Monday, 15 August 2011

Imprison, evict, impoverish - Victorian punishments for the looters

First the disorder, now the purge. 

Those caught rioting and looting face not just punitive jail sentences but the prospect of withdrawn benefits and house eviction of their entire families. 

The message: you will pay the heaviest possible price for violations against commercial property. 

Depressingly, a large majority of the public strongly support such retributive actions.

Which all goes to prove the power of political rhetoric and media propaganda in serving to hide the real causes and culprits. There's nothing quite like a reactionary assault on the 'underclass' and 'feral youth' to help disguise the elite's own crimes and responsibilities.   

The tough sentencing includes five months imprisonment for a 24-year-old mother who slept through the riots, but was jailed for accepting a set of stolen shorts from a friend.

Now comes the assault on looters' benefits, a move defended by ConDem minister Iain Duncan Smith as a reasonable sanction against those 'who have shown no regard' for their community or society.  Much of the public applaud, seeing no apparent contradiction in such messages from a government that's ravaged communities with spending cuts.     

The  plans to remove benefits also comes with all the rational agonising one might expect of Liberal Democrats and their 'intellectual' associates.

As the Financial Times reports:
"Ministers are drawing up controversial plans to remove benefits from those convicted of taking part in the riots that engulfed England last week, in a move Liberal Democrats and independent experts have condemned as counter-productive and overly expensive."
 So very Lib Dem. So very liberal think tank. One might wish to commend such concerns as a check on Tory excesses. Yet, there's not a single syllable of compassion in their 'cost-effective', utilitarian calculus.

A more enlightened version of that concern might have read:
"... in a move Liberal Democrats and independent experts have condemned as hateful vengeance against the poorest and proof of the government's cost-priority protection of the wealthy."
Meanwhile, various English councils have initiated eviction orders against the families of those involved.  In one such case, a mother is to be removed from her home after her 12-year-old son was arrested and charged with looting:
"A spokesman for Wandsworth Council said it wanted to "get the ball rolling" rather than wait to see if the tenant would be convicted."
No need for due process of the law, then, or consideration of the destructive effect on that family.  (It's the kind of collective punishment meted out by the Israeli state when they demolish a family's home in reprisal for attacks made by just one of the family members.)

The councils concerned are taking political cover from Cameron's great "social fighback".  As reported by the Independent:
"The Prime Minister, David Cameron, gave his backing yesterday to councils seeking to evict tenants over the violence, saying that people who "loot and pillage their own community should be shown the door".  Mr Cameron said he thought evictions were a way of "enforcing responsibility in our society". He told the BBC that people who could face difficulties as a result of their eviction "should have thought of that before they started burgling"."
Again, it's all fine for Cameron and his banking friends to loot and pillage communities - whether ours or those in Afghanistan and Libya.  If he ever comes to "face [the] difficulties" of "responsibility" for those crimes might we be entitled to say, well, "he should have thought of that before he started cutting and bombing"?

Another key feature of the Victorian-mood punishment is the government's own e-petition process, a mock consultation that, alongside all the standard media encouragements to hateful resentment, has now seen 200,000 signatures calling for severe action against the looters. 

If only we heard the same political, media and public calls for elite robber bankers and war-rioting politicians to have their homes and other proceeds of crime repossessed. Again, it's proof-positive that the propaganda system works.

As previously stated, nothing useful ever comes from violence and destruction. The riots and looting have left families bereaved and communities fearful.  But the punitive, vindictive purge we're now seeing against the poorest and weakest parts of society help reveal the deeper poverty of justice, compassion and caring intervention at the heart of our economically cruel and morally bankrupt system.


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