Friday, October 19, 2012

Police Ineptitude. Again.

The shocking and bizarre story of a 61 year old blind man who was tasered by the police after they mistook his stick for a samurai sword, has once again raised the quesion of the ineptitude and brutality of the force. Colin Farmer thought he was being mugged before realising that he was being attacked by "a thug in a policeman's uniform". Which was indeed the case.

Needless to say the institutional violence, corruption and racism of the police has long been apparent. In the 1970s and 1980s it seemed as though you only had to put a place name and number together to find a miscarriage of justice. The 1990s unfolded beneath the cloud of the brutal murder of Stephen Lawrence, and the fallout from the ensuing Macpherson report. By the start of the new millenium the old bill had revised their modus operandi entirely by cutting out the middleman. No longer fitting up people for crimes they didn't commit or simply ignoring evidence the police took to unlawfully kililng people all by themselves.

These high profile examples are merely the tip of the ice berg. On a daily basis people feel the effects of police bullying, harrassment and intimidation although the outcome is not, thankfully, always as catastrophic as in the cases of the Birmingham Six, Jean Charles de Menezes or Ian Tomlinson. In the past week I've seen the owner of a local sandwich shop sell up after months of the old bill "just popping in for a chat", and a young Asian single mother fined for wasting police time after reporting a mugging. And perhaps most farcically of all a friend of mine was wrongfully arrested for threatening a woman with a knife.

Residents at a block of flats in Portsmouth called the police after seeing a man threaten his girlfriend with a kitchen knife following an especially heated argument. When the police arrived they were looking for a man in his late fifties, balding and with no teeth. My friend - in his forties, elogently coiffured, and with a mouthful of teeth (many of which are still his own) - answered the knock at the door expecting the police to enquire about that evening's events. Instead they grabbed hold of his arm, hauled him out of his home and handcuffed him. All of which took place as his five year old grandson played in the background. Unsurprisingly my friend voiciferously protested his innocence, though it fell on deaf ears. The only time the friendly neighbourhood bobbies spoke was when they warned my friend to "behave" because he was appearing "increasingly agitated".

To be fair to the plod, they had managed to find both the right street and the right block of flats, but it was at this point that their Holmesian powers of deduction failed them. They got the wrong man because they went to the wrong flat. It appears their sense of direction was askew because they had run the criminal records of people in the block and my friend's name had produced a hit. However his record is spotless, and the caution on record belonged to his son who shares his name. The police had arrived full of pre-conceived ideas and nothing was likely to change that - especially the evidence in front of their eyes. Not even the intervention of the couple who had made the original 999 call could dissuade the police from pursuing their error to its illogical conclusion.

Eventually, as my friend was on the verge of being thrown into a meat wagon, the cop in charge asked him to open his mouth. "Oh," said the brains of the operation. "It's not you. You've got teeth." Elementary! An hour after being released, and with his wrists grazed and bruised, my friend answered his front door again to once more be confronted with the police. "Er, yes, well, er, sorry about earlier. Can we ask you some questions about the man with the knife?" Raising his eyebrows in exasperation my friend asked if they were joking before shutting the door in their face.

Still the whole shambolic episode did allow my friend the glimmer of a silver lining. That night he phoned the police himself to report an assault. Could he provide a description of his assailants? "Yes, certainly officer, there were three of them, all wearing police uniforms. I even managed to get their numbers if that would help..."

The truth is that thiis kind of incident is all too commonplace - and even worse if you happen to be from an ethnic minority. The police are held up as the neutral upholders of a neutral law. How far from reality this is! Fundamentally their job is to maintain the status quo. It should come as no surprise that their actions are so often conceived in ignorance and prejudice and executed with arrogant contempt. If you want to know where the institution of the police force stand in class terms, try a simple test. See how much use they are when you have a bike nicked, and compare that to the speed with which thousands of riots cops descend upon London when a bunch of lefties march past McDonalds, Starbucks and Nike.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Smuggle The Revolutionary Paper Across The Border

   "People will divide into “parties” over the question of a new gigantic canal, or the distribution of oases in the Sahara (such a question will exist too), over the regulation of the weather and the climate, over a new theater, over chemical hypotheses, over two competing tendencies in music, and over a best system of sports."
                  - Leon Trotsky, Literature and Revolution
For a brief period after the Russian Revolution, before Stalin butchered hope and countless old Bolsheviks, different groups did indeed compete over the question of what constituted the 'best system of sports'. One tendency was the Proletkult movement which urged the abandonment of all 'bourgeois' sports in favour of mass-participatory, non-competitive play.
The late Jim Riordan, historian and author, surveyed the landscape of Russian physical culture during this period in The History of Worker Sport. In passing he records the name of a game developed by the Proletkultists: Smuggle the Revolutionary Paper Across the Border. In vain I searched for the rules or a report of the game being played. I also mentioned it to my friend and comrade Lee Sprake, coordinator for Portsmouth Woodcraft Folk. Inspired merely by the name of the game, Lee created a wide game with a twenty-first century edge. Below he outlines the rules for a game inspired by the revolutionary struggles and play of the past. Please feel free to share, play and enjoy!
Name of activity:  Pass the Revolutionary Paper

Session themes: Newsletter writing, cooperation, solidarity, fun.

