During the riots many who would normally describe themselves as liberals or moderate socialists repeatedly Tweeted and updated Facebook with their own calls for the use of “any means necessary” to restore social order.
If taken at their word, this would have meant the use of the full force of the state — police, police armoury, to disperse what people who were in many instances little more than children.
Now things have now calmed down and the armchair generals have stopped panicking, the post-riot response of the establishment meets all their expectations — vindictive, hading out disproportionate punishments and resting on an increasingly opaque “independent judiciary”.
While the riots undoubtedly had a negative impact on the lives of those living in the affected areas, the draconian response of the authorities thus far has been based on a desire to send out a clear message to anyone thinking of coming out onto the streets — including those planning to do so in opposition to the ConDem government — to stay at home.
According to the Guardian, the typical sentence for theft or handling stolen goods in the riots is 13.6 months, compared with 11.6 months for the same offences last year. That is an 18% longer sentence for rioters than typical crown court convictions. Most worrying is the huge numbers of children that are being criminalised in the process. August’s looting and rioting contributed to an 8% increase in the juvenile prison population in England and Wales.
As the Guardian points out: “The statistics on minors, who comprise 20% of all those convicted of riot offences, undermine claims from justice minister Kenneth Clarke that the riots were caused by a hard-core criminal underclass”.
In an example of the increasing disproportionality in sentencing, two men were jailed for four years simply for posting Facebook messages inciting rioting.
Twenty year-old Jordan Blackshaw set up a Facebook group called “Smash Down Northwich Town”, while 22-year-old Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan created a page titled “Let’s have a riot in Latchford§”.
Both men named a time and place to meet, but police closed the Facebook pages before any riots were formed. Despite the fact that no disorder occurred, the two have been found guilty of inciting people to create disorder and handed four-year prison sentences.
Compared to, for example, the leniency with which courts treated MPs caught fiddling their expenses, the draconian sentences handed down on the back of the riots brings into focus something socialists have always argued — that the judicial system is an institution designed to maintain the status quo.
The labour movement urgently needs a campaign against the new reaction to stop and reverse the powers the police and other branches of the criminal justice system are now building up.
In particular we need to call for an end to the jailing of children.