The Shooting of Peter R. De Vries – Do Dutch Criminals Rule The Streets in The Netherlands?

This morning I woke up to the news that Dutch crime journalist and investigator Peter R. De Vries, who is a celebrity and national hero to many victims of crime he has helped over his impressive 40 year career, has been shot 5 times of which one in the head, in broad daylight in a busy street in central Amsterdam. He is at this moment still in critical condition in hospital.

PPeter R. De Vries Peter R. de Vries (2017)

Peter is a tenacious investigator and journalist who has sometimes taken years to investigate a case and find new leads in cold cases, and stood by many victim’s families in their search for justice. He is at the moment involved in the huge Marengo court case around a Moroccan drugs gang who are accused of several murders and attempted murders since 2015, all of which happened in broad daylight in residential areas. For a long time these murders went on unchallenged because nobody was willing to talk, and there was not enough evidence. But this all changed when the brother of one of the main suspects was brutally murdered, who had no criminal ties whatsoever. This man, called Nabil B. suddenly came forward in 2017 to give evidence about all these liquidations, in exchange for lower sentencing. He then asked Peter R. De Vries to act as his advisor in the case, which Mr. De Vries accepted together with 2 lawyers.

The main suspect, Ridouan Taghi is thought to have been one of the leaders of this major crime gang, responsible for drug trafficking and at least 10 murders, under which Nabil B.’s brother and his lawyer Derk Wiersum. This murder caused a major uproar and is regarded a direct attack on the Dutch legal system. One other suspect is still out there with a prize of €100.000 on his head.

Saïd Razzouki, the fugitive still at large with €100.000 reward for leads leading to his arrest.

Now to me that is laughable. That amount of money is pocket money for those criminals who rake in millions a year and can easily avoid captivity by buying off people to keep them out of the hands of Dutch courts. This guy Taghi has been arrested and taken to the Netherlands in late 2019 in Dubai. The UIE does not have an extradition treaty with the Netherlands, so the only way to arrest him there and take him back was because he was travelling on a false passport.

Dubai is regarded a major magnet for criminal gangs from all over the world for that reason, as well as Marbella in Spain. The Dutch even have a special prosecutor permanently stationed there as Dutch drug gangs are said to be responsible for the majority of soft drugs imports from South America and North Africa. A large quantity of the world’s synthetic drugs are produced in the Netherlands and trafficked around the world. It is estimated that 18.8 billion Euros ($20.75 billion) worth of ecstacy are produced in Amsterdam alone. With this increased production and trade comes increased violence, and in the last 7 years to 2020 50 murders have been related to drug gangs in the wider Amsterdam area alone. Drug dealing and related violence is now taking place in broad daylight and mayors, police officers and lawyers being threatened, and as we have seen, killed by the gangs (Correa, 2020).

Ordinary citizens are getting hurt in the cross hairs, and lose trust in the police and court system to protect them. Correa (2020) writes in her article that 56% of Dutch citizens believe they live in a narco state and Jan Struijs, the chair of the biggest police union says: “If you look at the infrastructure, the big money earned by organized crime, the parallel economy. Yes, we have a narco-state.”

Off course cuts to police budgets and the judiciary in general is a big reason why the state don’t seem to get much progress on repressing this expanding drug trade. Cause let’s face it, that is all the state under capitalism can do, repress. What could be the answer to stop this from spiralling out of control? Legalisation and state regulation of drug production could be part of it, but I can imagine the cartels won’t be happy with that and will increase the violence to retain their market monopoly. This is a global problem which in my mind needs a global solution. And why do poppy farmers in Colombia and Peru grow poppies? Because it is more lucrative and they are being forced into it by the cartels. So just offering farmers an alternative is not necessarily going to work. I believe this problem needs tackling on all fronts, from the farmers to the users, and in the end, if people are offered better opportunities and lives generally they will take that over crime any day. So yes, and I’m sure I am boring for saying this but we need system change, socialism, for a better life for everyone.

It feels me with intense sadness to write this article about the country I love and grew up in. Since I left 11 years ago the violence has become increasingly worse, and no real change has been achieved to stop this stream of murders and the ocean of despair drugs cause in society. I have been a victim of this myself, and I feel a burning desire to do something about it.

For now I want to conclude by giving my solidarity and love to Peter R. De Vries and his family, my thoughts are with you and I feel even more determined to proceed to study and contribute to the Criminology community, and continue the important work Peter has done, and hopefully will continue to do for my home country.

