Black Lives Matter

I want to express my unconditional solidarity with Black Lives Matter protesters in the US, UK, and beyond.

Over the last week I have watched the unfolding events in the United States with growing horror. I have been dismayed by the murder of George Floyd by police, the brutal, violent, but all-too predictable response to protesters from US authorities, and subsequent murders of further Black men including Tony McDade, James Scurlock and David McAttee.

I have so much respect for those who have taken to the streets again and again to call for a change to the corrupt, racist systems that made this violence possible. In this post, I want to take advantage of my platform to share pre-existing information and resources.

As a white woman living in the UK, I am aware that such deep systemic racism is hardly limited to the US. We know that Black and Asian people are more likely to die of coronavirus. This is due to pre-existing social and economic inequalities that result from racism, which mean that many racial minorities are more likely to have pre-existing health conditions, and work in low-income jobs which put them at risk. We know that 1,741 people in the UK have died in police custody or following contact with the police since 1990, and no police officers have been convicted; we know that Black people and other people of colour are disproportionately represented among these deaths. We also know that Black people are even more likely to be imprisoned in the UK than the US, and this disproportionate prison population is a consequence of overt discrimination in both the criminal justice system and wider society.

These problems do not result from the actions of “bad apples”. They are systemic, the consequence of a system of white supremacy on which the wealth of the UK was built, and from which those of us who are white continue to benefit, regardless of what other challenges we face in our lives. To bring about change, we – those of us who are racialised as white in a system of white supremacy – need to think seriously about what we can do in our everyday lives to address our own complicitly, support our Black neighbours, and bring this system down.

I am writing this post because I know this blog has a readership; however, I hope to primarily direct your attention elsewhere. I am not the person whose work you should be reading to learn more about this, nor to think through the actions you might take. I recommend turning to the existing work of Black writers to understand what is going on, and to support Black activists in the US, UK, and beyond. The remainder of this post includes a (non-exhaustive!) series of links that might help fellow non-Black readers especially with this, especially if you are not currently able to take to the streets. But please also do your own research.

Educate yourself. A list of readings, videos, and podcasts on a range of topics including racism, protest, allyship, and prison abolition.

Donate to bail funds. In the US, suspects who can afford bail may be released from custody prior to a trial. In practice, this disproportionately impacts low-income communities, and hence disproportionately impacts Black people. Protesters and innocent bystanders alike have been subject to mass arrests in the last week alone.

Donate to other causes in the US. These include funds for victims, Black-owned businesses impacted by the protests, and related organisations and initiatives.

Donate to Black Lives Matter UK.

Support QTIPOC and BAME LGBTIQ+ groups in the UK. Follow, listen, learn, and donate.

Support people subject to harassment on the streets. Take action when you witness racist acts.

Challenge racist systems in your workplace. Think about how you might work through a union and/or work collectively with your colleagues to address racist hierarchies, taking into account factors such as management structures, hiring practices, insecure contracts, and the operation of class.

Challenge everyday racism among your friends and family. Make time and space for difficult conversations. Create space for others to question and challenge your pre-existing prejudices in turn.

Finally, I encourage fellow white people to think critically about where they are putting their support. Is your local UK “Black Lives Matter” protest actually being organised by white people and centring white voices? Is it associated with a group like the SWP front Stand Up To Racism, who have been criticised by Black feminists for their deep complicity in rape culture? Are you putting more energy into discussing what does and does not constitute “violence”, or condemning people for taking the streets during a pandemic, than you are into condemning and acting against the racist sickness that is the cause of the protests? Are you spending more time thinking about your own white guilt than how you might make productive changes in your life and in the lives of people around you?

Again, I urge you to educate yourself, and read what Black writers and activists have to say about these issues. I will be striving to do the same.

Statement on Equality Minister’s comments

This statement, which I helped to draft, is cross-posted from Spectra.

~

As providers of health and wellbeing services for vulnerable people, we are dismayed by Women and Equality Minister Liz Truss’ poorly-informed comments on transgender issues.

Nobody’s fundamental rights should be subject to ‘checks and balances’, as the Minister suggests. Single-sex spaces are already protected under the Equality Act; trans and non-binary people deserve the same access to relevant services and provisions as everyone else.

Trans and non-binary people face discrimination and exclusion in all areas of life. They are disproportionately likely to experience sexual violence and domestic abuse, plus encounter severe difficulties in accessing healthcare, housing, education, jobs, and benefits. This is especially the case for trans women and girls, plus trans and non-binary people of colour.

