Thursday, 18 August 2011

The illogical nature of riot/looting sentencing

In the Independent David Thomas QC says:

the sentences are not surprising because "an offender who takes part in a large-scale public disturbance cannot expect to be sentenced as if his actions had been committed in isolation".


It's human nature that where there are groups of people doing something, especially people you have empathy with, that you will feel an urge to follow and do the same. Some people will control this urge and maintain perspective, others may not.

How is it that someone who is a normally upstanding member of society, but falters in an intrinsically human way when a very specific set of circumstances appear, is deserving of greater punishment than someone who rationally decides to do the same thing.

We've had people jailed for upwards of 2 years for crimes that would possibly only get a community sentence in "normal" circumstances.

Tell me, who is a greater threat to society, someone who does a smash and grab on a store in normal conditions, completely unaided by the psychological affirmation of peers doing the same, in an environment that requires the store to be broken in to, with every possibility of police being ready and able to respond and catch you...or someone that has seen dozens of others do the same and seemingly get away with it, while the police are clearly busy, and only takes this opportunity because it's presented itself?

It makes no sense to me to describe these people are not acting "independently", as if everyone in the riots and looting were connected as if psychic, organising each other and only committing crimes after getting group approval.

I would much rather the type of person that looks for *any* opportunity to steal is punished more harshly than the one that doesn't look for an opportunity at all, but takes it when it occurs...yet it seems the mantra from our legal system is quite the opposite. It doesn't make logical sense to me.

Some people getting jailed will be getting what the deserve, fairly and in proportion to what they would normally get if they had committed the same acts outside of the riots. Many more are being unfairly dealt with because of a circumstance that should not have any bearing on sentencing, other people's actions and an issue of perception by the public.

Jailed for two years, Anthony Winder was told he had "thrown so much away" by stealing an ornament from a jewelers store, a sentence he would likely not have received if it had happened a few months earlier. I suggest that it is entirely the judge that has thrown this individual away. Given the opportunity to provide this man with suitable punishment, balancing the benefit of remaining at home with his kids with helping to restore the community he helped tarnish...the judge instead has decided that two children will be better off with the psychological distress that putting a father in prison can incur, and all for a trinket.

Yet despite all Cameron's blustering about fatherless families being the root of all evil, I doubt you'll hear him denounce this action that rips a family apart, for no greater benefit to anyone than to fulfill a judge's role in this obscene spectacle of public revenge over fair and balanced justice.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Why we get frustrated at "Disrupt messaging services" mantra

It's hard to put this down into words properly, as no matter how I try to phrase it the whole notion of how we approach problems in our society just seems childishly silly. But taking away some messaging services when people are using them to communicate about potentially illegal matters seems so much like using a RPG to scare the cat off your lawn.

Disrupting innocent people's services at the same time, rather than deal with the issue know..people wanting to commit criminal acts the government would rather look in to ways of simply stopping them from talking to each other.

Ignoring all of the ever-present digital knowhow that means blocking a single service, or even a range of services, won't stop people from circumnavigating such's a very lazy way of trying to solve a problem of crime.

I mean, I understand it...this Tory led government, like Labour before them, don't want to spend the time and money necessary to deal with the issues that cause people to use social networks to organise themselves in to criminal action...they'd rather just forget the people exist and try a cheap, brute force, don't care how many other innocent people are inconvenienced because it's for the greater good, lazy tactic.

Just imagine if cancer research changed today not to find the reason for Cancer, but instead to just try and treat it as it is...and not only in those with cancer but anyone, just in case they have cancer and we don't know it. It's a ridiculous idea that people would approach such a serious problem with that why do we do it for social political issues?

It just doesn't make any bloody sense.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

When and why to shoot?

The shooting of Mark Duggan is an interesting story. Without full details all that we can do is speculate about the situation that occurred and why it happened the way it did, and try to understand how likely potential reasons or outcomes are.

All we know, from the now official IPCC report (it's always nice to get the full facts rather than cry hysterical murder about a leak), is that it seems Mr Duggan did not fire his gun, a gun that he had illegally and was armed in the minicab he was travelling in. Police did fire, and it would appear that one of their bullets ricocheted and embedded itself in a police radio being worn by one officer.

Mr Duggan was shot twice, once in the chest and once in the arm, from a single officer.

So why was he shot? The first, and improbable answer, is that there was a concerted effort to murder this man. A set of reasons were made for his arrest, and protocol was thrown to the wind as one officer simply killed him, at great personal risk to his career and possibility of serious jail time if ever found out.

I dismiss this as an option, those that believe this option simply do not think about the training necessary to become an armed response officer. According to the latest information about the Met's practices, only an officer with three years service, who carries out a two week training course (and passes) then a further three week training course (and passes that) could be put in the position of the officer that shot Mr Duggan.

It is not an easy process, the testing is focused on situational testing in a simulated environment, and experienced senior armed officers assess individually rather than it being a "Grade C to pass" kind of deal. I reject out of hand that any officer on the CO19 team is there because they want the power of wielding a gun, or to abuse that position.

