Posts Tagged ‘Mark Duggan’

Armed Police and the Threat of Political Oppression

December 30, 2015

Mike over at Vox Political reported a few days ago the government’s latest plan to tackle the terrorist threat: armed police. It seems one of the Paris murderers had pictures of Birmingham on his mobile, suggesting that the Islamists were planning an attack there. The government has stated that, at present, it takes too long for armed police units to respond, and are considering arming the police as that they can react immediately to a terrorist attack, or threat of one.

See Mike’s article: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/12/27/police-have-been-used-by-politicians-as-tools-of-oppression-should-they-have-guns-to-fight-terrorists/

Mike raises the point that armed police have been used as instruments of political oppression, and asks whether anyone thinks it would be a good idea to give them guns now, with this present highly authoritarian government.

It wouldn’t. In fact, it would be a disaster, and potentially make the situation much worse.

Before we come to the issue of armed police being used to suppress freedom and civil liberties, there is the whole issue of how far the public can trust armed police to protect the innocent. And there’s a very large question mark over this. There’s a massive controversy in America at this very moment over ‘Black Lives Matter’, a protest movement that points to the disproportionate number of Black Americans who have been shot and killed by the police unnecessarily. These have included people, who have been unarmed, or were simply running away from the police. Some were violent, but did not present such a threat that lethal force had to be employed. They could simply have been restrained by the cops using their own physical force, or batons and tasers. Unarmed Whites have also been needlessly killed by the rozzers, but the Black community is particularly subject to this kind of lethal policing. This is possibly due to Blacks being perceived as innately more violent, thuggish and threatening than Whites.

And we’ve seen the same phenomenon here in Britain. There were the riots nearly four years ago over the death of Mark Duggan, the criminal who was shot by the police despite being unarmed. And when I was at school, back in the 1980s, there was a huge outcry then after a Black child was accidentally shot by a police officer while searching the child’s bedroom during a raid. There was also another incident in my home city of Bristol, where the cops shot a man, who they believed was armed. He was carrying not a firearm, but a chair leg, and shouting, ‘it’s a chair leg’, when they shot him.

The problem in America is that the police are too willing to use firearms in preference and other, less extreme methods of capturing or subduing a suspect. And I’m afraid that if we arm the police, they will follow this same precedent. And it concerns British police officers as well. Last summer I was talking to the partner of a British police officer, a woman, who has herself tackled violent offenders. He told me that his wife has successfully disarmed potentially lethal situations using simple negotiation, though she had used her own strength when necessary. She believed, along with others in the force, in policing by consent. You can only successfully police a community when that community trusts you. This will may be lost if officers come to rely too much on their firearms. And as far as the American officers, who automatically shot the suspect in response to a potentially violent situation, she had nothing but disdain. They were badly trained. She took pride in the fact that, no matter what dangers she encountered during her working day, she could end her shift knowing that nobody had died.

All this is likely to be jeopardised by arming the police, and especially if they are supposed to be armed against the threat of militant Islamism. There’s already massive discontent amongst Black British about the ‘stop and search’ policy in London, which has seen a disproportionate number of Blacks stopped and harassed by the Fuzz as potential suspects, simply because of their ethnicity. If this attitude is transferred to Muslims, it will provoke similar levels of discontent amongst them. At the moment the authorities are helped by ordinary Muslims, who do report individuals or actions they find suspicious. This will be lost if Muslims believe they’re under suspicion, simply because of they’re faith, with the ordinary and moderate lumped in with the extremists. It’ll isolate those, who still want to help the authorities, who will risk being branded ‘chocolate Muslims’, the Muslim equivalent of the term ‘Uncle Tom’. And it may alienate some even further, driving them into extremism rather than away.

And armed police in general are a real threat to freedom. The communist authorities in the Eastern bloc used military police units to clamp down on civil unrest and demands for democracy. And Putin is pretty much still doing it in today’s nominally democratic Russia. This government is all too willing to turn them into an authoritarian force. Remember the way the police were used to crush the miners’ strike in the 1980s? Blair and the Tories have passed successive legislation to ban and suppress protest marches and demonstrations, especially in front of parliament and Downing Street. There are any number of account of the cops using excessive force against marchers during riots. And one of the provisions in the government’s anti-trade union legislation, which fortunately didn’t get passed, was that strikers and picketers should have to give their names to the police. This was too much even for David Davies, on the Right of the Tory party, who declared it to be ‘Francoist’. And so it is.