Trans and non-binary people of all ages require support in accessing services, and making informed decisions about their own lives and bodies. The Minister’s statement that young people need to be ‘protected’ from making ‘irreversible’ decisions appears to contradict existing legal precedents.

These include the principle of Gillick competence, and the Fraser guidelines, which together protect the rights of minors to make their own decisions around medical treatment, if they can demonstrate appropriate capacity to consent.

Any move to undermine these principles will have deeply concerning implications for all minors. In particular, young people’s confidential access to contraception, sexual health services, abortion services, counselling and therapy will be at risk. Rather than positioning trans and non-binary people as a problem, the Minister, along with the Women and Equalities Committee, should focus on ensuring that the Government delivers on the recommendations of the 2015 Transgender Equality Inquiry.

These include the expansion of healthcare provision, and reform of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 to ensure full legal recognition for trans and non-binary people of all genders, on the basis of self-determination.

~

A brief personal addition. Our communities and activist networks are stronger, louder, and more visible than ever. We will stand resolute against any attempt to roll back the legal rights of trans people and/or young people. If the Minister follows through on her threats, she will find she has severely underestimated us. We will fight and we will win.

 

Royal wedding arrests: Judicial Review update

The Pageantry & Precrime site has been updated with details of Judicial Reviews awarded to a number of people arrested during last year’s royal wedding. A four-day hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice encompassed four separate reviews:

  • one Judicial Review into the pre-emptive arrests  for ‘breach of the peace’ on the day of the royal wedding
  • one Judicial Review into the pre-emptive arrest of a minor for ‘criminal damage’ the police believed he would cause (evidence: two pens)
  • one Judicial Review into the raid on the Grow Heathrow squat the day before the royal wedding – for which a supposed link to republican extremism was the excuse
  • one Judicial Review into another raid on a squat in Camberwell for which – again – a supposed link to left wing extremism was the excuse given.

The first two reviews addressed the arrest of “zombie flashmob” members, including Queer Resistance activists. Two trans attendees alleged that they were sexually assaulted by police officers following their arrest.

The hearing aims to address broad police tactics and behaviour rather than individual acts of intimidation or violence. As such, the relevant Judicial Review will not (for instance) lead to any action against the officers accused of committing sexual assault. However, I have been informed that one of the trans arrestees is pursuing a separate legal case against the officer(s) concerned.

Judgement on the case has been deferred until July. A claimant explained that: “judgement is deferred because between 20-odd claimants over four JRs the evidence and other submitted papers amount to several thousand pages that the judges must read.”

A full account of the hearing can be found at the following links:

Day 1:
May Karon Monaghan QC, representing individuals who were pre-emptively arrested, set out her arguments

Day 2:
Barristers representing the plaintiffs provided evidence for each Judicial Review.

Day 3:
Final evidence for the fourth Judicial Review. Response to all evidence from barrister representing the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

Day 4:
Further evidence from police barrister Sam Grodzinski. Concluding remarks from claimants’ barristers in response to police evidence.

“The hearing has encompassed everything from the absurd to the Orwellian,” said Hannah Eiseman-Renyard, one of the claimants who was arrested for zombie fancy dress. “In the past four days the court has seen the police use an article from the Sunas evidence and heard how a raid on a squat ostensibly for stolen goods saw the police take all the toothbrushes for DNA.”

“The Met argues that every breach of the peace arrest was done for our own good before we provoked an inevitable violent reaction from royalists. Personally, I wasn’t even protesting anything. I went along for the zombie flashmob and I wound up in a police cell. It would be laughable if it weren’t so scary.”

Sam Grodzinski, the police’s barrister, said less intrusive policing, such as confiscating the flyer from one claimant wasn’t an option as “handing it over would not cleanse her of those intentions”. In the case of a minor arrested pre-emptively for ‘criminal damage’ because of two marker pens in his backpack, Mr Grodzkinski said confiscating the pens was not an option as “he could have bought more.”

Judicial review for zombie flashmob arrestees

Just under a year ago I wrote a report for Lesbilicious on the alleged sexual assault of two trans people following their arrest. They were apparently detained for the crime of carrying facepaint and flyers within just over a kilometre of the Royal Wedding.

It has been announced that the pair – along with others who were arrested on the day ahead of a planned “zombie flashmob” in Soho Square – are now pursuing legal action. They are seeking to bring sexual assault charges against the officers involved, and have also been awarded a judicial review.

