Sunday, 31 January 2010

Bobby Watch Four

Michael Mancini was sitting in stationary traffic in Ayr, with the handbrake on, when he used a tissue to clean his nose. A keen eyed crime fighting bobby, PC Stuart Gray spotted this deviant behaviour and promptly issued a fixed penalty notice fining Mr Mancini £60 and 3 points on his licence

He has refused to pay the fine and will fight his case in court

PC Gray came to fame last year when he did an unemployed man for littering after a £10 note fell out of his pocket!

PC Gray (or possibly someone pretending to be him) is on twitter

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Exit Through The Gift Shop - A Banksy Film


Coming soon ....

Premieres at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah tomorrow

Exit Through the Gift Shop will be in UK cinemas from 5th March 2010.

More about the film from the BBC

Thursday, 21 January 2010

cdnt give a XXXX 4 lst ordrs? Vote labour on thrsdy 4 xtra time

In 2001 at the beginning of its election campaign New Labour under Tony Blair sent the following text to students:
cdnt give a XXXX 4 lst ordrs? Vote labour on thrsdy 4 xtra time
The text was intended to promote New Labours plan to liberalise alcohol laws.  These have included as well as 24 hour drinking, support for drink promotions and a taxation policy which has seen the affordability of alcohol enhanced.

Labour's policy has been driven by the Alcohol Industry who have been keen to maximise their profits.  Health and scientific advice has been ignored.

Interesting to see that this cynical policy is coming back to haunt them as this article in the Daily Mail and this one in the Daily Telegraph show.  The graph below shows the human cost of alcohol policy.

Minimum pricing will work as advocated by the Chief Medical Officer

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Guantanamo Reunited

I was really pleased to come across this story.  Brandon Neely, an American solider who worked at Guantanamo used facebook to make contact with two former British prisoners. He wanted to apologies and accept his responsibility for the injustices Shafiq Rasul, Ruhal Ahmed and other Guantanamo Bay prisoners have suffered.

This BBC website includes two short films - Tales from Guantanamo- telling the three men's stories and recording their meeting.  Well worth a visit. Had my eyes damp!

Monday, 18 January 2010

Sunday, 17 January 2010

American "Intelligence"

The CIA's budget is secret but informed estimates put it a massive $30 billion.

So when the agency decides to update its wanted poster for their number one target Osama Bin Laden (now aged 52) one expects some pretty impressive technology from so well funded an institution.   However it appears not.  Instead a CIA forensic artist searched google pictures for a 52 year old; found a picture of a Spanish Socialist politician of that age and then used photoshop to mix and match his features with a picture of Bin Laden aged 42. The stunning result of this technique is demonstrated below...

Gaspar Llamazares, the unfortunately 52 year old man whose picture the CIA artist found on the internet has expressed fears about his safety and decided it is unsafe to travel to the US.  A pretty smart deduction I think.

Meanwhile Bin Laden remains uncaptured despite the best endeavours of the CIA.  I wonder why?

Full story from the BBC

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Frank Skinner calls for death penalty for children

Shocking article in the Times where Frank Skinner argues that teenage "thugs" should be killed off to save money on prison costs. calling for 'a genuinely constructive death-penalty policy' he argues that some people are so evil they deserve to be exterminated.

Very nasty.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Mumia Abu-Jamal & the death penalty - Petition to President Obama

From Robert R. Bryan, lead attorney for Mumia Abu-Jamal:

Today I put online a petition for President Barack Obama regarding Mumia & the death penalty. I ask that you & your colleagues sign it as soon as possible.

Signers within the first few hours include G√ľnter Grass, Nobel Prize winner in literature, Madame Danielle Mitterrand, former First Lady of France, Fatima Bhutto, Noam Chomsky, Ed Asner, etc.

I expect a decision next week from the U.S. Supreme Court on the question of the death penalty. Mumia & I are very concerned, because earlier this week the court denied relief in a similar case, Smith v. Spisak. Either we get a green light to proceed with the new jury trial we previously won on the question of death or life, or we are closer to an execution.

Robert R. Bryan
Law Offices of Robert R. Bryan
2088 Union Street, Suite 4
San Francisco, CA 94123-4117

Please sign this petition now

Details of Mumia's case online here

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

The Sun says sorry

Regular readers of this blog will be aware of all the fuss surrounding Home secretary Alan Johnson's decision to sack David Nutt as Chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs for telling the truth. In classic New Labour style a nasty attempt was made to get at Nutt through press stories about his children. [Interestingly the evening that Nutt made his speech I ended up chatting to his wife about how alcohol represents the most dangerous drug for young people - our kids are roughly the same ages.]

Stephen Nutt his son complained to the Press Council and their website revealed that the Sun has removed the story from its website and published a letter from Stephen. This was unsurprising not widely published. A google search shows no newspapers reporting on it.

