Friday, 24 September 2010

Why the police are the last people we need to reclaim the streets

Yesterday, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) published a report titled Anti-social behaviour: stop the rot (PDF). As summed up by Chief Inspector of Constabulary Sir Denis O'Connor, the conclusion was that the police need to "reclaim some neighbourhoods." The idea is a troubling one.

In essence, the report claims that uncertainty over "what priority ASB [anti-social behaviour] should ... be given by police forces" has led to"an increasing acceptance or “defining down”" of ASB.

The response to this should "draw on the evidence of the different intensity of the impact that ASB has on particular groups of people and in particular areas, together with ‘what works best’ in police systems." Such a "damage limitation" strategy should run alongside "an early intervention strategy, similar to those in health and education sectors."

Hence, police should focus on "what causes harm in communities, rather than what is or is not a “crime”, or what can be managed out of police systems."

As O'Connor told the BBC, this equates to "feet on the street." It needs to be remembered that "the public do not distinguish between anti-social behaviour and crime. For them, it's just a sliding scale of grief." Moreover, anti-social behaviour "is the precursor to crime - stop this, and a lot of other things will happen."

He's not entirely wrong, and certainly there are a lot of issues around anti-social behaviour that need to be examined in more depth and better handled. But there are ways to do that without reactionary demands for more police. 90% of people may give them primary responsibility, but this doesn't just further disempower communities - it effectively consents to the state monopoly on violence.

The murders of Ian Tomlinson and Jean Charles de Menezes are just the two most high-profile examples of the police being a law unto themselves. They exist, as an institution, to contain and control dissent, and subjugate the working class through force.

As we saw with the (wholly misguided) support for Raoul Moat, an awful lot of people are aware of this and don't trust the police as far as they could throw a Paddy Wagon. And rightly so.

Will this change with Theresa May's promise to "put communities at the heart of the solution" by "mak[ing] police more accountable through elected Police and Crime Commissioners?" It may well. But, in my opinion, it really shouldn't. Especially as it's likely to make the problem worse.

The "more accountable" police will have "the right tools and powers" to "crack down" regardless of whether you're actually breaking the law. This will only make the problem of state violence against the marginalised more acute. Hence it will increase the disenfranchisement and alienation that are at the root of anti-social behaviour.

The elected commissioners need not worry about this affecting their careers. Sensationalist and reactionary election campaigns and media stories will drum up support for this on the back of deliberate falsehoods and misrepresentation. As we see with elected politicians and just about every issue going.

If we want to challenge anti-social behaviour, then the only serious way to do so is through community self-defence. This is something the Independent Working Class Association (IWCA) have tried to put into practice in various areas and achieved some success with.

As such, its programme on this issue is not to be sniffed at;
Antisocial Behaviour

A combination of unemployment, the withdrawal of funding for youth facilities and the selling off of playing fields, drugs, and police indifference has left the vulnerable in many communities frightened to leave their homes. Burglaries, street crime and joy-riding have destroyed morale in many working class communities, making it all too easy for politicians to sit back and manipulate the situation to their advantage.

The IWCA will work for:
  • The drawing together of all sectors, including official agencies, toward the goal of the working class ownership of local communities
  • The reforging of pride in the community by organising clean-ups of estates, removing graffiti, and getting burnt-out cars taken away
  • The ending of curfews for young people
  • The proper funding of youth facilities
  • The isolation by the community of those who persist in making life intolerable for the community
Community Restorative Justice

Community Restorative Justice (CRJ) is a new way of dealing with antisocial behaviour. It is a cost-effective way of tackling the causes behind crime and the resulting breakdown in the relationships which connect people with a community.

It also brings attention to the imbalance of resources within the current justice system. At present the bulk of investment is spent responding to crime on a retributive basis—fines, court orders, prison.

By comparison, when CRJ is used, tiny amounts are invested in trying to resolve problems in a long term way. CRJ works to bring people together to resolve differences within a mediation process. It can play a vital role where the police and local authorities have lost the respect of local communities and where there is a stigma attached to cooperating with them.
  • The IWCA will encourage the establishment of Community Restorative Justice
    Schemes within working class communities

Nationally and locally the war against drugs has proved disastrous for working class communities in general. In some areas the drug culture has destroyed community cohesion, setting young against old, neighbour against neighbour.

Despite all the talking from politicians and experts, the situation continues to deteriorate. Overwhelmingly, working class communities carry the cost of this failure. At issue is not whether some drugs or all drugs are bad, but how the resulting problems can be managed.

As part of a broader review, the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act, which introduced the prohibition on buying and selling drugs and the criminalisation of drug users, needs to be assessed to determine what role the criminalisation of drugs may have played in the subsequent massive rise in heroin addiction.

IWCA policy objectives are:
  • The isolation by the community of drug dealers who prey on the community
  • The proper provision of locally based and funded detox centres
  • The establishment of a social contract with users for the proper disposal of needles etc.
  • The decriminalisation of cannabis
  • GPs to be allowed to prescribe heroin in order to administer dosages safely, remove the need for ineffective methadone substitutes and undermine the criminal black market
  • A review of the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act
There are issues with the IWCA's programme and the ideas behind it, from an extremely narrow, cultural definition of class to its willingness in some areas to accept the restraints and parameters of capitalist society. Nonetheless, it has done what so many on the left have failed to do.

Self-defence and self-sufficiency for working class communities lies at the heart of a solution to the problem of anti-social behaviour. It is also a viable alternative to the half-baked pseudo-localism of Cameron's "Big Society." And, in a time when the government is looking to make us pay for the frivolity of the ruling class with austerity measures, it reminds people how to stand up for themselves.

On top of which, it means that we don't have to beg the government to give more power to an already violent and oppressive police force.