From the Pageantry and Precrime web page:

Private or Civil Law claims would have likely resulted in an offer of compensation money before the case ever got to a judgement, but the claimants wanted a proper investigation and a judgement at the end of it to set a precedent for future policing. The claimants want to make sure that what happened to them cannot happen again.

Those involved hope to prove that there was (as the evidence seems to indicate) an over-arching policy of pre-emptive arrest that day. It is hoped that the Judicial Review will clarify that the Met’s policing of the royal wedding was illegal and that similar actions cannot be repeated.

It is especially concerning as it is believed in some circles that the royal wedding was used as a ‘dry-run’ for the policing tactics which will be used during the olympics and the jubilee in 2012.

Is our government fundamentally opposed to political freedoms?

When the current coalition came to power, we were promised a “liberal” government by David Cameron as well as Nick Clegg. The Liberal Democrats and Tory “left” seemed to be offering an almost classical liberal approach entailing individual autonomy in the realms of public, private and economic life.

This philosophy is being used to defend the privatisation of public services, massive public sector cuts and the scrapping of regulations originally designed to protect workers and service users alike. Still, at least this is a government prepared back individual freedoms and roll back the authoritarianism* of the Labour years…right…?

If we look at the recent actions of police forces around the country – and the Metropolitan Police in particular – it appears that our current political climate is at least as authoritarian as it was under Labour. Most of the oppressive “anti-terror” legislation passed by the previous government is still in place in spite of Lib Dem promises, and the police are shamelessly using it to crack down upon political dissent.

Most recently, the Met issued a pamphlet that called upon individuals and businesses to “report” anyone who happens to subscribe to a particular political ideology.

“Any information relating to anarchists should be reported to your local police.”

The justification for this?

“Anarchism is a political philosophy which considers the state undesirable, unnecessary, and harmful, and instead promotes a stateless society, or anarchy.”

Well, yes…but that doesn’t mean that every anarchist is about to run around breaking the law nilly-willy. In fact, this is probably a good moment to come out as an anarchist sympathiser. I feel that anarchism – whilst imperfect – offers some great ideas about freedom, equality and consensual decision-making. I have good anarchist friends, who sometimes hang around with other anarchists and talk about anarchism. If I lived in London, would you report me? I’m pretty dangerous after all. I write about my political beliefs on the internet, and occasionally I turn up at street protests and wave a placard around.

Whilst we’re on the subject of street protests, it’s worth noting that this is the same police force that “pre-emptively” arrested individuals on suspicion of potential street theatre, allegedly enabled the sexual assault of two trans people and may have worked with Facebook to remove over 50 “extremist” pages (most of which belonged to anti-cuts groups, UK Uncut chapters and small socialist parties)…all on the day of the Royal Wedding.

You may also recall that the Met deliberately misled protesters involved in the peaceful occupation of Fortnum & Mason during mass demonstrations on 26 March, and appears to be working with the Crown Prosecution Service to crack down upon non-violent direct action. Meanwhile, children and adults alike were unnecessarily kettled for hours in the freezing cold during last year’s student protests.

These are, of course, the actions of one police force, and it can be politically difficult for MPs to criticise police practice. You do have to wonder why our supposedly “liberal” government appears to have nothing to say about the gradual erosion of personal freedoms however, particularly as a number of Labour MPs and and parliament’s one Green MP have been quite willing to condemn police malpractice.

My response to this situation would be that the government is primarily interested in defending personal liberty for the wealthy and powerful. This is why members of the Conservative party are pushing for the removal of the 50p tax rate at a time of supposed austerity. It’s why the government is holding a consultation on squatting that pre-supposes squatters are necessarily a “problem” even as thousands of homes lie empty in spite of growing homelessness. It’s also the reason why NewsCorp and News International executives were frequently wined and dined prior to the recent explosion of media interest in the phone-hacking case(s).

Of course, we can as always work to reclaim our freedoms. Write a letter to your MP, sign (or even better, launch) a petition, take part in demonstrations, join a group involved in non-violent direct action against state oppression; do whatever you think works for you.

And failing that, you could always report ANY information relating to anarchism to the police.

EDIT: the “anti-terror” pamphlets were apparently issued by the Met under the auspices of Project Griffin. Why not see if your friendly local force is also a participant? If so, you could always give them a call and ask for their position on anarchism.