Despite this silence well done Stephen - few take on the evil Sun and win.

Lest we forget

This picture relates to the call to boycott the Sun over its scummy reporting of the Hillsborough tradegy when 96 Liverpool fans were killed. For background read here

Bobby Watch Three


Pensioner arrested and locked in cell for shouting at yobs who threw stones at ducks

Story is from the Daily Mail so a certain cynicism required. but it is indicative of an increasing tendency to arrest first and ask questions later. Could this be, at least in part, relating to the habit of the police and taking DNA samples from everyone arrested and retaining them even after it is established there was no justification for the arrest.

Recently there has been lots of campaigning to allow innocent people to have their DNA records destroyed. The Government has given some ground and is introducing legislation to allow people to apply to court if their local Chief Constable insists on keeping their DNA. The small print however reveals that to do so applicants will need to pay £200. This effectively rules out many poor and working class people from exercising this right. Nice one Comrade Johnson.

For those who, like the police, argue that the massive UK DNA database is crucial for their heroic fight against crime it is slightly embarrassing that actually DNA is responsible for solving less than 1% of UK crime.

How do innocent people get removed from the police DNA database? Mark Thomas explains here

Further Information from GeneWatch UK

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Bobby Watch Two

Police use pepper spray on Eastbourne Christmas elf
A Christmas “elf” was grappled to the floor by police using batons and pepper spray after he was caught selling mistletoe without a licence.

Ex-Royal Marine Paul Douglas, 46, rolled on the ground in a tussle with a uniformed officer in front of dozens of horrified shoppers on Christmas Eve last year, a court was told.

He had been selling sprigs of mistletoe and holly dressed in fluffy red trousers and a Christmas pudding hat in Eastbourne.

Council enforcement officer Mark Jobling called 999 after Douglas refused to give his name and address when asked to show his pedlar’s licence.

PC Stephen Kimber, who was on foot patrol, arrived at the scene and asked Douglas for his details.

Eastbourne magistrates was told how Douglas pushed him and a struggle ensued.

PC Kimber used his nightstick and captor spray to bring Douglas under control. The officer was unhurt, but Douglas, of Manor Road, Hampden Park, Eastbourne, claimed he was left covered in bruises.

He was arrested at the scene and spent nine hours in the cells.

He denied obstructing a police officer but was convicted following a one-day trial.

Magistrates fined him £200 and ordered him to pay £100 court costs but Douglas is now appealing against his conviction.

He said: "All I was doing was selling holly for £3.50 and mistletoe for £1.50. It was Christmas Eve, everyone was out doing their last minute shopping and I was having a bit of fun.

“Lots of people were buying from me and I was doing my best to make them feel festive.

“But it was not nice for them to see me being bashed with a police baton and pepper sprayed. What a sight for children on Christmas Eve, Santa’s little helper in a dust up with a police officer.

“I wasn’t a threat, I was just arguing that I wasn’t doing any harm. The police reaction was well over the top.”

At Lewes Crown Court, Judge Richard Hayward adjourned the appeal until February – but branded the case "a waste of money".
Hat Tip The Argus

Alcohol and the British - A Historical Perspective

A really interesting article in this month's History Today in which James Nicholls reviews attempts to regulate alcohol in Britain over 5 centuries.
In Britain, concerns over drunkenness go back a long way. The first Licensing Act, passed in 1552, required alehouse-keepers to acquire a licence from local justices on the grounds that ‘intolerable hurts and troubles’ arose from drunkenness in ‘common alehouses’. The following year rules were introduced strictly limiting the number of wine taverns that could open in any one town. This legislative distinction between common alehouses and more exclusive wine taverns reflected a long-standing social stratification of drinks in Britain. Lack of native viticulture made imported wine an elite drink,while ale, and later beer (made with hops,which were only widely used from the 15th century),were associated with more popular drinking cultures.
The full article can be read here

Those of you want a more up to date analysis of alcohol policy should read an excellent blog by Mark Easton of the BBC - The myths of boozed-up Britain


Sunday, 10 January 2010

Bobby Watch One

Over the next week I am going to blog a number of recent police stories. Each on their own may not be worrying but the intention is to show, through a series of stories, how policing is increasingly anti-social.

We start with a Bristol story. Craig and Philip Lewis and their friend Luke Monks found themselves staring in Avon and Somerset Police's 'Caught on camera' posters display in Police Stations and other public buildings in Bristol. Their pictures were captioned 'burglary'. One of their friends spotted them on the posters told them they were wanted for burglary. Worried about the implications they approached the police.

It turned out that the pictures where from the CCTV cameras of GO Outdoors store which they had visited together on the 16th November. They left without buying anything. Early in the morning of the following day the store was burgled. There was nothing to connect the trio to the burglary and it appears they were featured on the wanted posters purely on a speculative basis. Once they came forward they were quickly eliminated. Although it appears the police failed to let them know or indeed to remove the posters.

