Anatomy of a Casual Street-Murder (1991)

Submitted by dalcassian on 7 August, 2014 - 1:01 Author: Sean Matgamna

1. Murder in the Blue Jungle

Even as capitalism destroys the beneficent green jungles of the
earth, it creates a great spreading blue jungle all its own in its
cities across the globe. Dog eat dog; man eat man; plunder and exploitation according to the laws of the market and the rites and rights of property: and illegal plunder and robbery outside the indulgent laws of legal exploitation. The blue jungle.

Two weeks ago, at one o'clock on a Monday morning, I found an
elderly man semi-conscious on the pavement across the road from
where I live in South London just after he had been robbed and,
it soon became clear, murdered.

Guiseppl Mellito was an Italian, a waiter, and 62 years old. The
last I saw of him he was walking, with help, weakly, to an
ambulance. He seemed badly shaken and shocked, seriously hurt, but
"alright". In fact, and with hindsight it should hive been obvious,
he was badly brain damaged and bleeding internally, as well as on the
outside of his face and head.

He soon fell Into a coma and, after an operation, spent three days
unconscious on a life support machine and then died.

If he had not died he would have been greatly diminished by
massive and irreversible brain damage. In effect, he died,
his life was over, when he was hit on the head, and his head
smashing on to the pavement.

It was about 1 am. I was making bedtime drinks at one end of the narrow
corridor of a kitchen; Elizabeth was at the other end, near the window.
She speculates that the noise which attracted her attention was his
head hitting the pavement.

Peering out of the window across the dark — wide— road, she saw
two young men behind the wall of cars parked along the footpath
across the road. One of them looked up at her and they hurried off
down the hill, towards New Cross.

It was difficult to see in the dark and the pavement was hidden behind
the almost continual line of cars, but she thought she saw something
moving on the pavement. She called me to the window. We saw
through a gap between two cars a hand waving feebly from the
pavement, like someone drowning, going down.

I grabbed my coat and ran across the road to him.

At first I thought he might just be drunk. Head inclined down the hill,
one knee raised crookedly, hand raised up and waving, his eyes were
wide open, very big, unblinking. Unseeing, I think. A dark, tarry halo ,
framed his head on the pavement: blood in that light; it was a thick
red slick in the light of day next morning.

I went back half way across the road and shouted up to Elizabeth at
the window to ring for an ambulance. She did and came down. I put
my coat under his head.

After a while he began to move more energetically, returning to awareness. Then he began to try to raise himself, very feebly, but with a great will for it. He kept at it, and would not be still, so I helped him to his feet, and supported him the few feel to a garden wall, where he sat, palms of hands on knees. He was very "inward", self- contained, withdrawn.

He looked younger than the age I later learned was his. His head
was matted with much blood, and blood streamed in rivulets down
his face from his scalp. I think his face was cut, too.

I asked him If he had been attacked or fallen accidentally.
He seemed unable to comprehend. He asked: "what happened?" – a man seemingly waking up. He would repeat the question at intervals.

He was collecting himself, but very bewildered. Noticing his
accent, I asked if he were Italian and he responded instantly
with a nod and a "yes". That he could understand.

Elizabeth found his travel pass near the blood, and he recognised
it and put it in his pocket. The will to pull himself together was very
strong. Now he started to try to stand. "I want to go home". The voice was weak, undirected. He would say this, or "help me to go
home" at intervals, and try to get up.

I restrained him gently, but he seemed unable to take in the
information that an ambulance was coming.Or unable to reconcile
himself to just waiting. He was very weak, easy to restrain.

He was shivering, so I put my blood-smeared coat around him
and we held him round the shoulders to reassure him.

The police arrived after 15 minutes, the ambulance, which had
to come a long way, five minutes later.

The ambulancemen immediately started to talk to him, jocularly,
to get an idea of his condition, shining lights into his eyes. The
police did not seem to think it was serious, and he did seem
to be recovering, walking with help to the ambulance.

