Putting Feet On The Ground – Resisting State Violence

UFFC March 2014, Trafalgar Square

On Saturday I was heartened by the United Families and Friends Campaign against deaths in custody (UFFC) annual march, even though it was still small. Last year around 100 people marched on Whitehall, this year there was a much improved number of around 300. The 300 came together in a year which should be remembered as a year the state flagrantly attempted to silence the bereaved and abused. 2014 is the year, in which a jury deemed Mark Duggan’s killing as “lawful”, and the appeal against that perverse verdict was upheld. We learned this year that the police officers who have undoubtedly lied about Sean Rigg’s death would not face prosecution. A year which revealed the contempt that the Metropolitan Police had and still has for campaigning families like those of Stephen Lawrence and Ricky Reel, in that they spent more resources spying on them rather than investigate the murders of their children. This year, in spite of the incredible efforts of eight women, the CPS refused to prosecute police officers who, using the stolen identities of dead children, formed intimate relationships with them, some of whom went on to plan and father their children.

Encouragingly there have also been some cracks in the shield of state impunity. This is also the year where Anthony Long, the Met Police firearms officer who shot and killed Azelle Rodney, has been charged with Rodney’s murder, the CPS announced they will be prosecuting Greater Manchester Police Chief Constable Peter Fahy over the death of Anthony Grainger, Bernard Hogan-Howe was made to apologise regarding the death of Cherry Groce and the Metropolitan Police paid out over £400,000 to a woman who had a child with one of its active undercover officers.

In light of the British state’s continued violation of the bodies, rights and memories of the abused, the 300 who gathered in defiance is minimal. Yet in spite of that fact, I remain hopeful because I sensed the mood of rehearsed defeat crumble and fade into an atmosphere of restored determination and passion. Though I have felt this before at the 2012 march, which also left me with a sense of hope which was not fulfilled. This year easily could be a repeat of 2012. Some have admirably vowed on social media to honour Ajibola Lewis’ call dramatically increase our number, I want to reflect on how this could be achieved.

Perhaps we should first reflect on why these demonstrations are small in comparison to the TUC organised or Climate marches. UFFC efforts are of a fundamentally different nature. They cannot spin their experience of physical and social death into a positive slogan like “Britain needs a payrise”. The state is not being lobbied as the provider and guarantor of a better future. This procession is about the indictment of state power. These families gather to air the Government’s dirty linen, to expose its collective failure, murder, collusion and cover-up. Attendance will not grow by asking people to attend a demonstration of grief and suffering, to stand in the chilly October air to listen to tear-filled tales of death and despair. There must be hope for something more.

The following is obvious but it needs stating, a political march is a symbolic demonstration of an interest group’s collective strength. So, bluntly, 300 people demonstrates a severe lack of strength. This was UFFC’s 16th annual march, I am reliably told in years past, 300 would be viewed as disappointing rather than encouraging. Couple this with the solemn fact that each year new families join the assembly of the grieving. In this context the marches on average have stagnated rather than grown. UFFC as an organisation may have some internal reasons for this but the blame cannot simply lie with them. These families each have been robbed of a life, then robbed them once more by being denied any semblance of justice. Mothers, sisters, and other loved ones should not be expected to describe their loss and trauma perpetrated by the state, year after year after year. Yet some do, without fail. Their efforts need to be upheld by those of us who identify with them. I can only see a greater march being sustained by the development of a real social movement against police violence.

Focusing on the demonstration itself though necessary is not sufficient. The more of us engaged with considerable commitment will indicate an increase of those who will turn up for an annual event. A social movement based on greater numbers would be established. This must be developed through much more than stating a collective will. Tangible efforts must go beyond speaking with our friends and associates. Our ambitions must be tempered with patience, as though our sincerity to make each demo bigger than before is without doubt, it can be no more passionate, nor keener than the bereaved families who have waded through many bitter rivers to attend and build these demonstrations.

I have little faith that this social movement will be achieved through the wonders of social media. The struggle against deaths in custody is laden with too much sorrow to be summed up in 140 characters. The families who form its core are overburdened with grief and tragedy, sharing a hashtag or a gripping image could not do justice to laying the path ahead. I fear that relying primarily on the easy, loose connectivity that is constructed on social media reduces rather than underlines the emotional power which is the basis of this currently fledging movement. Communication and retweets alone do not alter power structures.