The present government are highly authoritarian, and are doing everything they can to stifle dissent and democratic questioning of their authority. Given past examples, it’s absolutely certain that they will used an armed police force to suppress what remaining liberties we have. They’re pretty much Fascists already. They just wear business suits instead of black shirts and jackboots.

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Homelessness, Evictions and Revolution: Ireland, 19th century; Britain, 21st?

May 16, 2014

Irish Eviction Pic

I found this photo of an Irish peasant being evicted from his holding in the W.H. Smith History of the World: The Last Five Hundred Years (Feltham: Hamlyn 1984), p. 519. The caption for it reads:

Evicting a peasant from his holding: the poverty-stricken Irish peasantry’s resentment of prosperous English absentee landlords was just one contributory factor in the unstoppable demand for Home Rule and the dissolution of the Union of England and Ireland.

The oppression of the Irish peasantry through heavy rents and the eviction of large numbers, who couldn’t pay, created bitter resentment that did indeed contribute strongly to the demand for Home Rule, popular uprisings and Fenian – Irish nationalist – terrorism against the British. And I wonder how long it will be before the Tory cuts and the mass poverty they have caused in Britain will lead to the same resentment and violence in the UK.

Many people now in Britain also feel alienated and abandoned by a political class that appears isolated and out of touch with the needs of the British people themselves, and concerned only with the further enrichment of the extremely wealthy through further privatisation and tax cuts. The government’s austerity programme has led to a level of starvation in the UK not seen since the 19th century. Rising house prices have created a ‘Generation Rent’, who have little opportunity to get on the property ladder. And the notorious ‘Bedroom Tax’ and prohibition on the further construction of council housing have seen people forced out of their homes and into Bed and Breakfast accommodation and hotels, simply because they can no longer afford the rent on their council houses. And as the rich get richer, British cities like London are seeing a social cleansing as the poor and working class are forced out to the suburbs and less expensive towns as they are priced out by the rich.

If these policies continue, the resentment and alienation felt by the poor, working and lower middle class in this country will get worse. And the celebrations up and down the country last year of the death of Margaret Thatcher show just how long and deeply such bitterness can and will last. Thatcher was overthrown by the Tories in a cabinet coup in the first years of the 1990s nearly a quarter of a century ago.

You can only push people so far before the bitterness and resentment turns to violence. The shooting of Mark Duggan in 2010 resulted in rioting, and it only needs more incidents like that to cause further unrest. Boris Johnson is clearly worried about it, otherwise he wouldn’t be trying to purchase two second-hand water cannons from the Germans. And one of the causes of radical resentment in the Federal Republic was the death of a protester after being hit by water cannon during a riot in 1969. I’m not saying that violence, rioting and terrorism will inevitably occur. The popular mood at the moment seems simply to be one of sullen resignation. Nevertheless, if people are left without hope, and the government appears too distant, self-interested and arrogant, the potential is there. The existence of formal parliamentary democracy may not make much difference, if people feel that there is no real choice, or there is a continued dominance of one political party. It is believed that if Scotland secedes, the result will be a decline in the number of Labour MPs, with the result that future government are likely to be dominated by the Conservatives. The existence of democracy in Northern Ireland in the 1970s and 1980s did not prevent the revival of Irish nationalist terrorism, because the dominance of the Unionist party meant that the Roman Catholic population did not feel that their grievances and institutional oppression against them were being addressed. It may therefore not be long before a similar situation arises in Britain and England, where large number of the poor and working class feel they have no alternative for making themselves heard except through violence and acts of terror.

I don’t want that. There’s been enough bloodshed in British history already. Hopefully this can be prevented before it’s too late. The ‘Bedroom Tax’, Workfare, and cuts to welfare benefit all need to be scrapped, and a government elected determined to create real jobs, rather than just the illusion to serve the corporate interests of wealthy donors. It needs a more representative parliament, with members drawn from the working and lower middle classes, rather than the professionals and lawyers, who now predominate. And certainly not the Eton-educated aristos now forming the present cabinet. Only in this way can we stop, and possibly just begin to reverse, the bitter resentment and hatred now forming against Britain’s out of touch, complacent and exploitative elite. A resentment that if it goes further will lead to violence and bloodshed that may last decades.