But I was not so sure. He seemed to be somehow "gone", deeply wounded. I've been knocked unconscious and know the after-shock feeling, when your head feels as if it is inside a bell, and words spoken or heard are physical things, blows; but this seemed more. Later I identified what it reminded me of: a person I nursed who was completely delirious at the end, except for odd flashes of intelligence - "gone" too..

He became unconscious, I don't know how long afterwards, and
that was the end for him. The police came knocking at the door at 8
the next morning, now taking it very seriously. They have mounted a murder hunt, appealing for help. Their chances of catching them can't, I guess, be very big. I hope I'm wrong.

It seems to have been an "opportunist" mugging. Young men, spurred by
greed or deprivation, or both, living In a world where greed and self-centredness are extolled as the great virtues, and ostentatiously rewarded, casually stamped out an old man on the street where he happened to meet them, for the money they hoped he had in his pockets.

The police think the killers may not even know he is dead.

Robberies and murders will most likely continue to be a part of
human life even under socialism, and for the imaginable future.

People are responsible for what they do. Whatever about
capitalism and Thatcherism, it was human beings,
all of them capable of empathy and suffering, and thinking,
who met on that South London street. When the blows that
destroyed one of them landed they were dealt not by
capitalism, but by individual people morally responsible
for their deeds.

I hope they catch the little savages. I feel with people
who would do serious violence to those who attack or harm children
and old people, but I am not, either by temperament or conviction,
for cold revenge by "society". I am surprised by how much I want
the police to catch them.

But when that is said, something else has to be said too: social
responsibility for the big increase in robberies and crimes of
violence over recent years does lie with capitalism! It is a direct
product of Thatcherite politics over the last 12 years.

Thatcher and her friends deliberately set out to create a markedly
more brutal red-in-tooth-and-claw form of British capitalist society.
Their main success lies in the destruction of much that reformists
had won from old capitalism, and the degradation of millions of
people, trapped in homelessness, unemployment, ghettos and
slums.

Reform socialists, who thought they had cleared the Jungle out of capitalism find that it has crept back in and engulfed much of the space they cleared. The serious socialists, by contrast, have always known that you cannot compromise with the capitalist jungle: either you destroy it completely, or else it comes back and devours you and your work.

In this social climate of big, conspicuous consumption and small
public morality, why shouldn't vigorous young people, shut out to one degree or another from what the world around them tells them are the good and important things in life, and often deprived of basic needs, strong-arm their way to a little bit of instant prosperity? In or out of work, nobody cares much for them: their "place" is that of the victims of exploitation, of outcasts
and semi-outcasts: why should they care who suffers so that they
can prosper a little?

Why should they try to be human beings In a debauchedly inhumane
society? A society that defines human beings as predators and is organised by and for the big successful legal predators.

The savages at the top of society have bred a vast increase of savagery below.
Socialist Organiser, July 1992

2. The trial: at the entrance to the netherworld

A few weeks ago I gave evidence at the Old Bailey during the trial
of two youths charged with murder.

At l am on a Monday morning last June, I found an old man, Giuseppe Mellito, semiconscious on the pavement across the road from where I
live in South London, (as I reported in this column soon after).

His head lay in a pool of blood, one knee doubled upright, the foot drawn in under him, his right arm waving feebly, as he struggled back to a final brief state of consciousness and, with my help, rose to his feet and sat on a low wall.

Wounded, shocked and confused, he repeated in a weak voice: "What happened? What happened?"

What had happened was that he was attacked by a group of youths
who met him by chance and robbed him of about £100. They smashed
his head with one blow from a club, took his wallet, and ran off,
leaving him bleeding and unconscious by the roadside, as they might
in a different mood have shattered a street side lamp with a stone
and ran off leaving the broken pieces where they fell.