Story line: The young people are told that Woodcraft General Council has been infiltrated by fat cats, bankers and (aspiring) media moguls, who want to use Woodcraft to gain power and influence, and to make themselves money. They want to introduce advertisements in the Courier for their fat cat friends and want Woodcraft to start operating more like a business, with increased group registration and membership fees, meaning that only those who can afford it can join. They also see Park Farm as a profitable asset for Woodcraft and have plans to sell it. They know there are people who disagree with what they are doing within Woodcraft and so want to silence dissent and crush self-organisation at all levels. They are enforcing online censorship and have removed from the Woodcraft website all resources and articles that relate to protest, liberation, work, or anything that challenges their own power. Those on the Council who opposed their plans have been forced out.
It is only through spreading alternative ideas at a grass roots level that we can stop their brutal agenda. They have a monopoly over the Woodcraft website and e-mail list, so these are no go areas, and they even have the power to censor articles posted on Facebook. However, newsletters, papers and other physical resources can be sent to districts by post, but only if we can get them and the printing equipment to the distribution centre ourselves.

Leaders should dress up as the fat cats, bankers, toffs and newspaper moguls that have infiltrated General Council.   

Introductory game: Write a newsletter                     Duration: 1 hour

Equipment needed: 2 laptops, printer, paper, papers, newsletter, 4x card board boxes and marker pens.

How to Play: Split the young people into two groups. Tell the young people about past struggles where the production of newspapers was illegal and when taking them over a boarder was an imprisonable offence.  Talk about alternative press, and whose views the mainstream media represent (to give context to the adults being fat cats, media moguls, etc.), why producing newspapers containing certain ideas may be illegal or face attacks from the establishment.  If on camp get the young people to write about what they would change about camp. 

Ask the young people what they think is good about Woodcraft and what we could put in a newsletter. Talk to the young people about what they don’t like about camp (usually clan duties) and ask them to think about what could be done to change this. Get the young people to come up with some ‘transitional demands’ and put them into a ‘revolutionary paper’. The young people have to think about what they can call the paper and one group will write their paper’s name in red and the other in green. We then print enough off for the camp. Fill the cardboard boxes with something to give them a little weight. Mark two of the boxes with printer and two with computer.

Activity: Pass the revolutionary paper                       Duration: 90 minutes

Equipment needed: The revolutionary papers, printing equipment, face paints.

What to do: When it is starting to get dark split into the two groups and proceed to different starting points which will become each groups’ base. This base will have the groups’ papers, a printer (box) and a computer (box). The object for each group is to protect their printing equipment (printer and computer), try to steal the other groups’ papers, and deliver their papers to a base/distribution centre on the other side of the camp. The two bases should start as far apart as possible with the place to deliver the papers close to where the other base starts.


  • Papers to be carried in the hand and not put in pockets or under clothes.

  • Only two papers may be carried by each team member at any time.

  • If a young person has copies of their revolutionary paper then they cannot take any from the other group (therefore each group needs to split into smaller ones).

  • The printing equipment has to be protected at all costs. It may be moved and its new location becomes the new base. Word of this must be got to the rest of the group.

  • Adults will be collecting papers off any unfortunate young people who they catch All adults, therefore, should be avoided (unless they are at the neutral location ‘Café Parisian’).

  • When caught all young people must give up their papers.

  • Any papers or printing equipment confiscated must be taken to Café Parisian (kitchen tent) where they can be collected by that team’s members after they have performed a task to earn them back.

  • Café Parisian and 2 metres around the outside is considered neutral territory - so no one can be caught whilst there.

  • Once papers reach the delivery point they stay there.

  • The game ends when one or both teams has delivered all their papers and returned to their base (where ever that may be) with printing equipment in place. The groups are permitted to work together collectively against the adults to get their papers delivered but we should try and let them work that out!
Circle discussion points: Has the printed word had its day? Could anyone foresee a return to newsletters etc.?  Did the groups unite against the leaders? If so did it make things easier? Were there discussions around joining the other group?  

Resources: Socialist newspapers and newsletters

Tips/Variations: Have a couple of District Fellows act as agitators who can give the young people hints about working together. The warm up part can be left out. A darker side can be added by having the adults become zombies.  

Tasks to get papers back in Cafe Parisian:
- Eating 4 cream crackers in a minute without a glass of water.
- Talking for a minute about something (it could be something stupid like a tin of beans, or something to get them thinking, such as a certain issue or something they agree/disagree with. Use your own discretion as to how long you actually make them talk for).
- Collecting 5 things: e.g. a rock, 4 different types of leaves, a piece of paper, a ball, a tent peg. This gets harder in the dark!
- Picking up cereal box with teeth game.
- Tent peg dipping.