References/Credits

Image credits Peter R. De Vries: DWDD, CC BY 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Correa, G. (2020) ‘The Netherlands Is at Risk of Becoming a Narco State‘ Available at https://www.addictioncenter.com/news/2020/01/netherlands-narco-state/ (last accessed 07/07/2021).

Take a look in the mirror – imperialism, racism and white supremacy in the 21st century

One year on from George Floyd’s murder by US police officer Derek Chauvin I reflect on my own (white) experiences of white supremacy, imperialism and racism, and the research I have done over this last year regarding my own family and country’s conduct.

Read about your history

After watching the world erupt in protest of his killing, and the thousands before and after him, I felt compelled to take a long hard look in the mirror. What is my role in all this? What can I do to change the narrative, to change the relationship between white people and everybody else? What have I done, and what do I know about my own family, my own country’s conduct regarding colonialism, imperialism, racism and white supremacy? And what can I do differently to improve?

These are some of the questions I had when I watched all the riots, protests and demands for change over the summer of 2020. I started off by buying 3 books called ‘We, slaves of Surinam‘ by the black communist Anton de Kom, which became a best seller after 86 years of being published and ‘Poet in the jungle‘ by Roelof Van Gelder about J.G. Stedman, a Dutch/British army officer in Surinam in the 18th century. The third book ‘Roofstaat‘ by Ewald Vanvugt is about the atrocities committed by the Dutch state across the world since the first colonising voyages took place 4-5 centuries ago until the present day. None of the information I read about in these books I had ever heard at school or anywhere else. To be honest, I was in complete shock when I finished them. I had never heard of Anton De Kom, who is in my eyes the Martin Luther King of the Netherlands. I only came across these books after a friend posted about them on Facebook. I am 47 years old and I had never heard of this man, who played such a big role in fighting for equality for black people in my country. I felt ashamed. I felt embarrassment. I felt guilt. And I was starting to wonder what my role is in this horrific history of white supremacy, racism and plunder, and what I can do to change it.

Racism in the family

As I have written about in past posts, my younger sister is adopted from India. She is one-and-a-half year younger than me, and she was 5 months old when she arrived. At 5 months old she had already been past around several carers. First her birth mother, who walked 200 miles from a rural village in Bihar to New Delhi whilst pregnant. Then the Mother Theresa children’s home. Then an American lady and her millionaire Indian husband, and then my parents. My parents have treated her like a Cinderella, second class, and subjected her to the most horrific physical and emotional abuse, as well as neglect. In the first year that she arrived, she was in a bad way through malnutrition and scabies, but on top of that she cried 24/7 for a year. She physically rejected my parents attention and showed clear signs of Reactive Attachment Disorder. Off course this disorder was not known back in the 70’s, let alone availability of support and help.

So my question is: is this trend of adopting children from poor countries the new imperialism, the new colonialism, the new racism? I mean my parents’ intention was to help a child who, in their eyes, had very poor prospects of survival let alone development of talents and a career, and to give her a good life.

They never anticipated she would come with a whole host of issues that they were not equipped to deal with, nor had the knowledge of or background for. They never thought about what the consequences are for a baby, a child, a person, who is ripped from their natural environment, her family, her culture, her history at a time she should be physically and emotionally bonding with her mother and father. This child, who is in every possible way so very different from their own, her smell, her cry, her skin colour. How can they keep telling themselves and us children, that she is equal to me and that she will be treated as their child as if she was their own, and then abuse her, neglect her and treat her like dirt?

Towards a socialist system

Why did they not put their efforts and their money into trying to get this country India to the state it should be in, before the British, and I have now found out before them, the Dutch plundered and enslaved its people? If they would have done that, my sister would possibly have been living happily with her family, or at least been adopted by an Indian family. Well, the answer is off course that they did not have the insight, the understanding and the education to think in that direction. We all have been completely brainwashed and conditioned into thinking that we, white people of the West, are superior to everyone else, and we know what civilisation and education is, because look at the state of Western countries. Aren’t we doing great? We have (well, once upon a time) a welfare state, trade unions, holidays and minimum wages and 40 hour working weeks. We have wealth and strong economies.

