Updated: Aug 9, 2021
By Kusai, Becka and Emmanuel
Last week we read the Government’s ‘Beating Crime’ plan with frustration and sorrow. It is beyond disheartening to see the Government roll out yet another ‘plan’ that outright ignores the things we are fighting for. Another plan that rehashes dangerous stereotypes and refuses to ask about the causes of violence. That, despite being empty of substance, recycles phrases about crackdowns, repeats dangerous ‘us vs them’ narratives and, ultimately, threatens to worsen our lives. Indeed, reading the Plan made clear just how empty is much of the Government’s fanfare about crime crackdowns.
The full plan can be read here. In many ways, the Plan lays out the emotional groundwork for the Government's existing agenda around law and order. We are already fighting the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Bill that threatens to harm our communities in a number of ways. We are fighting against the Nationality and Borders Bill that threatens to act as an intensified Hostile Environment for migrants and those who support them. Against the intensified stop and search and racist police violence seen under Covid restrictions. In this context, the Plan looks like a PR stunt to further a deeply dangerous ‘us vs them’ narrative with regards to violence and inequality. Suffering setbacks in their reputation following widespread #KillTheBill protests and the worldwide Black Lives Matter demonstrations of 2020, much of this looks like damage control.
What is most harmful in the Plan’s pages is its repeatedly threatening language, framing the rest of their agenda in highly emotive terms. Repeatedly, the public are assured that there are dangerous people that the criminal justice system must seek out and go to war with. The systemic drivers of violence and harm in society are never confronted. Throughout the Plan’s rollout in press releases and conferences, the Government has chosen to lift language reminiscent of the US’s ‘War on Drugs’, to frame their plans. We hear of ‘victims’ versus ‘perpetrators’ again and again. As anyone who has worked on issues of violence will know - reality is never this clear cut. There are not simply good communities that must be protected from simply bad people: there are instead people within our communities who are systematically harmed and denied support. We know that perpetrators of violence have oftentimes been repeatedly victimised. Yet the minute someone is categorised as criminal, ‘gang affiliated’ or otherwise dangerous, all their experiences of harm, violence and pain seem to be erased. The lack of support they may have received while going through these experiences: erased. The reasons a young person may feel so at threat that they have decided to carry a weapon: utterly ignored. Perhaps most telling of all is that, despite ‘peace’ being used in the Plan’s subtitle, the word is mentioned only once more in the entire document. It is clear that confronting the causes of violence and working towards peaceful, supported and empowered communities is nowhere in the Government’s mind.
If anything, what is missing from the Plan is more telling. The content of these struggles - around state racism, the structural drivers of violence and the systemic deprivation of support - are nowhere to be found. The Plan proposes lifting conditions on section 60 stop and searches, but the skyrocketing racial disproportionality of these stop and searches is not discussed. Indeed, the sheer ineffectiveness of stop and search as an ‘anti violence’ tactic - where weapons are rarely found and confiscated - is not touched on. In promising to be ‘data driven’, the Plan somehow manages to ignore this widely publicised data. Repeated references to data are instead used to conceal the racism implicit in what is meant by ‘targeted’ policing. Particular areas and constabularies are named, but who lives in these areas and is targeted by those forces, ignored. But this cannot be chalked up to ignorance. We know exactly the effects that intensified policing, particularly section 60 stop and search, will have on our communities. The data, if that is what those in power are interested in, is there.
Another element the Plan seeks to foreground is the roll out of tech fixes to ‘data driven’ understandings of crime - from tags to estate design and reinforcement of housing security. Tech fixes and cheap tricks that further alienate and humiliate people affected by the criminal justice system, pulling them further into its clutches, are the focus. Governments still continue to choose humiliation, criminalisation and surveillance of some of our society’s most vulnerable - when organisations like ours and many, many more continually call for greater support. Implicit in many of these suggestions is the promise of more commerce in the criminal justice system. We know this Government’s track record with regards to privatising services, and their promises that imprisonment and criminal justice offers ‘economic opportunities’. Many contracts for tags, databases, websites, league tables and service provision might seem appealing to those who operate in this space for profit. To us, it looks like a promise of further violence, neglect and disregard from those in power.
We call all those who have read the Plan with concern to recognise these elements but still to not lose focus - the fight against proposed legislative changes such as the Policing Bill are ongoing, the fight against the deeply structural drivers of violence within our communities continues - and the bluster and emotive PR stunts rolled out in the Beating Crime plan should not panic, distract or deter us from this fight.