Archive for the 'crime' Category

anti-racism, crime, politics, society, USA

White fear in gentle Brooklyn

So, my first experience of living in America is sharing an apartment in Bushwick, Brooklyn, New York with a fellow “hipster” in his 30s (i.e. young, recently-settled, urban, arty and middle class). I’ve been in New York for over a week now and in the last few days have just started to relax into the neighbourhood of Bushwick. I’ll be frank. It’s not what I’m used to. Coming from a leafy middle-class arty small-town backwater like Lancaster in northern England, the urban, impoverished, dirty, jumbled and to my mind mean streets of Bushwick Brooklyn somewhat make me feel as if I’ve jumped in at the deep end.

Bushwick is undoubtedly poor, with over 75% of children in the neighborhood born in poverty.

But there is another aspect of Bushwick that is having an effect on my middle-class psyche, an effect that should not be overlooked, especially not by progressives. Bushwick just isn’t white.

As an anti-racist I struggle, as I think we all do, to talk about questions of race while trying to always maintain the right balance of respect, political-correctness and honesty. Political correctness has never been my strong point, so I think I’ll major on the respect and the honesty. Although my worry about walking these streets has lessened with familiarity, it’s still there, and although the streets are much dirtier than I’m used to – the occasional rat scurries by, and the atmosphere is sometimes silently infused with the smell of pot – my fear is – let’s face it – of people. Specifically of being mugged, and especially of being knifed. Is this a valid fear?

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I’ve been arrested at Climate Camp – for having Vitamin C…

Okay, okay, so I was arrested at climate camp. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to.
But guess what my crime was? Um, yes, that’s right: having some Vitamin C.

As the story on the Green Party website “Police hold Green activist for five hours for possession of Vitamin C” says, I was held for 5 hours before they tested the substance in my wallet and let me go without charge (although stopping short of an actual apology).

March to Kingsnorth power stationIt got me thinking about the whole process in general and the way police treat people (especially when all we had gone to do was to peacefully camp and then participate in an organised and police-sanctioned march to the gates of Kingsnorth coal-fired power station).

Obviously my arrest was not a usual occurrence, for me or for the police. As Green Party Principal Speaker Derek Wall said at the weekend: “This is another example of how over-the-top the policing of this event has been. This shows that the priority of the police is not to protect the public but to suppress legitimate protest.”

But I pity anybody that’s in that sort of cell for more than a few hours. It was a windowless, concrete, plain white cell. It had a bed – well – a platform with a sort of plastic-covered thin hard foam mattress, a metal toilet, and a sink inset into the wall. The only good thing about it was the acoustic, but after a couple of hours I had run out of slightly melancholy a cappella folk songs to sing (a sign of the times is that I stopped myself from singing in any foreign language in case I was overhead and it started a line of inquiry about my right to remain in the UK or something ridiculous).
There was a “sink” of sorts (like you get on a Virgin train), inset into the wall, that you could just about get your hands into, not anything else. It spurted out hot water that was – I suppose – drinkable, but not exactly what you’d call drinking water. There was a metal toilet without a seat, but no toilet roll. There was a “bed” (and an equally hard pillow); I loved it because I have a bad back, but not to everybody’s tastes… There was no blanket of course. Everybody is tacitly treated as a suicide risk, hence no blanket, no toilet roll, no towel, plastic fork at meal times…..
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A tribute to Sophie Lancaster

Sophie Lancaster was by all accounts a sensitive, caring and kind 20-year old girl. The fact that she was so obviously a harmless, open-hearted person puts into perspective even more starkly the question “why would a bunch of teenage lads – who had never laid eyes on her 5 minutes before – think it was either fun, cool, hard or amusing to set upon her until they had taken her life?”

Sophie LancasterAs Sophie’s mum said today, “We were proud to know our daughter. She was funny, kind, loving and brave. She was a beautiful girl with a social conscience and values which made her a joy to know. Not being able to see her blossom into her full potential or even to see her smile again is a tragedy beyond words”.

Sophie Lancaster, 20, was kicked and stamped to death as she begged a group of teenage boys to stop beating her boyfriend in a park in Bacup, here in Lancashire, last August. When Sophie cradled her boyfriend in her arms and pleaded for them to stop, one of them delivered a flying kick to her head and another volley-kicked her in the face “like a ball in flight” said the judge. A rain of kicks then ensued. A 15-year-old witness told police: “They were running over and just kicking her in the head and jumping up and down on her head.”

Today, that group were sentenced, the two that kicked Sophie have received life imprisonment. Unfortunately in my mind for the profile of this case, all over the news today is a more bizarre story: the case of an Austrian pervert who kept his daughter locked up in a cellar for 20 years… But in fact, Sophie Lancaster’s case, happening right in Lancashire, affects me more deeply, and I’m much more interested in its implications for British society. I can more easily categorise and deal with isolated and inexplicable perversion: the Austrian outrage is an distinct exception; what is more troubling about Sophie’s case is that it has happened before in Britain, many times, and will happen again. What I find harder to understand – and even harder to accept – is how (essentially ordinary) teenage boys can suddenly turn into killers, and what happens to them in groups. I am sure that no single one of those boys could or would have set upon Sophie and her boyfriend Rob alone. But why did they suddenly do so as a group? What possessed them? How could they – as they were beating the life out of her – be so insensitive as to not appreciate the immensity of the act they were engaged in? We all perform countless acts everyday, without thinking: boiling the kettle, running a bath… in less than the time it takes to complete either of these actions those boys had met, taunted, attacked and practically killed Sophie Lancaster and left Robert Maltby scarred (and scared) for life. And with about as much thought and attention as most of us give to boiling the kettle. How can such casualness of thought occur? Is it video games, brutal fathers, uncaring mothers who prepare such boys for acts of sudden and devastating violence? Or none of the above? How on earth can it be avoided? We need and we DEMAND a society where these things don’t – in fact, essentially – cannot – happen.
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