 

*with Labour we are, of course, talking about the party that ended the freedom to protest within Westminster, enabled the “extraordinary rendition” and torture of suspected terrorists, backed police crackdowns on activism, attempted to institute a national DNA database and compulsory ID cards and firmly established the UK as the site of one-fifth of the world’s CCTV cameras…

(Guest Post) Our unjust arrests on the royal wedding day

The following was written by fanoffury, who was arrested during the royal wedding on Friday. It is cross-posted with permission from this livejournal entry.


#NOTE#

PLEASE DO NOT TAKE ANY ACTION WITHOUT FIRST CONSULTING ME.

So, regarding the conduct of the met police towards me and my trans friend on the 29th of april 2011, this is my account of the events that took place. Starting with arriving in soho.

To begin, me and my friend arrived in london a little before 10am, to attend a zombie flash mob picnic in the park to raise awareness against the cuts taking place in our country, focusing mainly on the cuts to the NHS, Education and our other public services, organised by Queer Resistance. This was an entirely peaceful protest that was really truly just a bunch of awesome peaceful people sitting around in Soho sq London having tea and dressing as zombies, shame I never got to attend.

At 10am we were in Soho sq looking for the group, seeing none of them around and a few people in bandana’s and hoodies playing up for the camera, we smelled trouble and decided to go elsewhere and try to find everyone else. I know I stick out like a sore thumb and am every coppers wet dream of an easy looking arrest on such a day as the royal wedding.

At around 10.30am we made our way out of the of the sq smelling trouble coming and not wanting any, as we walked out onto one of the a joining roads out of the area heading south we pulled our bandanas up as some paparazzi took our pictures, neither of us wanted our pictures used as part of some media stunt. As we moved further up the road we pulled our bandanas down as to not be concealing our faces, as we knew this would single us out, fat luck really because we had already been spotted by a group of 6 police officers, consisting of five male and 1 female officer who then proceeded to pull us over and use Section 60 to stop and search us.

We were perfectly compliant and didn’t kick up any kind of fuss, in fact were friendly and courteous to them, they searched through our belongings finding between us some zombie makeup, fake blood and a flyer for the zombie flash mob.

But this is not all, when searching my person the female police officer said to me “Okay, I’m going to feel under your bra now” To which I replied “That’s not a bra” At this point her hands were still on my chest “What is it then?!”  ”A binder”  ”Whats a binder?” (At this point, may I point out her hands were STILL on my chest) To this I said “I’m Transgendered”

In this time she was feeling my chest way more than she needed to, this entire conversation took place while her hands were going over and around my chest while she held the same quizzical curious expression on her face, whilst she stared at my chest. I can say I was more than uncomfortable. She then after doing this, and being told I was Transgendered continued to misgender me, as did the rest of the police present. I tried to put their numbers in my phone but they told me to put it away or it would be confiscated and then they took it anyway when they put us in the van.

May I mention at this point, that I am a fully trained security guard? So I know how to do a pat down, that was not a pat down that was a grope and a violation of my privacy, and may I add that when searching a female bodied person you are not allowed to touch their chest, at all with an exception of a running of the backs of the hands down the front, once and nothing more unless you feel something and then you have to ask them to remove it.

She then went to check my waist and lifted my t-shirt a few inches to get a look at my binder, like I wouldn’t notice/it didn’t matter as I would most likely never say anything about it.

They went to talk to their commanding officers to run our details, make sure we had nothing outstanding and then we should be free to go, right?

Wrong, the police officer came back to inform us that we would be being taken to the police station, because if he let us go we would “Disrupt Will and Kate’s big day” and that they needed to get us off the streets, that we would be arrested and charged with a breach of the peace.

“For what?! Possession of a leaflet?!” Me and my friend exclaimed. Their only reply being we can’t take any chances and that the decision had been made and that there was no arguing with them, the officer who told us this did so very aggressively and with a lot of anger considering we had done nothing that was against any law.

May I add that I’m pretty sure he was the same officer talking to the protesters in the sq, see video = “Royalists would be offended: You’ll be arrested” Cannot be 100% sure until I have has a chance to ask my friend if it was the same man, I will get back to you all on that.

Chances of what, us dressing up as zombies, over a kilometer away from the wedding ceremony? Really, is this what this country has come to?

I am entirely convinced that the reason we got arrested was because of the fact that we were both trans and both punks, they weren’t stopping other people for more than a minute or so, one of which who they didn’t even stop, was a man who looked far more suspicious then us, how come we were stopped and he was allowed to walk on by?