So that leaves only the second option...this was a legitimate arrest opportunity, with no pre-judgement of outcome by the officers involved.

However from here until the shooting we have nothing to go on. It is almost certainly the case that the minicab was stopped and the driver and passenger ordered to get out of the car, with clear indication that they were armed police. There is no suggestion that the driver was in the vehicle since he was shaken by what he saw.

So here we are with another set of options. The police could have opened fire on the vehicle with the driver still inside. This is unlikely, putting someone in danger such as the driver without knowing they were a threat, or without their life being threatened, is a big no-no.

The driver could have got out of the cab, and then the police opened fire. This option is dependent on visibility in to the vehicle and ability for an officer to clearly determine a threat to another individual or themselves. This is possible.

Mr Duggan could have got out of the cab, and he was shot after this point. However the action of Mr Duggan getting out of the cab would be one of surrender, and without a foolish action would not be fired upon. It also doesn't explain how an officers bullet came to ricochet into a police radio.

Perhaps most likely, the police could have felt compelled to approach the cab to arrest Mr Duggan. To have to do this, to get in to to close quarters it would be a surprise if Mr Duggan was acting willingly and following the orders of the police. In order to have shot him inside the minicab the police will have had to approach the vehicle which is in itself not a typically safe act unless visibility into the minicab was good.

So the real question, regardless of above, is this: what did Mark Duggan do to convince an officer of CO19 to shoot him?

The officers' training is all about determining the point at which the arrest is no longer safe and that taking the person's life is the only option to protect the liberties of those around that person.

It's extremely likely that Mr Duggan made some kind of move, a threatening motion, going for the gun he had with him, or appearing to go for a weapon. Without this imminent threat a shot (or two, as it were...though this may just be the nature of firing a weapon like an MP5) would not have been fired.

To this end it doesn't matter if Mr Duggan fired his loaded gun or not, as we don't wait for a life to potentially be taken by a criminal before we then stop them. I don't usually agree with the mantra "You have nothing to worry about if you have nothing to hide", but when the police are pointing weapons at you it has never rung any truer. You have nothing to worry about, if you just follow their instructions.

It's also not relevant whether or not Mr Duggan's gun was a replica, or if it was even his gun. If his actions were such that it appeared he was about to put the life of an officer or member of the public at risk, then the training of the officers would kick in.

For the conspiracy theorists, the cover-up angle is one they will pursue 'til the bitter end. Even if they accept that the operation was legitimate, they will claim a mistake was made and those present are conspiring to cover it up. They state the situation of the officers claiming that they were fired upon, which is now clear not to be true.

The question really can only be answered when the circumstances of where the officers were when shooting become clear, but let's just put this as one potential scenario. The officers approach the cab, and a definite motion is made to point a gun at a police officer. One shoots, and a ricochet from the inside of the cab hits a police radio...the force is enough to at the very least make the officer feel like they've been punched in the chest. Without being sure, and with more immediate concern for whether the officer has been injured by gunfire, their interpretation is that this was an exchange of fire.

It could just be closing ranks...but that is risky, it threatens to undermine an investigation in to you, and leave you open to potential arrest. What do the police officers have to gain by doing this?

Finally there is the question of how to shoot, too. His fiancee asks why he wasn't shot in the hand, if he was carrying a gun. It's a tragic situation that has happened to this woman, and it's understandable that she'd wonder why more wasn't done to keep her husband-to-be alive.

But the police don't take chances. By only shooting when they believe there is imminent danger, they are making a choice that essentially chooses the life of one or more persons over that of another. A shot to disarm is a shot that is harder to hit. By aiming for the chest you are almost certainly going to kill a person, you're also very unlikely to miss.

There is the chance you may just do serious injury, and I'm sure any police officer that is put in that situation prays that this is the time they get lucky and all they do is incapacitate rather than kill, but in order to provide safety the person posing a threat must be taken down. Aiming for a hand, or an's very Hollywood, but it also puts people in danger.

And so now the police officer involved, perhaps all involved, will likely be on suspension. This is not an indictment of their actions but standard practice to ensure that they are not on duty while their actions are investigated. Where there are questions over the legality of the shooting the IPCC has not had qualms in the past to suggest the arrest of officers that shoot under less than absolute circumstances for murder or manslaughter, and they stand trial.

Mark Duggan was killed, and the chances of it being as a result of anything other than his own actions are slim. I eagerly await the results of the investigation so that the truth can be shone on this subject...but hopefully here some realities can help put context to the quite audacious claims being made about the actions of the police last week.

London Riots

I say I cannot understand the actions of the rioters, but then when I break it down in to the most simple or obvious explanations it doesn't seem to hard to understand.

The rioters actions seem so at odds with what is best for the rioters and looters themselves. For a start they're helping to create a rhetoric about the poor and unemployed in the country, even if not all of them fall in to those brackets. Then they're destroying property and homes that other people rely on to keep out of the same poverty themselves, businesses and even charities that give back to the community and have done for years.