Che Guavara – symbol of struggle is available at Leftbooks

Racism in the familyYes, we do. Or we did. But where does this wealth come from? From hard work off course! That is what we learn at school, from TV and advertising, from the news even. Generation upon generation is being told this. But it is all a big fat lie. All that wealth comes from plundering, looting and stealing the wealth and enslaving people in the rest of the world and, let’s not forget at home. Because the working classes in the Western world were and are sometimes still treated worse than slaves. Here’s a passage from Friedrich Engels’ (1885) book ‘The Condition of the Working Class in England’, in which he says about the bourgeoisie:

They are slave-masters in effect. The factory system ends all freedom in law and in fact. The operative must be in the mill at half-past five in the morning; if he comes a couple of minutes too late, he is fined; if he comes ten minutes too late, he is not let in until breakfast is over, and a quarter of the day’s wages is withheld, though he loses only two and one-half hours’ work out of twelve. He must eat, drink, and sleep at command.”

Engels makes the comparison with chattel slavery in the US specific when he says,

“They are worse slaves than the Negroes in America, for they are more sharply watched, and yet it is demanded of them that they shall live like human beings, shall think and feel like men! Verily, this they can do only under glowing hatred towards their oppressors, and towards that order of things which places them in such a position, which degrades them as machines.”

Wage slavery today

This account really rings true to me today, when we hear about Amazon drivers pissing in bottles, or in a Sports Direct warehouse a pregnant woman delivering on the warehouse floor, extreme surveillance on workers and union busting, de-skilling and fire-and-rehire techniques. My Tesco delivery guy has to hold down 3 jobs to be able to look after his family of a wife and 2 kids. So I think we can safely conclude that racism, white supremacy and imperialism are ways in which this economic system of capitalism uses to still its indomitable lust for profit.

So what I am trying to say is, that only by fighting for a different system, that is not based on the exploitation of natural resources, people and competition, but aims to build on what people need to flourish, only then can we get rid of racism, imperialism and slavery. To start this process, we white people need to start taking a long hard look in the mirror, and see how we contribute to the continuation of these inequalities and exploitations.

Yes we need to pay reparations, yes we need to apologise for the deeds of our ancestors, yes we need to give back all the art, objects, gold and diamonds. Yes we need to tear down those statues and replace them with true heroes of equality. Yes we need to examine our society today and get rid of everything that contributes to exploitation and racism today. That is a massive task. But it has to be done and it is long overdue. And for me and my family, yes, we do need to do what we can to stop the cycle of abuse, and try to build our relationship as sisters in pain. How? I don’t know, I make it up as I go along, but I do know that learning about my country’s past is helping me in this process.

I urge you, if you agree, to join me in the Socialist Party in England & Wales or in the Committee for a Worker’s International (CWI) in your country.

Can poverty, crime and inequality end under capitalism?

A contradictio in terminis

To answer this question it is important to know what capitalism really is. How does it function? Capitalism is a hierchiacal economic system which is build around private property of the means of production in pursuit of profit through competition in the market, where prices for goods and services are determined by demand and supply of materials and wage labour. It is build on the exploitation of workers, and the environment. Because wages are the biggest cost for capitalists, the owners of the means of production (the bosses) are always looking for ways to drive the wages down. They have no influence on the price of raw materials, or the running cost of the factory, or transport, so wages are the way to increase profits. They do this for instance by competition for jobs. By playing the workers out against each other. A great example at the moment is the de-skilling of electricians at the Hinkley Point Nuclear Reactor by two big construction companies. By introducing a new apprenticeship in which candidates do a 2 month course with a job at the end they by-pass expensive fully qualified electricians who train for years to get their qualifications. Off course this also goes to the detriment of safety on site, as these apprentices cannot possibly deliver safe work after only 8 weeks on the job.

Cutting cost on wages is one way to increase profit, and cutting cost on safety another. This can be done by increasing working hours, using cheaper materials, and driving wages down through precarious contracts, zero-hour contracts and bogus self-employment for instance in gig-economy jobs. Every morsel of cost is diverted back onto the worker, or the consumer. An example of this can be found in care work. Many care workers are on zero-hours contracts, have to pay for travel between jobs themselves, and are put under extreme time pressure (15 min visits in which they have to wash, cloth and feed a person). These workers are only paid per visit, time waiting in traffic, travelling between clients etc. is unpaid. Many of these workers, millions in fact, are on such a low wage that they cannot sustain themselves and their families. In April 2019 2 million workers earnt on or under the minimum wage in the UK said the Low Pay Commission (2021) as cited in The Commons Library (2021). In April 2019 the minimum wage was £7.83 per hour for adults over 25 (UK Government, 2021).The average rent in the UK in 2019 was £700 a month (ONS, 2020), so an adult working 40 hours a week would earn £313.20 a week which is £1357,20 a month. That person would have £657.20 left per month = £151.66 per week for all other bills, travel, food and clothing. Off course if you have children or are on a zero hour contract you likely have less than this.

