Thursday, 12 May 2005

ASBOs and the criminalisation of the socially excluded

According to Anita Roddick of the Body Shop, hoodies are a "symbol of aggression"; she did say it was "just like the Ku Klux Klan", but you can only hope she meant, at most, inasmuch as "they're the uniform". If she did, though, what group would they be a uniform for? What ideology would they be a representation of? Evidently, "aggression".

I saw her say that on a programme on Channel 5, after seeing another programme on Channel 4 that noted that when a couple of children, whose friends had been given anti-social behaviour orders (ASBOs) in Yarnfield, Staffordshire, built a dam in the stream, local residents complained and the council actually sent out workers to destroy the dam, which was a "complete waste" of their time and our money, especially given it was pastime the workers themselves (and, realistically, the complainants) had indulged in when they were younger and given it was "four inches high" in the first place.

Five years after their introduction in 1999, there had been nearly two-and-a-half-thousand ASBOs issued. Anti-social behaviour orders are "civil orders", which means they need a lower level of proof than criminal orders - so people can be convicted without evidence "beyond reasonable doubt" - but, if they break the orders, they can be put in prison for up to five years; ASBOs effectively put people on probation without them having been convicted of a criminal offence.

They're frequently achieved by some locals staking out others, monitoring them and secretly recording them (the subjects being, overwhelmingly, kids). I'd say the violation of the kids' rights to privacy far outweighs their monitors' desire for a quiet life - especially when most of them are only drinking underage and, as one fifteen-year-old in the Channel 4 programme observed, when there wouldn't be many of the few incidents there have been if the money spent on the probably illegal surveillance had been spent on parks, etc. for the kids to play in.

In my home town, a young man on an ASBO was jailed for over two months for breaching it - by "walking through Bishop's Stortford town centre". Three teenagers, not even on ASBOs but found in a "problem area" - the Thorley Centre - had a case against them thrown out as there was "no case to answer"; reassuringly, the police insisted that the "very disappointing result" that saw the innocent children walk free would "not deter" them. They will "continue to enforce the two dispersal orders in Bishop's Stortford - in Thorley and Parsonage Lane - as the evidence clearly shows that they have already had a significant impact in reducing disorderly and anti-social behaviour", as much legislation criminalising children's leisure has been seen to.

When I went back one holiday and went out for a curry (which was the law), I walked the quickest route into town - through the council estate; as I did, the police stopped me. All they knew of me when they stopped me was that I was wearing trainers, cords and a hoody; still, they questioned me.
They asked, "Where were you last night?"
I answered, "At home".
"You stayed in...?"
"... Yes."
"... and where were you at about three o'clock this morning?"
"In bed."
"Yes, why?"
"There was some trouble; someone matching your description was involved."
"It wasn't me; I was at home in bed."
"You were in bed at three o'clock this morning?"
"... and what were you doing?"
"-and can anyone confirm that?"
"So you were sleeping alone?"
"Yes, I'm afraid so."
"... So where do you live?"
"52 Wentworth Drive."
"-and I suppose you can prove that, can you?"
"Actually, yes [taking out my wallet] - here's my driving licence."
"All right [getting back into the car and driving away]."
Not only did the police assume that I was from the council estate, because I was wearing cords and a hoody, but they also assumed that I was guilty, because I was wearing cords and a hoody (and was from the council estate). I wasn't either from the council estate or guilty of any crime, let alone the one they implied I was; but, what I can say is, I never had any trouble from anyone on the council estate. I'm sure that there is trouble, I'm not denying that; still, the most trouble I ever had was from other kids on my estate or other ones like it - middle class kids who wanted to be thugs.

According to locals, Bishop's Stortford is now becoming a "chav town" - "all [the chavs] seem to hang out down the multiplex", while the "chav males do laps of the 1-way system in their wank cars"; having lived there from 1983, when I was one to 2000, when I was eighteen and having spent time there since then, I'd say Stortford's been like that as long as I've known, but, it isn't "the chavs" who are to blame.

Now, I dislike chav fashion (labels and flashy jewellery) and chav music (garage for boys, r'n'b for girls), but I don't dislike chavs just because they wear labels and listen to garage. I dislike those who are wilfully ignorant and aggressive, but then I dislike those denims (Guns 'n' Roses), those leathers (Motorhead) and those goths (Cradle of Filth) who are wilfully ignorant and aggressive and although they are minorities in Stortford, they've got the same proportion of fuckwits in them; I don't mind the terms being used in a derisive way for those who try to live up to the stereotypes, but I do otherwise.

As I was growing up, I remember most of the kids in Stortford being "chavs" or "bazzas", insofar as they were obsessed with wearing labels (though the males didn't wear jewellery 'til they were older, because it was "gay") and listening to garage - and, when they were old enough, barrying around in their labels and jewellery with their garage and r'n'b on really loud in cars; people were only given a name and called "barries" by other chavs or barries because they were seen to be trying too hard.

As much as I hate to admit it, I even adopted barry ways, wearing Ellesse or Kickers and Ben Sherman-style shirts - even an undercut, though I couldn't quite bear to fake liking garage, but I wasn't a thug, just because I did and the others are not thugs, just because they do. This is all just snobbish scapegoating - creating a climate of hate that allows some of the last mass acts of very thinly disguised discrimination - against council estate residents and Gypsies - to continue.

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