 16 December 2011

Margaret Moran & the face of crime

Margaret Moran MP (c) Richard Lea Hair

Yesterday, The Guardian reported that former Labour M.P. Margaret Moran, accused of falsely claiming £80,000 in expenses, and her legal team would be making an application for a “nolle” to the attorney general. This would allow the case against her to be discontinued on exceptional grounds.

If granted, Moran would not stand trial. Instead, a jury would assess the merits of the case in her absence at a trial of issue. Jim Sturman, her Q.C., stated:
"These proceedings are a continual threat to her life, not just to her liberty, and the experts agree that she is unfit to plead."
Three pyschiatric experts have evaluated Moran and all come to the conclusion that she is unfit to plead. Sturman himself talks of his only meeting with Moran, in which she cried during the whole conference, and refers to a previous hearing at Westminster magistrates court, in which she sobbed uncontrollably in the dock.

I understand that it is considered more beneficial for defendants to attend their trial so that they can defend themselves more adequately. However, with the team that she has on board, the public display of her illness, and people's general disdain for M.P.'s expenses abuse, I wondered whether her absence would harm her case.

If not, do others with less (financial/political?) clout have access to the same recourse?

Kelly (2000), amongst others, has conducted research into links between inequality and crime. The Ministry of Justice report on the UK riots reveal the depth of the links between social exclusion, inequality, poverty and transgressions of the law.
  • 35% of adult rioters were claiming out of work benefit, almost three times the national average (12%)
  • 64% of child rioters lived in the country's most social excluded areas
  • 66% of child rioters were classified as having special education needs, again three times the national average (22%)

Social exclusion, inequality and poverty are also linked to mental health problems. Therefore, if we accept that the majority of those passing through our criminal justice system are from poorer socio-economic backgrounds, then we also have to accept that many will pass through the system with similar issues to those of Margaret Moran.

Moran is using a Q.C. Q.C.s cost a lot more than less qualified barristers. By using a more prominent, and presumably, more knowledgeable barrister, this will have enabled Moran to pursue this course of action.

Furthermore, Moran was examined by three psychiatrists over a period of two years. Again, this will have cost a lot of money. All this will be quite different to the legal (aid?) access that those living in poverty will have recourse to.

Looted Sainsburys local, Chalk Farm (c) hughepaul
Looking back at Sturman's statement regarding his client, it is difficult to find any reason why Moran should receive better treatment than the children who have been criminalised as a result of their wrongdoings during the summer riots. There is a large gulf between the alleged crimes of Moran and child rioters.

Not only will these children have had emotional needs, not dissimilar to Moran's, but arguably this is a greater threat to their life, because their criminalisation threatens their life chances; unemployment, poorer physical health, further mental health problems, and an earlier death.

Due to her influence, Moran will be able to distance, and anonymise herself, by her absence at her trial, yet children have lost their right to anonymity in the UK criminal justice system. Those in power want us to remember who 'criminals' are, regardless of their age and the protection that we should afford them.

I am minded of Reiman's 'pyrrhic defeat theory'. This maintains that the way in which the criminal justice system, and criminal justice policy, works is to perpetuate the myth that 'criminal activities' are solely associated 'with the dangerous acts of the poor' (Reiman, 1998).

In other words, a burgeoning prison population, peopled by those from poorer socio-economic backgrounds, is a loss leader for governments, because it diverts the public's attention away from crimes committed by the powerful.

This case is just another example of what the face of crime looks like. 

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

The Newburgh Four: labelling and terrorism in the U.S.A.

Federal Bureau of Investigation Seal (c) United States Department of Justice

I write this in the knowledge of an attack that has just taken place in Belgium. Regardless of whether it be termed a terrorist incident, or for the reasons behind it, this post is even more relevant for it. My sympathies go to those affected by the attack.

In yesterday's Guardian, Paul Harris reported on the Newburgh Four who were convicted of a terrorist plot in June. According to the report, the four men had been entrapped by an FBI informant who had offered the men life-changing amounts of money in return for carrying out the attack. Quite apart from the rather shady way that the FBI went about their “investigation”, there was little supporting evidence that these men would ordinarily have carried out the attacks, had the FBI not acted as a catalyst for it. Judge Colleen McMahon is reported as saying:
"Only the government could have made a terrorist out of Mr Cromitie, a man whose buffoonery is positively Shakespearean in its scope," she said in court. She added: "I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that there would have been no crime here except the government instigated it, planned it and brought it to fruition."
In criminological thought, entrapment, or to use a more law enforcement friendly version of this term, stings that target problem people and problem places are associated with ideas of repeat victimisation and the prevention of future crimes. Targeting problem people and problem places relies on knowing who these people are and where they congregate. In this case, the sting involved targeting prospective “terrorists” who congregate in mosques. It might be a fair assumption to make that this type of sting is an obvious means of deterring future “terrorist” attacks, based on what we read, see and hear in the mainstream media. However, to understand “terrorism”, we need to rewind.

The devastating and tragic events of 9/11 broadcast the idea that “terrorists” and “terrorism” are largely associated with extremists, notably Islamic extremists. Further attacks have taken place in Indonesia, Spain and the UK. Every now and again, we are warned of impending “terrorist” attacks. Hence, three distinct words, Islam, extremism and terrorism, seem to be harnessed together to the extent that even a prospective President of the U.S.A. can't help but label Palestinians as terrorists.

Mandela on Israeli Apartheid (c) Carlos Latuff
Consider the term “convicted terrorist.” What do they look like? Coming from the UK, I am immediately minded of the once convicted, since proven innocent, Irish “terrorists” including the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four. In terms of the U.S.A., I think of John Walker Lindh, Richard Reid and Timothy McVeigh. Regardless of whether justice was enacted correctly, all were tried in a court of law.

In fact, McVeigh is called an “American Terrorist” in the biography of his life. Why the need to label him differently? What purpose does it serve? Surely, it matters not whether he is American, and ethnically white, yet it seems that the authors felt the need to qualify McVeigh to their audience; he is not any “terrorist”, he is different. Different to “others.”

The U.S. government chose to kill Osama Bin Laden rather than try him. It has failed to try any of those it holds responsible for the “terrorism” committed on 9/11, choosing instead to detain inmates at Guantanamo Bay indefinitely, awaiting affirmation of their label. It is difficult to see how we have come to one particular view of “terrorists” and “terrorism”, when those that have been convicted of “terrorist” attacks represent such diverse ethnic, cultural and economic backgrounds.

As stated above, entrapment/sting operations are associated with repeat victimisation and crime prevention. Considering that the vast majority of the 9/11 pilots came from Saudi Arabia, it makes little sense in terms of repeat victimisation to target Muslim communities within the U.S.A.. Meanwhile, Muslim communities in the U.S.A. continue to be labelled and perceived as “terrorists.” They have to put up with being targeted in sting operations, and then losing family to long term prison sentences for dubiously constructed “crimes”.

By taking a hardline stance against these communities, based on little fact, the government threatens to create further division within the U.S.A. over its tactics. In turn, it may create extremist sympathisers within these communities that see the U.S.A. as Islamphobic. Far from preventing crime and “terrorism”, the U.S.A. might be fuelling internal “terrorist” acts of the future, thereby ensuring that the dominant idea of who “terrorists” are comes true.