Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Rough justice – the British State at its least attractive

It bitterly disappoints me that the response to the riots by the law enforcement and justice arms of England has been one of posturing, simplistic overreaction.

The jailing of two young men from Cheshire for four years for inciting disorder through Facebook is excessive and profoundly unjust.

I don't pretend to know anything substantial about the backgrounds of the men concerned, who are aged 21 and 22, but let's be clear they've been jailed for inciting a riot that never actually took place.

Could it be that they were simply silly young men, caught up in the dark excitement of the riots and in thrall to the unthinking, facile nature of digital communications networks? I think that probably is the case. I think that's the case for thousands, probably millions, of young people these days. It doesn't mean that two young men should be sentenced to jail with such unseemly haste.

We've seen courts sitting round the clock since the unrest started the weekend before last.

We've seen the cops involved in PR circuses, battering down the doors of suspected troublemakers in early morning raids - with TV news crews in attendance. There are dangers in this sort of operation. What if the cops get the address wrong and batter down the door of an elderly or infirm person, causing a fatal heart attack? It could happen.

Now, I do not condone violence at all. I have witnessed it over the years, of course, in street fights and pub brawls. Increasingly, I've noticed too that increasingly it is women as much as men who cause and are actively involved in pub brawls.

I have never been caught up in a riot. I have never experienced having my business or home or workplace wrecked by rampaging mobs. I'm sure that such scenes are, for most good people (i.e. the majority of people), frightening and profoundly depressing.

But justice should never be rushed, any more than it should be delayed. Rushing and delaying justice simply distorts and strains justice. Rushing for justice can sometimes destroy justice.

And in any case, I'm convinced what we are witnessing in the ramped up response to the riots by cops and the courts, isn't the pursuit of justice at all.

It is the pursuit of vengeance - something quite different, something very unattractive.

And there are disturbing signs that cops and courts are being goaded into going for vengeance by prattling politicians, including the Prime Minister.

Paradoxically, I think there was some 'justice' done recently - when David Cameron had to cut short his classic Posh Person from Central Casting's vacation in Tuscany because the streets of London were burning. Well, that made me laugh and it made me think ... both of which responses are good and better than rioting or looting.

That a modern state and a modern state's leader should be tough on transgressors and opportunistic thieves at a time of civil unrest is understandable; commendable even. We do need to teach people a lesson.

But that lesson must be one that makes offenders think about what they've done, and reflect on why what they have done is wrong. We must show them how people have suffered because of their selfish and violent actions.

What the state should not do is make people who have done something stupid at a time of collective madness feel like scapegoats; feel like people who can't turn their lives around; feel hated.

The tracking down of offenders needs to be done without heat and without the seeking of public relations advantage. It should be unflagging, certainly, but the punishments should not be excessive; not a knee-jerk response which will inevitably cause more resentment.

Don't sentence two young men to prison for four years for writing something stupid and opportunistic on Facebook. Save that sort of sentence for people convicted of mugging with a weapon or grievous bodily harm where the injury was not serious - as is normally the case when justice hasn't been distorted by political hysteria.

No comments:

Post a Comment