Mental abstraction in this instance is our enemy, the thousands who died to misquote Stalin are merely a statistic, an inconvenient detail listed in a few articles dotted across the mainstream media. What has become abstract and dead, must become concrete and alive once more. There is no real achievement in asking people to attend a march, to experience a communion of anger and frustration which has no end in sight. These families demand more, those present in the grave deserve more. What has been hoped for must be made flesh, what was loose must become more tightly bound together, what was vague must give way to precision. A social movement with a concrete goal, with answers to the questions that plagues all of us. How do we end their violence?

I have previously written that the struggle against police violence is closely connected to the heart of all struggles against the state. Whether it is the fight for housing, to preserve jobs and living standards or ending violence against women. The next UFFC march will be bigger if these connections are realised. This means talking to those we usually wouldn’t, informing the uninformed, and persuading those who have given up. The work to be done isn’t mystical, finding meeting rooms to organise actions, cobbling up of leaflets to distribute on stalls, holding conversations on high streets and council estates. It is taking the time to support people like Jimmy Mubenga’s family at court.

This social movement is not limited to those who have died, though they remain foundational. Justice for them, should be the pre-requisite to and the minimum of our goals rather than its full extent. UFFC, 4Ward Ever, London Campaign Against Police and State Violence, Movement for Justice, Newham Monitoring Project, Northern Police Monitoring Group and countless other campaigns are modest attempts in that direction. These small efforts and much more hold a promise that goes beyond halting state sponsored deaths towards a society that rejects the paternalistic “protection” of the state, and replaces it with their own self-managed collective defence. The Maroons of the Caribbean and the Americas, the pre-welfare state trade unionists, the Black Panthers, the Zapatistas, Abahlali baseMjondolo, the Gulabi Gang and British striking mining communities had to provide what the state could not. It is on their foundations that our social movement is built.

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Why Ed Miliband defends Nigel Farage as “not racist”

[Content note: references to racial violence and rape]

Welcome to a world where Diane Abbott stumbles to say what David Lammy states fearlessly. Where The Sun’s Trevor Kavanagh did what Ed Miliband couldn’t. James O’Brien elegantly provided an open door but leading political figures declined the offer. Contrary to what appeared to many as obvious, Cameron and Miliband chose to denounce the sin but not the sinner. Ed Miliband went as far to defend Farage as “not a racist”.

To castigate Miliband for failing to strike Farage is to miss an important point. Richard Seymour did and claims that Labour’s base doesn’t respond well to racism. On this point, I think Miliband has got a better appreciation of public opinion. Farage unlike Miliband is popular if not the most popular party leader among a large and potentially election defining constituency, older working class semi-skilled men. Whether Farage is racist or not, he appears to be a vote-winner. So from the only view that Ed is interested in, the strategic electoral one, it would be political suicide close to election day to upset Farage. Miliband’s generosity to UKIP’s leader is a result of this calculation. What I want to examine is how can Farage be portrayed as “not-racist” and what makes his brand of xenophobia apparently unassailable? By doing so I hope to reveal what “racism” means in Britain today and how popular culture and therefore political power has been shaped by it.

Redefining the Boundaries of Racism

To the credit of anti-racist movements from the previous century, the label “racist” has become a powerful social death grip. Once that label is firmly attached to anyone or anything they or it becomes irredeemable. This victory came at a cost, as Adam Elliott-Cooper excellently argued Anti-racism has been reduced to a politically correct exercise. In 1999, the Macpherson report officially accepted institutional racism as a social phenomenon which operates in organisations as structures of oppression discriminating against racialised groups. Blair’s government largely ignored the concept in public debate and limited it as a problem specific and unique to the Police.  Structural racism established by the State remained a taboo seldom discussed outside academic circles.

The State’s response to racism mirrored its treatment to non-lethal drink-driving, an issue of morality not power. As the drink-driver would be offered re-education or state punishment, the proven bigot would be offered either diversity training or imprisonment. Liberals then regarded the issue near-fixed as New Labour were reforming British culture through state managed multiculturalism. A lesser considered rationale was that the normal governance of British society and its ill-gotten resources is dependent upon structural discrimination for maintaining its current distribution of wealth and power.

The public conception of racism as a thing which only exists as an individual belief is useful in at least two ways. First, this individualist definition only requires an anti-racist person and, by extension, society to enact their opposition to racism through disavowal and scorn towards anyone who publicly displays unambiguous racist opinions. Secondly, it diverts attention from power structures and thus gave space for the State to further extend its power to oppress racialised communities and individuals. This is what led Labour to being cloaked as progressive and “anti-racist” while building Europe’s biggest immigrant detention centre and locking up unprecedented numbers of refugee children.

