[Marxism] The civil war in Britain: more freedom for the have's, more social control for the havenots

Jurriaan Bendien andromeda246 at hetnet.nl
Thu Jul 22 13:45:54 MDT 2004

The war against anti-social behaviour may have been formally declared this
week, but it has been heating up for the past few years. The state's arsenal
starts, softly, with "acceptable behaviour contracts", first introduced in
1999, in which tearaways promise to calm down. Should they fail to do so,
they are liable to be slapped with an "anti-social behaviour order" (ASBO)-a
list of prohibitions, issued by a magistrate, which may prevent them doing
uncivil things, hanging out with known troublemakers, or even visiting their
favourite stomping grounds. A petty tyrant who steps out of line is liable
to spend up to six months in prison.

Such remedies are draconian, particularly given that vandalism-the most
measurable kind of anti-social behaviour-has been declining since 1995 (see
chart). Even coppers are surprised. "I never thought I would live in a
country where the police would have these powers," says Stuart Chapman, a
chief superintendent from the South Yorkshire force. (...) Britain's
innovation is to have criminalised behaviour that is not necessarily an
offence in law. To obtain an ASBO, local authorities and the police do not
have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that an offence has been committed.
They only have to establish, on the balance of probabilities, that the local
lout is making other people's lives difficult. That is fairly easy, which
explains why, of the 2,497 orders sought before the end of March 2004, only
42 were refused. (...)

For local authorities, the new laws are a blessing. They now have a weapon
against troublesome tenants-even the ones who live in private accommodation,
who were formerly difficult to reach. They can disperse groups of youths and
drunks from traditional trouble-spots, some of which now proudly display
signs declaring them areas free of anti-social behaviour. (...)
ASBOs are likely to put more young people in prison, or into the care of the
already struggling probation service. The number of under-21s in the slammer
rose by 69% between 1992 and 2003; the trend reversed last year, but a few
breached ASBOs would soon change that.

And even those in the front line worry that they have unleashed a monster.
Council staff report an increasing number of calls about crying babies and
children playing football in the street-petty annoyances that used to be
dealt with by a quiet word, but which they are now expected to do something
about. As Jan Wilson, the leader of Sheffield City Council, says, "this
thing seems to be gaining a momentum of its own."

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