We were then left standing on the pavement waiting for arresting officers to come and take us in the van to the police station for well over 20mins, them then getting bored with watching us, stuck us in the back of the police van, where they left us for a further half hour or so before someone came to collect us to take us to arrest us, I said jokingly “Whats the hold up, I can’t wait to sample the famous police hospitality! I truly can not wait to get to my lovely comfortable cell!!”

During all of this I was not once called a male pronoun even though I had told them my gender status, and among the misgendering one of the officers kept calling my friend a “Lad”.

Eventually we went off to the police station, merrily singing “I fought the law and the law won”

When we arrived at the police station we were processed like anyone else I assume, I have never been arrested before, although our arresting officers did not read us our rights.

The “Evidence” Which consisted of a leaflet and a bottle of fake blood was confiscated, they were both put under my name even though one item had been found on each of us, I didn’t see the point in mentioning it to them, after all it’s not my job to do theirs.

I was patted down, luckily this woman did not take any interest in my binder, or even go near my chest for that matter, now as I am not sure if it was the same officer or not as we were now separated, but the female officer who searched my friend cupped her crotch, not just once but three times, as she told me later that day.

I’m pretty sure it was the same officer but I can’t be 100% sure. My crotch remained completely untouched, which seems odd to me considering if there was a possibility of either of us concealing something it would have been me as I was packing and had very baggy trousers on, she on the other hand was wearing tight trousers with a rip up the leg, it would have been incredibly easy to see if she has anything concealed, so I can only assume it was to “Make sure” I will not be saying her identity as she wishes to remain unnamed.

We were then told we were going to be held until the royal wedding was over, so that we couldn’t “Cause trouble” Even though the officers before had told us we were going to be arrested and charged with a breach of the peace, which I can only assume was an in an attempt to intimidate us.

After this our photos were taken, and we were placed in cells, my cell stank of urine and was rather revolting. Whilst in my cell I had to use the toilet which is clearly visible through the camera which made me very uncomfortable as it was, what made it worse was a male police officer looking in at me as I was using said toilet…

After a good 2 1/2, 3 hours of staring at the crime stoppers number on the ceiling, I was getting incredibly frustrated and I knocked on the door to ask them when I and my friend could leave, and he came back to tell me the royal wedding was over and that we would be able to leave… Yea thanks for telling us!

Some people may wonder why I did not disclose the information about the police officers conduct towards me yesterday in the interview with Ruth Pearce, the writer of Lesbilicious when I spoke with her yesterday.

It was quite simply because I wanted to think carefully as it would be putting myself out there as trans, this was something I had to think through. This and the fact that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to take action for the trans stuff aswel as the false arrest. I am not yet sure what my action should be as I am currently seeking advice from various organisations and people, I will be updating here what happens with this.

I’d also like to extend my solidarity to all who were there and all who got arrested.

And thank you to Ruth Pearce and everyone else who has been so helpful and understanding, you people are amazing :)

Feel free to contact me regarding anything to do with my arrest and the protest.

Logan.

Royal wedding accompanied by political crackdown, arrests and transphobia

I wasn’t really bothered by the royal wedding one way or another until this afternoon. I’m not exactly a royalist, but I feel there’s some value in having a non-elected, ceremonial head of state, at least within our current political system. I was unimpressed that such an extravagant event was occurring at a time of recession and cuts, but didn’t feel that protesting against the event was particularly value.

I have, however, watched the crackdown on dissent unfold today with increasing dismay and disgust.

Firstly, police undertook “pre-emptive” arrests across the country. Then suspected protesters were arrested during the ceremony in a pretty questionable manner.

Then a number of Facebook groups started to disappear. Numerous anti-cuts, socialist and student occupation groups were removed without warning during the day. Rather bizarrely, the Rochdale Law Centre was also targeted. No-one seems to know exactly what sparked this, but it’s pretty darn coincidental that it happened on the day of the royal wedding.

Then it emerged this afternoon that members of Queer Resistance and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence had been prevented from holding a “zombie flashmob” in Soho Square, a full kilometre from the nearest point on the wedding procession route. Both Lesbilicious and the Guardian report upon zombie arrests.

At least two of those arrested were trans. I happen to know both of the individuals mentioned in the Lesbilicious article: from what they’ve told me, the situation wasn’t as bad as it could have been but their treatment was pretty damn inappropriate (and arguably in violation of the law).