This dictionary definition which the Sun used to attack Farage depicts racism as a personal judgement not a collective power structure. On this basis, racism is only effectively challenged by stopping individual bias which is proven to exist in the individual’s mind. So the BNP and now UKIP are defeated by “exposing” the personal beliefs of their leader as opposed to what policies and structures they want the State to impose. So long as the Prime Minister, or other leading officials haven’t revealed any bigotry, their actions cannot be deemed racist even if it produces racially biased outcomes. The powers of the State or their office may be misused by rogue individuals but are fundamentally out-of-scope in analysing racist behaviour or effects in society.

How Immigration Became a “Not-Racist” Issue

In 2004, with an election looming Teflon Tony was starting to lose his shine, an unpopular war in Iraq and growing social inequality after seven years of Labour’s macroeconomic policies. A flexible labour market coupled with the strictest labour laws in Europe meant for millions economic insecurity on irregular poverty paying jobs. A shrinking welfare system targeting “benefit cheats” and an influx of pliable and well-educated migrant labour compounded anxiety among working class voters.

toryScum

Thus Michael Howard’s ill-fated attempt to unseat Tony Blair, took social and economic concerns and situated with in the context of newly expanded freedom of movement, this replaced the critique of Labour’s economic structural reform, which the Conservatives approved of. Lynton Crosby, the 2005 and 2015 Conservatives Campaign Manager broached immigration debate in terms which was widely criticised as a “dog-whistle” strategy. His direction led to billboards draped across Britain declaring ” it’s not racist to impose limits on immigration” and underscored with the cryptic campaign slogan: “Are you thinking what we are thinking?”

The Conservatives failed for a variety of reasons but this particular campaign strategy could now retrospectively be criticised not because it was racist but for not being explicitly racist enough. Rather than challenging the “middle-class metropolitan privately educated elites” that Blair represented, it conceded too much by simply being apologetic and not being blunt. Nevertheless the seed had been sown into the public consciousness, you could complain about the presence of Polish migrants and Eastern Europeans and it was OK, after all they were white so, went the theory, it couldn’t be racist.

When Nick Griffin Became “Not Racist”

It is a well-worn trope that whenever an odious public individual makes a “gaffe”, the mainstream media plays the politically incorrect “GOTCHA” game where the person has to profusely apologise and disavow the Ku Klux Klan and Hitler. Like all rituals, over time, its efficacy had waned and became viewed with tiresome cynicism. Public discourse had turned into questioning if the accused *really* harboured unambiguous racist beliefs? Could it be they merely misspoke out of tiredness? Failed to update their old-fashioned vocabulary? Or were they bravely just trying to be “honest”? The once all-powerful label of “racist” became less so and increasingly unreliable. If the label didn’t stick or the attacked isn’t popularly conceived as such, then the accuser is portrayed as cynical, morally bankrupt and trying to silence “legitimate” debate.

In 2006, Nick Griffin deployed this ambiguity with great success during his trial and subsequent re-trial in Leeds, after being recorded by an undercover BBC journalist calling Islam, a “wicked, vicious faith”. Griffin said he had nothing against Asian people but as a Qur’an scholar he was making cultural and “religious criticism”. His beliefs were not according to the jurors unambiguously racist, therefore Nick Griffin freshly acquitted from race hate crimes, declared neither he nor the British National Party “could be described as racist”. The electoral mould of “insurgent outsiders”, willing to tell the truth that the liberal media wouldn’t dare to, had been set. With a favourable economic and political climate, the BNP made progress in ways that Howard’s Conservatives didn’t, unabashedly blaming African migrants for housing shortages and immigrant labour on reducing job access, pay and conditions. They with fellow travellers in tabloid media cultivated a sense of unique white working class victim-hood. It wasn’t migrants’ skin colour, it was their culture which was the problem.

BNP members in suits smiling and holding their fists in the air.

Nick Griffin and Mark Collett celebrating their acquittal in 2006

From 2006 to 2009 the BNP went on to win a large number of councillors in largely Labour held councils. The peak moment was at the European Elections of 2009 when Griffin and Andrew Brons became elected as Members of European Parliament. The English public had spoken, it was official, the BNP were not racist, they were vocalising the concerns of the disregarded white working class. Stephen Lennon aka Tommy Robinson picked up the baton on this later. However what crystallised in the public conception of what should pass as “not-racist” comment was typified by a chance encounter Gordon Brown had during an election trail.