Perhaps it's just malicious spite driving them once the momentum has taken hold, that even those who are only marginally better off with their minimum wage job are "rich" enough that they are legitimate targets for these people. To say that those that attacked charitable shops, the smallest of local businesses, weren't doing so out of a feeling of social disconnection with their community seems almost quite wistful...the product of people wanting this destruction to be purely mindless and not of their own making.

Ask yourself, how can people go around attacking indiscriminately in their communities, putting life in danger, attacking those trying to protect life, if they aren't feeling completely removed from those areas of their community, of that society? I urge you to try and think about how hard it would be to just throw a brick through your next door neighbours window. If you relate to them, respect them, it'll be unthinkable...if you don't know them, don't respect them, perhaps it doesn't sound so abhorrent after all.

The question is not "Are these people disconnected from communities in their areas, are they socially excluded and detached?", that questions has been answered for all to see and hear by the actions taken. The question is "Why are these people detached from our society?" The answer primarily feels like it has to lie in their circumstance of poverty and lack of ability to see an end game that improves their lot in life.

But this is where segments of the public speak up. How dare we say that it's poverty and lack of aspirations that have caused these riots; after all "I am in poverty, and I don't need to riot".

Anecdotal irrelevancies, every time this is stated.

Fast cars cause speeding least I think we can for the purpose of this example assume they do. Does this mean every fast car breaks the law and attracts a speeding fine? No, but the faster a car is the more likely it is that it'll break the speed limit...or at least it's driver will.

It's the same with this argument. Listen to examples of the people themselves and you'll hear the utter disconnect between them and the rest of society, where *any* business owner is "rich" and those that work for them privileged. Do all poor people think this way? Of course not, but it is much more likely that they would from such a position.

Perhaps the differential is how much those in poverty understand of their own situation...duration in poverty, generational knowledge of their lack of opportunities, these are all factors that will change your feelings on the riots and who is right or wrong. In this sense it is surely more true when we talk about poverty and immobile society being the cause, it leaves those in the worst position without the ability to realise what they're doing just doesn't make sense for themselves.

Of course I am sure not all those involved are those who genuinely feel lost in our society, the way our psychology works means that those that affiliate or relate to those who are rioting will wish to conform too. Even if those that are more well off, less disconnected from society, are looting too it feels to me that it is because they feel they can...that there is a certain populism about doing it that they want to join with. For them it'd only be as "mindless" as seeing several people they feel some kind of affinity to looking to the sky, and feeling compelled to look up also, regardless of the existence of something to look at.

But if these rioters are not playing it smart, neither are a section of the anti-rioters. Encouraging vigilantism, calling for non-lethal-but-still-more-lethal-than-a-baton weaponry, or even the deployment of the army as if we're so incapable of dealing with the problem of a few thousand kids with a temper we have to resort to Middle Eastern or South American tactics on public order control. It is astounding that people claiming that looters and rioters are such idiots for targetting their own community can, almost in the same breath, advocate actions that would only stand to further justify those riotous actions...either through an unfortunate death or serious injury caused by the greater force deployed, or just a simple affirmation of their views that the state is out to get them, not to help them.

I feel more than a little uneasy with how people have approached these events. At the end of the day we are talking about a statistically insignificant number of people causing these troubles, by numbers an extreme minority and no doubt edge of society. Yet this small number of people have some (mainly well off types) feeling scared. In return we've tried to find bogeymen to take the blame, either through extremely partisan short term political point scoring, or ambiguous notions of these people being completely autonomous and not at all effected by the world around them, as if they're all completely psychologically damaged and incapable of rational thought.

For years we've had Labour and Tories alike trading blows on how to further alienate these areas of our society, from Caroline Spelman's policy of kicking people out of the only homes they can afford (the ones given to them for free), to Purnell/IDS's "workfare" where we don't even pretend to want to treat them as equal human beings. After this how much are we going to see politicians, police and community leaders get together with their communities more pro-actively, with greater direction and conviction, or will we instead continue our trend of apathy towards them and just see these people dismissed as utterly criminal and ignore them even further?

It's easier to believe there isn't a reason for these people to have started to riot, because the alternative is recognising that ultimately we are as bad as the bankers we love to loathe. We have taken the benefits of a prosperous society for the last decade and have barely looked downwards at the classes in our country that are institutionally disaffected and untrusting of "the system" to which the rest of us conform, because mostly the system benefits us and doesn't open it's arms to them. We've taken what this country has had to offer, and we haven't passed any of it down the line, and we sure as hell haven't prepared to protect those below us when our world starts to crumble.

If all this isn't mindless, if this part of society's long term situation is the cause of their choice to just put their arms up and say "fuck it, I'm doing what I want", then it's because we, the majority of society, have failed them. We have chosen to push politicians in to a corner that means they focus only on us in the "middle", and ignore those who actually need the support of their government, and we have chosen to do the bare minimum for these people with a look of disdain and disgust as we do so.

Statistically insignificant as the numbers of actual rioters are however, the actions this week have been like the discovery of a crack in the wall of a home...itself small and perhaps easy to try to hide away, but indicative of a wider problem that hasn't made itself apparent yet; a problem much harder to fix than the simple action of filling in that initial crack and hoping nothing deeper is also starting to break.