Why is it that the police need to establish a trans person’s genital status before assigning an officer to perform a search? Whatever happened to the training that Met officers supposedly receive on sensitivity and suchforth, which should ensure that they accept the preferred pronouns declared by those they’re arresting?

Trans-friendly legislation and the hard work of police liasons have got us so far, but the contemptuous attitude of numerous police forces towards protesters is only going to result in more of this. As long as children are being kettled for hours in the freezing cold and peaceful protesters are arrested after being told they’re free to go, trans people are always going to be particularly at risk of mistreatment.

Someone please put George Osbourne on Jobseeker’s Allowance

I’m upset, I’m angry, and I’m pretty certain I have nothing to say that you can’t also find in a bunch of other left-wing blogs, forums, twitter and facebook feeds.  Moreover, we’re mere months into a Tory-dominated government so I know there’s plenty more to come.  Still, this is my place to vent, so vent I shall.

George Osborne is to cut a further £4bn from the benefits bill for the jobless, in a hard-talking clampdown on those whose “lifestyle choice” is to “just sit on out-of-work benefits”.

Honestly, the logic here is utterly astounding.  The Conservatives have this brilliant plan:

1) Cut lots of jobs.

2) Punish jobless people and portray them as lazy bums.

Said plan assumes that either there are plenty of jobs still out there or that it’s a doddle to survive on benefits, and cutting them will just deprive the jobless of the odd bit of mindless entertainment that they don’t need anyway.

Get real, George.

The reason why benefits apparently need cutting is that we’re in a recession.  One of the significant side-effects of said recession is increased unemployment, which happens to arise from a decrease in the number of jobs as businesses cut back…and that’s before the government pretty much destroys the public sector.  I thought all of this was pretty obvious.  Hence, less jobs to go around, and more people on benefits.  What the hell else are people meant to do, starve?  Rely on charity?  Maybe beg on the streets.  I’m pretty sure the government wouldn’t be too keen on that either.

In the last year or so alone, the job pages (I say “pages”: these days it’s usually less than a page) in my local paper have shrunk by over two thirds.  Meanwhile, a significant number of the adverts are scams (write on envelopes from your own home!) or hardly offer enough to live on (earn some extra money by delivering papers!)  I live in an area which apparently still has a relatively high number of jobs, at least compared to other parts of the country; that fact disturbs me a great deal.

I know people who have several part-time jobs in order to afford to live.  I know people who have never had a job, and now probably never will…it’s far from impossible to pick something up on the minimum wage, but experience is everything right now.  If someone drops behind due to personal circumstance or whatever, they’re likely to be screwed.  I know people with degrees – with first-class degrees – who consider themselves lucky to get a minimum wage job.  I know people with first-class degrees who can’t even manage that – they’re either “overqualified” (because they have a good degree) or “underqualified” (because no-one will give them a job). It’s benefits or nothing.

Anyone who thinks the benefits system is a doddle probably hasn’t been on benefits.  Either that, or they’re bloody lucky.  The bureaucracy is arcane and complex: even if you’ve got your head around the system, there’s no guarantee that the Job Centre (or any other benefits agency) won’t screw up and leave you without any money for a few days.  Or weeks.  Or months.  I missed out on several months of post-operative incapacity benefit because I was too freakin’ incapacitated to claim it for for the first few weeks, and then spent the following few weeks making the mistake of trying to sort out a back-claim, rather than instead sorting out a claim from that point.  I was lucky: I had money to fall back on.

Then, of course, if you need jobseekers or incapacity or whatever they’ve replaced that with now, you probably also need somewhere to live.  Hence you probably need to apply for housing benefit, which you need to apply for separately.  Same goes for Council Tax benefit.  Sometimes it’s possible to spend weeks chasing all of this up whilst the debt mounts if they manage to miss some of your details or forget a payment.

As for Jobseeker’s allowance itself: fifty quid is probably enough to get by on, if you’re damn good at budgeting.  Oh, and if your housing benefit has come through, and it covers the rent for somewhere that isn’t full of damp and falling apart.  You’d also better hope you don’t need particular medication as well.  That’s more forms to fill in…if you’re able to get it for free at all.  It’s going to be worse for people who need private treatment (trans people in places like Oxfordshire or Wales, for example), or people with mental health issues such as anxiety problems.  The system is utterly blind to the individual.