The Legacy of the “Bigoted Woman” Slur

The seed sown by Howard’s Conservatives germinated five years later with the event centred on the perfectly ordinary form of a pensioner-aged woman called Gillian Duffy. Duffy, a life-long Labour supporter, was dismayed that her concerns about Eastern European immigration could be described as bigoted. Ed Miliband who was the chief author of the 2010 Labour manifesto will remember that audio clip being played, the shock on Mrs Duffy’s face and the grovelling Brown had to perform for days afterwards. It was a fatal mistake which cast Labour once again as the out-of-touch, metropolitan elite that didn’t understand working class people and their interests.

Brown who in 2007 utilised the BNP slogan “British Jobs for British Workers”, was now calling a working class woman “bigoted”. Whether he was right or being hypocritical was besides the point, the message was read that Immigration had become a taboo subject and none of the ruling political class was being honest about it. Racism was no longer a problem in “multicultural Britain” but a bogeyman to silence dissenters. Issues of Immigration and Nationality became the province of Border Security. So it became “not-racist” to manage the movements of foreign nationals using biometric data. It was not racist to put asylum seekers on vouchers instead of cash benefits. It wasn’t racist to lock up predominately Muslim men for up to 42 days without charge. It wasn’t racist to ape Australia’s immigration point based system for non-Europeans. On the contrary it was too little, too late.

A Modern British and European Value

Nigel Farage is riding a bubble created by persistent discontent and distrust with mainstream politics. Britain doesn’t like its racism deployed in blunt terms, which is why xenophobic language of immaterial and ill-defined “anxiety” is much more palatable. Xenophobia is a word seldom used in modern Britain, it has become imperceivable as it is the background music that sets the rhythms of everyday life. From the creation of the UK Border Agency to the unopposed Immigration Bill 2014, governments led by Labour and Conservative have managed a liberal authoritarian state. This is while liberal anti-racists perpetuate the myth that the State is essentially “anti-racist” and that UKIP represents a new external racist paradigm.

In truth, all political parties seek to continue a nightmarish system that covers up therepeated rape of women migrants on our supposed behalf. A State that spends time and effort to popularise traditional racist slogans such as “Go Home”. UKIP cannot be denounced by the established parties when UKIP’s popularity rests on intensifying a political and social consensus created by Labour and Conservatives. This consensus can accurately described as British ethnic and cultural superiority. Many people are rightly embittered by an economic order that has laid waste to their towns which was once industrial heartlands. Over a generation, it has become clear that traditional loyalties are redundant when each successive government are complicit in their impoverishment  and committed to maintaining it. So whether in building Fortress Europe or Fort Britain, politicians and media commentators happily swap economic anxiety for a cultural one. Miliband like all of Europe’s aspiring political leaders cannot admit to recognising systemic oppression or the attitudes that lead to it. Political expediency and capturing power relies on their wilful blindness even as the tide washes in the piles of black bodies subjugated by it.

One Nation Labour is institutionally racist and sexist

I used to like Owen Jones, I’ve never really liked Ed Miliband. Yeah he looks like a cross between a panda and Wallace but that isn’t a reason not to like him. Ed Miliband is better than David Cameron but setting such a low bar for acceptance doesn’t make you a decent human being. Ed accepts a lot of the racist and sexist paradigms that we have to endure in this country. So I had a go at Owen Jones for endorsing Miliband’s racism and sexism. How can this possibly be you ask? Well I wrote this to explain.

The Government’s New (old) Idea: Blame working class immigrants for everything

I have been really upset about the latest immigration policies that are designed not to “save money” as Government ministers insist but to demonise those who look and sound different to the white politicians who are pushing them through. So I wrote this piece to explain some of my frustrations.

Remembering Stephen Lawrence and Racism in Britain

Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of the murder of Stephen Lawrence. When I think of him, I also remember Mark Duggan and many others who have died in senseless violence. So I wrote this in their memory.

From Red Gold to Blood Strawberries

I wrote a thing about the 30+ Bangladeshi migrants in Nea Manolada who got shot by their Greek bosses. Read it here.

