WHOLE COMMUNITIES are being criminalised—in the name of reducing crime.
New Labour is handing out Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) like confetti.
ASBOs are effectively banning orders. They can be served on people (usually young people) to restrict them from going to a certain place, associating with particular people, or even dressing in a certain way.
There are already laws against the behaviour most of us describe as “anti-social”—smashing up bus shelters, for example.
ASBOs are something else. They are a restriction on someone’s freedom even where there is no proof they have committed a crime.
An ASBO is not a criminal charge. But breaking the terms of an order is a criminal offence that can lead to five years in jail.
The kind of restrictions being placed on people are incredible. One man who was born and brought up in Brent, and still living there, was banned FOR LIFE from setting foot in the borough.
Others, in their teens, have more local banning orders, but they last for up to 25 years. In one case a group of young people were banned from having any contact with one another, and barred from a part of the borough.
It meant they could not attend the local youth club either together or individually. There was a course on one evening a week designed for young people who had got into trouble. It was perfectly suited to these teenagers.
When they appealed for the ban to be changed so they could attend the course, they were told to go back through the courts—a process that would not even have begun by the time the course had finished.
No one is pretending there aren’t real instances of “anti-social behaviour” in Blair’s Britain. But the evidence is mounting up that ASBOs are not only not a solution, they are becoming part of the problem.
A batch of orders was issued after housing department officials had spent a year collecting evidence on a group of young people. Most of what they were accused of was the kind of stuff we all did as teenagers. So why were 12 months spent spying on them rather than sorting the problem out?
The council then published the lads’ pictures in the local press, handed out leaflets with their faces on and sent the images round the council’s computer system.
The leaflets called on people to look out for these young men and ring up if they were seen together.
A group of men from outside the area then descended on the estate armed with baseball bats threatening to “sort out the troublemakers”.
That’s more than “anti-social”. It’s threatening serious violence. But no action was taken against that gang.
When the police arrived on one estate over an incident entirely unrelated to the young people who had been ASBOed, they ended up handcuffing an eight-year old to the railings.
That kind of outrage is the result of a whole community being labelled as anti-social or, to put it bluntly, as scum.
There are many, many other examples.
One young man was stopped by the police 35 times in three months. No charges were brought, but he was served with an order.
Young people are simply being treated as criminals for hanging around together or dressing in a certain way.
And behind it all is a desperate rundown in services and opportunities.
There used to be 39 youth centres in Brent. Now there are three. And there are fewer youth workers.
It’s not as simple as just the lack of youth facilities—though people realise there is nothing for young people to do.
It’s about the whole government approach. They talk of community values but rip communities apart.
One set of figures tells you everything about New Labour’s approach. The budget to improve youth services across London is £11 million. The budget for implementing the anti-social behaviour clampdown is £65 million.
The government pays lip service to the problems people face, and then tries to blame social problems on a minority of “bad people”.
But a backlash against New Labour’s repressive measures is developing. A group of us are trying to initiate an open letter and a campaign highlighting the ASBOs scandal.
If you want to be part of that, then get in touch. And let Socialist Worker know what’s happening in your area.
Let’s stand up for working class communities and refuse to be silent over this.
Beccy Palmer can be e-mailed at email@example.com
Socialist Worker will be running further articles on this issue. If you have a story e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org