It is no wonder that many young people, who are under 25 and earn significantly less than the above, are driven into the arms of gangs and feel there is no other option than crime to earn a living. Austerity has decimated youth services, education opportunities and apprenticeships. All other public service provisions have been cut to the bone, many local authorities are in enormous debt and face bankruptcy (for instance Northamptonshire County Council, in 2018). The capitalist system looks to privatise all public services, so the market can monetise it and make every aspect of life a commodity, to be bought and sold. The result is massive disparity between rich and poor, and the middle classes falling into the poor category more and more, as slowly the greed of an ever decreasing group of exceedingly rich people have to tap into the wealth of an ever increasing group.

Pamphlet ‘The Transitional Programme‘ by Leon Trotsky, Leftbooks

To control this immense army of poor, capitalists use divisions and inequality to their advantage. Individualism is encouraged and promoted, collectivism discouraged and criminalised. Racism, sexism, homo-, and transphobia and any discrimination of ethnic minorities is rife as a result. As long as people fight amongst each other, anger and frustration is not aimed at the real causes of their suffering; the ruling class, the rich, the big corporations, the state and the capitalist system itself.

Last night I attended a Zoom meeting titled: ‘Is it a crime to be poor?’, with speakers including academics and former prisoners, and it was chaired by a Labour MP. The whole discussion was addressing lots of different aspects of the problem, and many attendees gave hosts of ideas what needed to be done about them. But nobody actually addressed HOW we could achieve them. When I asked why we were not talking about the cause of poverty and crime, namely the capitalist system and how to overthrow it, the answer was: ‘Because it is too big to deal with’. Others were saying that when we chip away at the fringes, deal with smaller issues somehow we could change the narrative and slowly change the system. What a cop out.

In my opinion these types of responses are given by people who don’t have any trust in the power of the working class, in the power of many, many millions of people fighting collectively to overcome their suffering. Yes, it is a huge task. Yes it is very difficult and challenging, but it is not impossible. And, above all, it is the only way it will be able to bring about lasting change for the benefit of all. Think about it. How will the capitalists with their wealth and power respond to ‘chipping away at the fringes’ and single issue responses? Exactly, with force and only a little force is needed to stamp that idea out as it only is done by a few well-wishers and do-gooders. But think about what they can do when millions of people strike and protest at the same time, what can they do when the whole economy is disrupted, like you could see happening during the Covid lockdowns worldwide. There is nothing they can do, because together we, the workers make the world go round. So in my view, our task is to convince our families, neighbours, colleagues and friends of this way. Read Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and Leon Trotsky, their ideas are worked out to the letter of what is needed to make this happen, and join the Socialist Party or the Committee for a Worker’s International (CWI)for the section in your country.

Undoing Social Protection

Steve Tombs, The Open University   “It’s going to come to the point where it’s going to affect the residents, the local population, in many ways we are at that point now, public health and protection is being eroded.” Environmental Health Officer, Merseyside   Making Regulation Better   In 2004, Sir Phillip Hampton was appointed […]

Undoing Social Protection

Developing criminological imagination

As the end of my module is in sight and I finish with an end of module assignment, I will have to explain how my criminological imagination has developed over the course of this year.

What does it mean?

The term criminological imagination was coined by the work of the sociologist Charles Wright Mills (1959) and his book The Sociological Imagination. In his book he states: ‘the sociological imagination* includes ‘a quality of mind’ that offers ‘an understanding of the intimate realities of ourselves in connection with larger social realities’ (p. 15). This means placing individuals in their own past but also of the society in which they live. So the issues of an individual are placed in their own daily experiences and social positions as well as in a society with social divisions and inequalities (as cited in Drake and Scott, 2019, p 238-240).

This way of thinking about crime opens up a way that is much more inclusive and open-minded than the way crime is thought about in the Criminal Justice System (CJS) or in public opinion. The criminological imagination consists of 3 components:

  • Considering crime problems from several different perspectives and using critical methods to look at their effects and possible solutions. Approaching them with a sense of scientific interest.
  • It offers a broad based approach to studying crime which places the individual in their social, historical and structural frame of reference.
  • Its goal is to understand the criminological world by making close associations between a person’s experiences.(private troubles) and the wider world (public issues). (Drake and Scott, 2019, p. 242)

This last point really got my interest because when I think about all the blog posts I have written, I have tried to do exactly that: placing my own experiences in a wider context, but also placing particular criminological concepts in a socialist context. By writing my thoughts down every week, I really felt I deepened my understanding and enhanced my learning greatly. I think it has developed my criminological imagination.