“Don’t get raped!” – The useful myth of personal responsibility in rape culture

“All I’m saying is… be careful.” The phrase often comes across as benign advice, stirred by a feeling of care and concern. It sounds like something a parent would say to their child, or from an experienced hand instructing a trainee. How could anyone have a problem at an attempt to help and warn others?

Context is important, advising someone to wear a seatbelt because there is a random and unpredictable risk of a car accident, would be reasonable and straightforward. But this cautionary logic doesn’t apply to deliberate actions pursued by one group towards another group.

When Stephen Lawrence died on the streets of Eltham, did anyone seriously think to start a campaign to warn black people to “whiten up” before going out at night because of racists roaming the streets? Wouldn’t that reduce risk of racist attacks? The idea that anyone should imprison themselves for their own protection, reveals an absurd logic which punishes the potential victims while simultaneously sanctifies the freedom of the aggressors. Rape is predominately a male societal problem, not one of female personal conduct. Why then is it so often construed otherwise?

Most mornings whilst at work, I enjoy listening to Colourful Radio Breakfast show. I find it good antidote to the Eurocentric and bland offerings from the BBC, and the frivolous banter from other commercial broadcasters. Yesterday during the show, this Daily Mail report came up in a discussion between the two presenters, Henry Bonsu and Juanne “Juju” Fuller. It is poorly written (the 22 year old is consistently referred to as a “girl”) and a dubiously sourced account about a British student, who was allegedly gang raped in Thailand. The presenters agreed that this case “proved” the need for women to protect themselves from becoming a rape victim. Bonsu went on to defend Joanna Lumley who had recently scolded young women for putting themselves at greater risk to rape by acting “laddish”. His reasoning was that though he can look after himself, he avoids getting drunk in public as that would be putting himself at risk of getting “battered” on the streets. He suggests one must be careful.

The reasoning here is that the world we live in is full of violent and manipulative people, ready to prey on actual or perceived weakness. So you can’t expect anyone else to protect you from the jungle that is urban life. Rape is lumped together with random acts of viciousness like being punched by a drunken reveller. But rape is seldom random, it is happens regularly and often. The idea that an individual’s clothing or sobriety can significantly reduce rape is not just misguided, as Zoe Stavri explains, it is dangerous nonsense:

This rape prevention advice is targeted at a very narrow model of rape: the predatory stranger in the dark alley. The vast majority of rapes do not happen this way–it’ll more likely be a friend, a partner, or an acquaintance, and it probably won’t happen in a dark alley. By reinforcing stereotypes about rape, we help maintain rape culture which benefits greatly from the assumption that rape is only a thing which involves a stranger jumping out of a bush.

Slutwalk was invented to combat this pernicious stereotype. Rape is not like burglary, being mugged or getting into a fight after a night out. Rape is much more persistent and systemic. Unlike the other listed crimes, 90% of reported rapes in 2012, the victim knew the identity of their attacker. Putting the emphasis on the victim’s personal responsibility in this context is farcical. But this sick farce is sustained in police investigations and the courts. We know that circumstances in Britain today, the police have sabotaged rape cases, mistreated survivors and investigations and even participate in rape themselves.

In the courts, the defence are able to use the survivor’s sexual history, her clothing, her previous relationship with the man as “mitigating” circumstances. The idea that women need to be told “don’t get raped” is not only incredibly patronising but indicates where authorities think the problem lies, and the sphere that they perceive within their influence. This reasoning though widely accepted is of particular value to the patriarchy that governs the state and society in which we live. It is popularised in society because it is a useful myth which:

  • Absolves male collective responsibility for the prevalance of rape
  • Positions the survivor to share in (or take) the blame of being attacked
  • Normalises rape as “a natural response”
  • Regulates women’s behaviour to accept patriarchy
  • Deflects scrutiny of ruling patriarchal thought that are displayed in the coercive arms of the state

By placing the burden on the victim, authorities can hide the fact that we live in a rape culture, one which routinely blames the survivor and gives attackers free reign. The patriarchal norms and those who benefit from it remain unperturbed as rape is reduced to an “individual matter”, rather than correctly understood as a widespread symptom of a prevailing culture of male impunity and dominance over women. It is for this reason why feminists use the slogan “Don’t rape” instead of “Don’t get raped”, by turning the logic around, they show that the personal responsibility lies with men and this emphasis challenges men (and women) not to enter into rape-apologism.

Nadia Kamil who is doing a year of watching only Bechdel passing films continues in this fine tradition with this video: