Zero Tolerance sweeps homeless, poor & minorities from streets

Tom Boland (
Thu, 21 May 1998 14:52:55 -0700 (PDT)

REPOST from HPN Archives 7 Apr 1998 11:35:02 -0700 (PDT)
Zero Tolerance sweeps homeless, poor & minorities from streets

FWD  The following article is from Black Flag 213

  "Zero tolerance - which involves the prosecution of every petty crime,
  and the removal of graffiti artists, beggars, traffic light squeegee
  merchants and winos from the streets, has been a licence for police
  brutality."--from article below


In August 1997 Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant, was detained at New
York's 70th Precinct station house. During the course of his detention
he was severely beaten and had the wooden handle of a toilet plunger
inserted by force into his rectum (resulting in a punctured intestine
and torn bladder) and then had the handle of the plunger rammed into his
mouth, knocking out his front teeth. He was racially abused, and, during
the assault on him, one of the cops shouted "It's Giuliani time "- a
reference to the New York right wing mayor who initiated the "zero
tolerance campaign".

Zero tolerance - which involves the prosecution of every petty crime,
and the removal of graffiti artists, beggars, traffic light squeegee
merchants and winos from the streets, has been  a licence for police
brutality. New York's middle classes are happy though; as the Guardian
journalist Linda Grant described: "At night people stroll down the
streets as if they were Parisians on the boulevards. New Yorkers have
their city back, the Manhattan of its own heyday before drugs and guns
drove families to suburbia and the poor to desperation." Zero tolerance
is about saturation policing. Its supporters would argue that its
success can be shown in the 45% drop in violent crime since 1991.The
reality is that "Giuliani Time" has meant an increase in violent crime -
but the victims are poor, black, homeless, and the attackers are cops.
Civilian complaints against the police for excessive force rose by 61.9%
in 1995. Abuse of authority complaints rose by 86.2% and allegations of
illegal searches soared by 135%. More than half the complainants are
African American. A further 25% are Latino.

"Giuliani Time"
When police shot 16 year old Kevin Cedeno in the back Giuliani condemned
the media for not asking why Kevin was out late at night and whether he
had a criminal record.The fact that police had lied in their statements,
saying Kevin was shot in the stomach after a confrontation caused him no
concern at all. Anthony Baez died from an illegal chokehold after his
football accidentally bounced into a police car. When his mother
questioned police commissioner Willian Bratton at a town hall meeting,
Bratton told her to sit down and stop making a fool of herself.
Giuliani, standing next to Bratton at the time, said nothing.

As Linda Grant's Guardian article (17/2/97) recognised,"The New York of
Mayor Giuliani could be the London of Tony Blair and Jack Straw.The
beggars could be cleared away from the streets  along with the litter
and the burglars - and Londoners, like New Yorkers, probably won't ask
any questions".

Jack Staw time?
Jack Straw believes in zero tolerance. He believes "in giving city
centres back to the people." He believes in getting more police on the
beat on "targeted patrols" on behalf of the "law abiding majority who
want to live in clean and pleasant surroundings." With 61,250 people in
jail, he has ordered the building of 3 new private prisons. Since 1992,
the number of offenders in jail under 21 has risen from 6783 to 10583.
Jack Straw wants to use the Criminal Justice Bill to set up a fast track
system of punishment for young offenders,  with the abandoning of repeat
cautioning ("cautioning plus") and the introduction of curfews on the
under 10s.

The legacy of the outgoing Home Secretary Michael Howard was aptly
described by the barrister Michael Mansfield as "the abolition in effect
of the right to silence; the increase in police powers without a
concomitant, independent supervision of these powers of criminal
investigation; the restrictions imposed by public order legislation on
freedom of movement, association or protest; the provision of legal aid
and the steady decline in readily available advice through neighborhood
or community law centres." Mansfield believes that Howard's  "reforms"
should be "reviewed, revised and in some cases removed" by Jack Straw.
Charles Pollard, Chief Constable of Thames Valley, has said of zero
tolerance,"the problem is that sutained policing of this sort ends up
targeting minorities within communities." Most of the left in this
country have spent the years since 1945 running round like headless
chickens trying to con working class people into voting again and again
for ever more right wing Labour governments.The end result is a Labour
government with a massive majority and a clearly anti working class
agenda. Jack Sraw knows it would be easy to use that majority to rescind
Michael Howard's pro-police agenda. Instead, he's kept all Howard's
weapons for his own armoury and added more besides. He knows that zero
tolerance targets minorities. He's been to New York. He's seen the
evidence for himself.That's the whole point.