The Sociological Imagination by C. Wright Mills

Anchor points

Whilst studying a criminological subject, to really get a good comprehension it is necessary to collect various concepts, evidence and claims. Whilst doing so you can discover the overall scope of this topic through identifying ‘anchor points‘ as Mills (1959) argued. He referred to these as ‘key points that anchor general statements about the shape and the trend of the subject’ (p. 201, as cited in Drake and Scott, 2019, p. 246). Or in a nutshell evidence, a correlation or even a direct opposite that points out a particular subject in a different way or helps to identify its boundaries.

For example when we look at the concept of domestic violence, an anchor point could be that although there has been legislation implemented to define it and prosecute it, there is a disparity in how it is dealt with by the police and also the fact that many victim/survivors don’t press charges against their abuser, or even report it results in 2 women a week being killed by their predominantly male (former) partners in the UK (UKEssays, 2018). By identifying more and more anchor points a criminologist can then pull out powerful outcomes about how a concept is developed in society.

The social harm perspective

Sociologist Paddy Hillyard and colleagues (2004) have concluded after careful examining of various research that instead of only focusing on criminal acts it would be much more helpful to include all social harm including all acts that have influence on someone’s health, wellbeing and wealth during a lifetime. The intention is to enlarge the criminological focus to include these harms instead of minimising criminal acts (Hillyard and Tombs, 2004, p. 21 as cited in Drake and Scott, 2019, p.247).

I think a very good example to examine this idea is the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017. This fire has caused unimaginable suffering and death, but still, nearly 4 years on, there have been no arrests, and no crime has been identified. The reason for this is partly because corporate crime is very difficult to prosecute and mostly results in a fine for the company, rather than that an individual or group of individuals is held to account. But, if the idea of Hillyard and colleagues would be applied, all the harms caused by this fire would become crime, and perhaps the parties involved could be held to account. A point I would like to make though, would be that it is great and in my view absolutely correct this widening of the concept of crime, but within the capitalist system it would never become an actual fact, because it immediately affects big business and those in positions of power within the state. Those people create the law and will never allow their interests to be negatively impacted. It would be like turkeys voting for Christmas. But perhaps that is not the point, after all criminologists can only examine, study and draw conclusions and by doing so put pressure on the legislature and society as a whole to change.

My personal development of criminological imagination

As I pointed out before, my End of Module Assessment (EMA) is coming up in which I have to explain how my criminological imagination has developed over this module. I am very excited to see that I have greatly developed it by writing this blog. I did not realise it would help me so much gathering my thoughts and gaining a deeper understanding of the module material. This blog has been a playground and exercise to figure out my understanding of the different concepts and writing down my thoughts of all the theories and standpoints. I would like to thank in particular Derek Marsdon who has commented on most of my posts and given me great confidence to carry on with in particular my series of articles placing criminology concepts in a socialist context. I would like to take this opportunity to encourage more of you readers to do follow his lead.

I would also like to thank all the lecturers and professors of the Open University involved in writing the module material and the extra study material that the Harm and Evidence Research Collaborative (HERC) have provided. This is another blog on WordPress which I can strongly recommend.

Over the coming months I will continue my blog posts but from September I am going to study fulltime so I am afraid it will become a lot less frequent.

Lastly I would like to thank all my subscribers for following me, and I hope you will continue to. Please leave comments to encourage me, as it does sometimes feel like I am talking to myself (lol).

*Sociological imagination: As criminology is part of the social sciences, I will from here on refer to ‘criminological imagination’ as the term refers to each social science subject respectively.

References

UKEssays, (November 2018) History of Domestic Violence and Legislation in the UK. [online]. Available from: https://www.ukessays.com/essays/criminology/literature-review-domestic-violence.php?vref=1 [Accessed 20 April 2021].

Drake, D. H. and Scott, D. (2019) ‘The criminological imagination’, in Downes, J., Kent, G, Mooney, G., Nightingale, A. and Scott, D. (eds) Introduction to Criminology 2, Milton Keynes, Open University, pp. 237–257.