You can read more about the story on Evening Post site - Bristol security guard angry at wrongful accusation

Saturday, 9 January 2010

An unequal society harms us all

Bristol University last week published its Wealth and Assets Survey which shows the richest 50% of British households own 91% of the nation's private wealth. This leaves only 9% for the other 50%. Lots of other interesting stats in the report which can be downloaded from Office of National Statistics website.

If you and your family are in the bottom half the implications are obvious but research by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett have shown how inequality harms everyone including the very richest. I would strongly recommend their book The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better. One of the book's chapters focuses on crime. Further information about this interesting thesis is available through the Equality Trust.

Friday, 8 January 2010

After the War on Drugs

So what do we do about currently illegal drugs? Whenever I critique the failed war on drugs this is the question I am asked. Good question and it normally takes me 10 to 15 minutes to set out what a regulated market might look like. Fortunately the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union have produced this wonderful short film answering the question.

The report featured in the film 'After the War on Drugs: Blueprint for Regulation' can be dowloaded for free from Transform Drug Policy Foundation by clicking here

Declaration of Interest - I worked for Transform during 2007 and 2008.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Police Drug Training Video 1960s

Vintage training film from the early days of the war on drugs. It is interesting to note how some of the scare tactics are used - super strength hash then and super strength skunk now.

As I posted this I was redirected to a page which has google adverts - which interestingly were for drug rehab providers. I checked out the first one and was not unsurprised to find their 'information' on cannabis was as ill informed as this film. But like the film both the police and the treatment industry have done very well out of misinformation and ill founded scare stories about illicit drugs.

Rant over!!


Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Why I Study Punishment

I came across this article written by Chrysanthi Leon from the University of Delaware
“It would be nice if we could get more access to therapy after the guards rape us.”

This is not the answer I expected to hear. Part of a “judicial envoy” touring a correctional facility for women, I had the opportunity to speak with a few of the women in the special section for mentally ill inmates. I asked them what else they needed to succeed. The first woman I spoke to wanted to know if I was a judge. Although disappointed to hear I am a professor, she did express the wish that I try to get my students to see her as a neighbor and as someone’s mother, not just as a monster. She described herself as a single mother who got carried away in trying to keep up appearances, and began to write bad checks to pay for the latest video games for her sons. She said she didn’t need anything to succeed, she had learned her lesson and would do fine once released.

It was the second woman who shocked me, as much with her matter-of-fact delivery as with the content. In her thirties and the mother of two teenage boys, she appeared thin and anxious, but offered a ready smile. When I asked if there was anything she needed, she immediately asked for more help for women sexually assaulted by guards. She said that when she was raped, all they did was move her to this ward. “When he was zipping up, he told me if I said anything he’d have me put in solitary. That’s my biggest fear. But I’m proud of myself for speaking up; I’ve found that everything is changing for me now that I’ve spoken.” In the time remaining before they called us away, we chatted about going to college and being mothers.

I quickly put aside her comments after leaving the facility, which was actually a lovely campus that could as easily have been a prep school as a prison. I told myself that since I was touring the ward for the mentally ill, it was likely that her comments were the product of her delusions. But the story she told lingered in my mind.

Later that same week, a civil rights activist came to speak to my introduction to criminal justice class. She spoke of the letters from inmates she receives, and told some gruesome stories to illustrate the limits of our current laws. In particular, she emphasized how difficult it is to address harms caused to people in prison. The main mechanism for recognizing prison problems is through lawsuits filed under the eighth amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. But since the passage of a law in the 1990s called the Prison Litigation Reform Act, few harms meet the threshold. For example, courts have determined that being raped by a guard is not a violation of a person’s protection against cruel and unusual punishment. She proceeded to tell the story of the woman I had spoken with. Afterwards, I checked, and, indeed, the young mother I spoke with is part of a lawsuit being filed against the prison for a pattern of allowing sexual assaults.

This is why I study punishment. This is why I teach in a department of sociology and criminal justice. This is why I am on the board of the Sexual Abuse Treatment Alliance. Within ten miles of my home, women are being terrorized and tortured in my name. When we delegate the power to punish to our state authorities, the actions they take are on behalf of all of us and are paid for with out tax dollars. It’s still not clear to me what I can do, aside from telling the story. In this cultural moment, when we think of sex crime, we think of the angelic child victims of sexual homicide that dominate the news. We are much less apt to think of adult victims, let alone women who cannot be valorized as blameless and holy martyrs to the beastly desires of bad men. Neither do we care much about people behind bars; instead we choose to view them as deserving of whatever they get. We may have more sympathy for female offenders than for male; this may create an opening for hearing this story. But beyond just hearing this story and others, we must consider what we can do to recognize the humanity of people who have been convicted of criminal offenses. How can we better support the work of the many good people in the justice system and in community and social services who care for them and support them as they re-enter society? How can we move beyond our limited understanding of what sexual violence is and who it affects?