Struggling back to consciousness, Mr Mellito displayed a great will to pull himself together, and walked, with help, to the ambulance. But the will to live was not enough. Soon afterwards he fell into a coma brought on by internal bleeding, from which he never awoke. He died two days later. He was Italian, an unemployed waiter, 62 years old.

When I saw that old man, with the rivulets of blood which had worked through his hair running down his face, rising up out of the bloody mess on the pavement, struggling to regain control of his faculties, walking slowly to the ambulance as if balancing a great weight, I felt that ] could myself have smashed the heads of the savages who attacked him. I felt that way for a long time afterwards.

And now, there they were in the dock, a few feet from the witness stand in which I stood, two clean-faced and sensible-looking boys, one 17 and the other 16, children essentially, sitting still and impassive in sharp formal suits as the shape of their future lives was being determined by officials dressed in strange, archaic clothes and wigs.

They had been on bail for a year, and now, docile and subdued, turned up to submit to the court.

I no longer felt like doing them over. I was not sure what I felt.

They had been willing to plead guilty to manslaughter, that is, to
killing as an unintended and accidental byproduct of the robbery,
which they admitted. The Crown prosecutor insisted that it was
murder.

I had not seen the killers even from a distance, so my own evidence
had to do with finding Mr Mellito, the state he was in and his position
on the pavement. I did not have to ask myself if I should help convict boys who might in some way have been victims of a police frame-up.

The doctor who took the dead man's skull and brain apart insisted
that the damage could only have been done with a powerful and
deliberate blow from a club or a stone.

They used photos to illustrate the evidence. In one of the photos
taken the morning after the attack, the pavement where Giuseppe
had lain is covered with red dog-paw marks all around the thick
slick of blood at the centre of the picture.

The argument in court was between, on one side, very feeble
defence attempts to argue that Giuseppe Mellito might have broken
his skull by accidentally hitting the fender of a car at the
footpath's edge as he fell, and on the other gruesome medical
evidence of the nature and effects of the blow which killed
him.

After a trial lasting three days, the jury brought in a guilty verdict.
The 17 year old boy who struck the blow was sentenced to be
detained at "Her Majesty's Pleasure" and the 16 year old to four
years detention. I was not in court to see what that did to their composure.

Last June it had seemed to me unlikely that the attackers
would ever be caught. There were no witnesses who could
identify them. They were caught because one of the gang, in
circumstances I do not know, told on the others and gave
evidence against them.

An edgy, glum boy of maybe 19, with a little clipped mustache,
he seemed a lot more disturbed and unhappy, as he hung around
waiting to have his say, than did the two composed, or hard faced,
boys in the dock.

Given the way the British police operate — for instance, as exposed recently
in the Birmingham Six case — was I right to "help the police" and
give evidence, even of the sort I gave? I think I was.

We are not anarchists. The state is necessary. It is right, other things being equal, that highway robbers and murderers should be suppressed, even by courts and police whose prime activity is to preserve bourgeois property.

The fate of the two young murderers, condemned to the hellish conditions of British prison life, is a separate question.

All my urges towards vengeance or retaliation were gone, or paralysed, at the sight of those youngsters in the dock. The older of them would not long ago have been on trial for his life, facing the hangman with his State-licensed killing-rope, and now there he was facing an eternity of painful days in a dehumanising, brutalising prison system.

The trial was a quaint pantomime, from the splendid scarlet-robed and wigged-up judge, looking like a cartoon but intelligent and businesslike, to the more tackily-costumed penny-plain black and white barristers.

It was all quite unreal and far removed from Giuseppe Mellito's bloody head and the unseen blood seeping out inside his head, killing him; all removed, too, from the hellish netherworld to which it was the entrance for those two boys.

The urge to hit out and retaliate is a natural one. But no-one, and certainly no youngster, should be consigned to the medieval archipelago of Britain's prison network — to a torture and degradation from which he can not possibly emerge a better or a more civilised human being, better fitted to live with his fellows.
Socialist Organiser June 1992