All entries for Friday 12 August 2011

August 12, 2011

Collective Punishment And The Riots

Writing about web page http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/councils-set-to-evict-rioters-2335878.html

Is anyone else slightly scared by the threats from several councils to evict people found guilty of rioting this week from their council homes? In a statement picked up by the Independent, Councillor Paul Andrews, Manchester City Council’s executive member for neighbourhood services, said:

“If you are a tenant of any of our properties, and you or your children are found to be involved in the looting we will use whatever powers are available to us to make sure you are thrown out.”

Does this not strike anyone else as being a bit, you know, collective punishment-y? Specifically the way Andrews goes out of his way to say that even if it’s not the adults in the house but their children, it could still lead to eviction.

As we’re living in one of the more hysterical periods of public opinion I suppose I am obligated to point out the obvious, namely that I don’t condone the riots and think anyone convicted of looting should be punished in accordance to the law (attacks on the local community deserve jail). But I feel distinctly uncomfortable with the idea that we can punish people who might have had no idea that their relatives were out causing trouble, or who might have had no power to prevent their relatives from doing so had they known.

Yes, good parenting will often lead to kids who won’t do this sort of thing, but this does not mean that everyone whose kids took part is a bad person, even when in some cases they might not be top notch parents.


A little levity from the wonderful Photoshoplooter blog.

The idea that doing this will lead to people self-examining and deciding to be better people is also something of a gamble. When I first heard about the proposal it put me in mind of the Israeli policy of last decade whereby the houses of suicide bombers from the Palestinian community were bulldozed as collective punishment. It didn’t stop the suicide bombers from coming and the Israeli army recommended it end in 2005 as “the policy had little deterrent effect and inflamed Palestinian hatred”. Or the Intolerable Acts, passed by the British in America in 1774 as a reaction to the Boston Tea Party and other acts of defiance from the colonists, which provoked mass outrage across the country and lead to the American War of Independence. I find it hard to think similar won’t happen in the cases of some of the looters. They already feel detached enough from regular society to not care that they are smashing it up, making them homeless would surely only lead to more resentment and stored up trouble?

The rioters almost certainly knew they risked jail for their actions, but few would probably have anticipated losing their homes. The powers to evict clearly exist, otherwise they would not have been mentioned as an option, but it sounds like they are being called up as an extraordinary option rather than a usual part of the due process of the criminal justice system. This means anyone subject to an eviction has been specially singled out by the authorities, and this is quite likely a recipe for future antagonism and refusal to engage from the evictees.

Maybe it’s just me, but I find idea of collective punishment is somewhat gross in itself. It doesn’t even follow the judicial convention of innocent until proven guilty as it is essentially inflicting punishment on people who are innocent, alongside the guilty. We need to punish the guilty in these riots, but we need also to avoid making a whole new set of problems, both by fostering further resentment and by escalating the viciousness of our response. If the state can’t behave in a civilised way, why should the people?


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