Sure, some people might be able to budget, or save up to get Sky or something.  That certainly doesn’t go for everyone, however.  Moreover, does the government think we all have to be mindless automata who dedicate all of our time to jobhunting until we manage to find something?  People need time to recharge their batteries, have a rest…and that’s particularly the case if you’re overjoyed to get a rejection letter/call/email, on the grounds that the organisation you applied for a job with actually recognised your existence.

Moreover, if you’re on Jobseeker’s, many Job Centres have this brilliant idea that voluntary work is Bad.  Their logic is that you could be applying for work when you’re dossing around helping people for free.  This ignores the fact that it’s perfectly possible to balance the two activities.  It further fails to take into account that volunteering is a great way to bolster your CV in-between jobs whilst actually giving something to the community.  If the Conservatives wanted to take this Big Society nonsense seriously, they’d be talking about this problem.

Finally, there’s the issue of it feels to be on benefits.  The attitude of the government and the media implies that you’re meant to feel shame for being such an utter failure and a drain on society.  Yeah, right.  Last time I checked, it was bankers, not poor people, who were responsible for the recession in the first place.

Once again, I’m lucky.  I’m at university right now, and hope to continue my education for some time yet.  I can afford this.  I’m not out of touch with reality though, as George Osbourne and others within the government seem to be.  Being on benefits is not a “lifestyle choice” – for many, it’s a soul-destroying ordeal.

Know Your Enemy

Last year, Ian Tomlinson was violently attacked by a policeman after quietly walking past a political protest which he wasn’t any part of. He died shortly afterwards, and (contrary to statements made by the police to the media) was not helped by officers upon collapse, although he received support from protesters. The Guardian notes that:

“Tomlinson died at the G20 demonstrations after being bitten by a police dog, hit with a baton and then pushed so strongly in the back by a police officer that he fell heavily to the floor.”

Video evidence exists to prove all of this. However, it’s taken around a year for the Crown Prosecution Service to decide that they will charge the police officer concerned with…nothing.

To say this news is deeply disturbing is an understatement. I don’t see a great amount of surprise amongst all the rage, however. The position of many is that it’s obvious that those in authority look after their own.

I really can’t say anything about the death of Ian Tomlinson that hasn’t already been said. The internet is full of anger, and messages of solidarity with his family. I, like any other human being with a sense of decency, feel that his death was utterly unnecessary and the whitewash that has followed is completely unjustifiable. I feel for those who were close to Ian, and wish them all the best in their difficult fight for justice.

——

Last week, an American friend of mine was pulled over by the police, who suspected her of Driving Whilst Trans. Despite being asked some threatening questions about the fact that she apparently didn’t look right, she managed to make it home safely, if shaken.

Her experience wasn’t unique. Trans people worldwide – like individuals from other minority groups – are often at risk of harassment from figures of authority, particularly if they’re perceived as looking different. The most tenuous evidence may be used to accuse (or even convict) trans people of crimes: for instance, if someone who they decide is a “man” dresses like a “woman”, then maybe they are attempting to solicit prostitution (this accusation was levelled at my friend). Woe betide the victim should they happen to have a condom on their person

Obviously these incidences vary from country to country, from region to region  (and in the USA, from state to state). There are places with laws that offer trans people particular protections, and with police forces who actively engage with minority groups. In my own area, the police force has an outreach programme to the trans community, and is attempting to record transphobic hate crime and incidences (as separate from homophobic hate crime and incidences). There are a lot of good people working within this force, and as an institution they’re heading in the right direction.

However, it only takes just one police officer to screw up for the system to be shown up as utterly rotten. I have friends with Indian ancestry who were regularly harassed by police in my supposedly liberal, prosperous hometown, and they knew they could do nothing about it. I know people who have been beaten with truncheons at peaceful rallies, and they’re perfectly aware that they’ll never get an admission out of the police, let alone an apology or (God forbid) charges being levelled against those responsible. In the face of police harassment or violence, we are usually utterly powerless.

Within most states, the police represent legitimised violence. If we’re going to have state violence, then it should at least be regulated and directed in such a manner that it is always focused upon protecting the individuals who happen to live within a state, rather than the apparatus of the state itself. This shouldn’t be a wildly idealistic idea: it should be the philosophy behind the organisation of police forces.

The police claim they’re on our side, and progressive police forces make a special effort to ensure that minority groups in particular know this. As long as innocent people can be killed without consequence though, we are all at risk of police harassment and police brutality, and those who look different are always going to be more at risk.