Addressing these issues are practical as well as moral imperatives. As we enter a new decade, I resolve to draw as many others into reasoned debate and passionate inquiry on these subjects as possible, with the hope that some will create the changes we desperately need.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Dennis Brutus RIP

I was really saddened to hear of the death last week of Dennis Brutus.

There will come a time
There will come a time we believe
When the shape of the planet
and the divisions of the land
Will be less important;
We will be caught in a glow of friendship
a red star of hope
will illuminate our lives
A star of hope
A star of joy
A star of freedom

An excellent obituary in the Independent. Dennis Brutus: Activist whose efforts helped bring about the end of apartheid


Friday, 1 January 2010

Testimonies to the realities of imprisonment

David Smith in the Guardian reports today on a visit to Number Four prison in Johannesburg and highlights the testimonies of political prisoners who were imprisoned there.
Molefe Makiti, political prisoner, 1963: "The biggest thing in prison is sex. The way that the cell bosses would entice young men to have sex with them was by giving them better food."

Molefe Pheto, political prisoner, 1975: "Supper was a mixture of old rotten boiled fish whose stink would reach us, permeating from the prison's kitchens, long before the fish itself had arrived; and when it did so, it was hardly recognisable as fish, with hundreds of thin bones which made it difficult to eat, quite apart from the disgusting smell of it. On the day it was pig skins, the fat had long curdled … with the pieces of skins sticking out of the mess like shark fins."

Alex La Guma, political prisoner, 1956: "The tin plates … were unwashed and encrusted with layers of dried food accumulated over months, well mixed with rust … One of the reasons for my disease [typhoid] is found in this jail. Filth. The mats are filthy, the blankets are filthy, the latrines are filthy, the food is filthy, the utensils are filthy, the convicts' clothes are filthy. The latrines overflowed and made a stench."

Indres Naidoo, political prisoner, 1963: "'Strip!' We took off our clothes and stood stark naked in the yard … The warders mocked us for the nakedness they had ordered. 'Tausa!' We refused, we had seen other prisoners doing the tausa and we were not going to do it. The naked person leapt in the air, spinning around and opening his legs wide while clapping his hands overhead, and then in the same moment, coming down, making clicking sounds with the mouth and bending his body right forward so as to expose his open rectum to the warders' inspection."

Henry Nxumalo, pass offender, 1954: "I didn't know how it was done … I didn't jump and clap my hands. The white warder conducting the search hit me with his fist on my left jaw, threw my clothes at me and went on searching others."

Martin 'Panyaza' Shabangu, prison warder, 1973-80: "Some of these people grew up with me and as a warder I did not like to make them open their anus. Sometimes it was an old man in his 50s, a respectable somebody. White warders wouldn't have done it to their own people. But it was a duty that we were forced to do … The prisoners were cleverer than us. When they came from court or work, they were carrying things like blades and money which they could hide up their anus."

Samuel Nthute, political prisoner, 1963: "It was wrong, it was not nice. For us, the children of the Basotho nation, we respect elderly people. A man can never undress in front of me. But in this place they don't care. You undress, the older men in front of the younger men. But we could do nothing about it, absolutely nothing."

Prema Naidoo, political prisoner, 1982: "After we arrived in Number Four we did not have a shower for three or four months. Because of interaction of our lawyers, tackling the authorities, threatening them with interdict, they allowed us out to shower. It was cold water, but at least it was a shower. It was quite a relief. Then we were allowed to shower about once a week."

Godfrey Moloi, prisoner, 1956: "The bosses again. If they felt a man seemed to enjoy the shower, he was assaulted. One of the bosses would stand at the gate with a dish full of soft soap better known as 'sop-sop'. He would scoop it with his hand and paste it on to our heads as we rushed past him."

Molefe Pheto, political prisoner, 1975: "To add insult to injury, that unbelievably shameless, most degenerate species of human degradation, the white warders, would actually stand at the entrances of the toilets and watch us squatting over the floor toilet-pails trying to shit the slimes out of our bodies. I could not believe that type of indignity, it was beyond me to comprehend their nonchalance at their own debasement."
What I have found so very sad about South Africa in recent years is that despite the experience of imprisonment of so many leading figures in the ruling ANC they have allowed South Africa to develop a brutal and extensive prison system targeted at the poorest and most powerless sections of the black community.

Hat Tip Guardian
Photo Credit and more photos zampano

See also Black Looks

and Prison and Democracy: Lessons Learned and Not Learned, from 1989 to 2009 (although this does require you to have a log in)