Zero tolerance isn't about ending crime, it's about containing working
class communities and keeping the poor off the streets. In New York the
streets are free of litter, because welfare recipients are forced to
clean the streets as part of the Workfare programme and street cleaning
is the only option on offer to them. Homelessness is a crime in New
York. For Tony Blair,"The basic principle here is to say yes it is right
to be intolerant of homeless people on the streets." So where do the
homeless go? Some of them in New York went to live in shanty towns under
the boardwalks at Coney Island. In January 1997, 3 of them died  when an
open fire they were huddled round burned down their encampment. "They
died like rats in a gutter" according to Linda Grant. In the UK the
average life expectancy of a rough sleeper is 43. But solutions to
homelessness that don't involve policing solutions cost money. Linda
Grant again: "Londoners want (I want,the homeless want) a better quality
of life than we have had to get used to.The price of peace of mind comes
expensive if you are talking hostels that don't have to be closed down
because they are more dangerous than the streets themselves. Read my
lips. This means taxes." And thats a price that Tony Blair, low tax
saviour of middle England, won't pay. If anyone still believes Labour
has a reforming agenda, let them explain David Blunkett's comment that
"The truth is that any government entering the 21st century cannot hope
to create a more equal or more egalitarian society simply by taking
money from one set of people and redistributing it to others."

According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies the top 10%  in the UK
enjoy an income equal to the whole of the bottom 50% of society. By
1993, more than 2/3 of income in the bottom 10% of households came from
means tested benefits. By 1993, the UK had 3.9 million children living
in poverty - more than any other EU member state. According to Child
Poverty Action Group definitions, 23% of the population live in poverty.
For Labour, the solutions to all this are clear. Capital can no longer
afford the cost of the welfare state. Labour's task is to dismantle it.
In its place will be Welfare to Work or....jail.

Professor John Pitts, of the Centre for the Study of Crime,
Neighbourhood and Social Change, has observed "crime has grown least in
those European countries where discrepancies of wealth and opportunity
are lowest, or where governments have worked to ameliorate the effects
of globalisation and de-industrialisation upon the most
vulnerable."(Guardian 28/5/97) Labour intends to exacerbate the
"discrepancies of wealth and opportunity.", but for Straw's middle class
supporters it's the best of both worlds - lockdown capitalism - not only
do you pay less taxes but the streets are clean and your home doesn't
get burgled. Crime becomes something the poor do to each other. Anyone
who steps ouside this gets hit even harder. (When working class
communities in Dublin organised through Concerned Parents Against Drugs
to deal with the heroin that was flooding their communities, it was them
-not the dealers - who went to jail. In Birmingham, the Newtown
Independent Residents Association had to overcome constant police
intimidation to build a successful, street based, anti racist,
anti-mugging campaign.)

Jack Straw wants it to be "Giuliani Time " in the UK. He wants a "quiet"
police state where the liberals are happy because the streets are clean
and the poor are only seen when theyre thanking him for the marvellous
opportunities created by New Labour,and then only through the medium of
a press office promo video. The pro Labour left are buried by history -
having been cheerleaders for New Labour and therefore de facto
cheerleaders for the crackdown to come. The rest of us are left to deal
with the consequences. The battle in the next few years will be two fold
- to resist the criminalisation and lockdown of working class
communities and resist the rise of crime within our communities, to no
longer live or die like "rats in a gutter."

END REPOST from HPN Archives

ARCHIVES  <>  read posts to HPN
TO JOIN  <> or email Tom <>