16 Aug 2011

Reactionary Riot Reactions are Reactionary

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there has been a massive shift to towards authoritarianism following the riots.Today Yesterday, 2 men were sentenced to 4 years in jail for "inciting" riots on Facebook. Riots which never actually happened (they could have happened, but they didn't) but still count because they do. Never mind the proportionality of the sentence (seriously, 4 years for a freaking Facebook page), this is justice.

 In addition to this, there have been a ton of calls from various quarters for knee-jerk actions, most notably Theresa May calling for the police to have curfew setting powers, David Cameron wanting to censor the internet (with Louise Mensch MP doing the same thing) and the calls for stopping rioters' benefits. All of which will achieve nothing, in my humble opinion, but making the world a worse place and fulfilling some desire for vengeance, which happens to conveniently help the Government (more police power, plus it helps their anti-"scrounger" rhetoric). This not even mentioning the members of the public braying for rioters' blood (literally in some cases (just look at Facebook, the Sun also ran a poll), and the evictions that are already happening (NB: in the household in question no one had been convicted).And the cliche attacks on the Human Rights Act, but that happens for everything now.

All these aside, the disproportionate sentence I mentioned at the start of this post ay well be an egregious example, but it certainly isn't the only one; courts have been told by the Government to scrap the present sentencing rules and be extra (and, even according to some MPs, too) harsh in order to fulfill an urge for revenge that many people have. Violation of the separation of powers aside,  this has resulted in several highly disproportionate sentences. One man (who had brought £100 worth of stolen goods from "a junkie") was jailed for 22 weeks for handling stolen goods. One person was jailed for 16 weeks for using "threatening or abusive language". A student was sentenced to 6 months for stealing a case of water.Three young women none with any sort of criminal record) were handed down 6 month jail sentences for entering a store with intent to steal (nothing was stolen). Infamously, a mother was sentenced to 5 months for accepting a stolen pair of shorts. She wasn't even there for the riots [EDIT: which is why she was freed and given 75 hours' community service on appeal]. These specific cases aside, several were referred to the crown court as the maximum sentence Magistrate's courts could give (6 months) wasn't considered sufficient, and bail was refused as a matter of routine, with the desire for the punishment to be strict superseding the need for proportionality.

By way of comparison, someone who functionally looted thousands from the public purse was simply fined £7000 made (an incredibly rubbish) Education secretary. Because, at his age, there was no way he could possibly have known better /sarcasm.

One thing that is legal, however, is publishing the names and addresses of subjects, which is very probably connected to one getting his house burnt down, in what is probably a reflection of the rage of someone at the riots (given the present situation) and generally a worrying, given that the old maxim of "innocent until proven guilty" apparently has stopped applying, sign.

On a slightly lighter note, someone else was recently arrested and charged with "encouraging or assisting in the commission of an offence" under the 2007 Serious Crime Act  for trying to arrange... a water fight. And it isn't a very light note at all since it means that water fights are some sort of serious crime, which is just absolutely ridiculous and that arranging a water fight should be stopped by any means necessary.You couldn't make it up.

In conclusion, though, things are looking pretty bleak as far as civil liberties and freedom of speech are concerned. It'd be incredibly easy to blame this on media rhetoric, and I suppose that's what I do blame it on. The ore important thing, however, is figuring out how we're going to stand up to all this because, as is, I think we're screwed.

EDIT: Forgot that I wrote this overnight, have corrected it. Also, I somehow misspelled "in".
UPDATE 1: Reportedly, an independent monitor was beaten up during the Enfield disturbances on the 7th. This is alarming to say the least

UPDATE 2: A 17 year old has been given a ban from social media for 12 months, 120 hours' community service, a 12 month youth rehabilitation order and a 3 month curfew for posting a message on Facebook which read ""I think we should start rioting, it's about time we stopped the authorities pushing us about and ruining this country.
"It's about time we stood up for ourselves for once. So come on rioters – get some. LOL."
Whilst I can't condone the message, it was probably, as the teen in question said, a joke (you don't add "LOL" if you intend to actually incite a riot) and this is turning out to be an incredibly bad week for freedom of speech. I'd say something about the sentence being disproportionate, but I'm not entirely certain that the message should have resulted in a charge at all.

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