Corporate crime – hidden in plain sight

This week I try to answer some pressing questions around corporate crime. Why is there so little attention in the media around these often horrific and large-scale crimes? Why are there so few convictions and so few individuals held to account for harms that far outweigh the consequences placed on ‘street crime’? Is there anything to be done to change these outcomes?

Off course the issues around this concept are very widespread and take more than a simple blog post to discuss. But I just intent to get you thinking around common assumptions and the way corporate crime is dealt with in the Criminal Justice System (CJS). So first of all, what exactly is corporate crime?

  • Crime committed on behalf of an organisation, or in pursuit of its formal goals (cutting costs, increasing market share, profitability, innovation, and so on).

These include:

  • Financial crimes such as bribery of governments officials;
  • Crimes against consumers, such as price-fixing;
  • Crimes associated with employment relationships (including those related to employee safety); and
  • Crimes against the environment, such as illegal emissions from cars.

(Tombs, 2019, p. 196)

Media silence

There are many examples of corporate crime that is reported on in the media in the first instance, but then seem to disappear as time goes on, and because those crimes are often not prosecuted, let alone sentenced like ‘ordinary crime’, there are no events taking place that could draw the attention towards it again. To see the difference in media coverage you only have to do a comparable internet search. When I typed in ‘criminal’ the results showed at the top many video’s, podcasts and TV shows, but when I typed in ‘corporate criminal’ I got a few law firms, government websites and Wikipedia pages.

This difference in media coverage, as well as the lack of prosecutions, has created a false idea about crime in the collective conscience of people. Also in the academic world there is hardly any research done on corporate crime because it is very expensive and who is willing to fund it? Business isn’t, and governments neither, as their capitalist interests match those of the corporations. Besides, big companies have large pockets and anyone who enters into a legal battle with them (using laws in a system which the most powerful have created) will have to match their expensive legal teams.

This could be one of the reasons why individuals are pursued much more, as they are easy targets, for the media as well as for the CJS. By creating stereotypes about criminals, and common assumptions, divisions are made between certain groups of people, which plays into the hands of the state as it is easier to control people when they are divided. The media profit from this too, because sensationalist articles sell.

One law for us, a different law for them

The way crime is looked at for companies is very different from crime committed by individuals. Companies provide an important economic function in offering jobs and revenue which is used as a justification to approach corporate crime on a forward looking basis. With this I mean that prevention of future harm is the aim, instead of punishing past harms which usually counts for the rest of us (Tombs, 2019, p. 204). While individuals are mostly solely seen as criminals after committing a crime, corporate crime is merely portrayed as a side business, apart from their main, legal activities. Therefore, corporations are not seen as real criminals.

This is in contrast with how individuals are seen with a criminal record. It is almost impossible to find a job after you have served a sentence, and even after minor convictions the label seems to stick for the rest of your life. And in particular if you are young, male and from a BAME community, people are criminalised and targeted. But that is not to say that if you don’t fall into those categories, you are not committing crime, it is just less likely that you are caught and prosecuted.

So when crimes are committed in the corporate world, seldom a company and its leadership are prosecuted or punished. It is often worded as ‘accident’, ‘disaster’ or ‘scandal’ but rarely do you hear the word ‘corporate crime’, which is off course what it really is. This in my mind is all part of how the capitalist class defend their system and interests, which has little to do with justice and equality. The CJS, the economic and legal systems are all rigged in favour of the rich and powerful, and against anyone who doesn’t conform, is in a minority or otherwise criminalised.

Reform or system change

Would it be possible to reform this reality of injustice? Well, there have off course been attempts in several countries with different ‘adjustments’ usually based on a social-democratic model, but still this does not address the structural inequality and oppression that is inherent in the capitalist system. I welcome any improvements and reforms that benefit working class people but to think that reforms can radically change this pyramid scheme I think is utopian. That is because exploitation, inequality and competition are the bedrock on which capitalism is built.

I believe only socialist change can achieve true equality for all, as socialism is built on equality, sharing, community and collective action. It is built around the idea that workers have control over the means of production, and production is done on the basis of need instead of profit. Every aspect of society is democratically decided, with every representative subject to immediate recall and only on an average worker’s wage. Environmental protection, health & safety and quality will be paramount, and with the largest industries taken into public ownership everyone’s living standards will be raised dramatically. Average wages will be much higher, and everyone will have work but work less and have access to education throughout life.

If you like to know more about how this is practically possible please visit https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/ in the UK or https://www.socialistworld.net/ for your country elsewhere, or read this book:

References

Tombs, S. (2019) ‘Deconstructing the criminal’, in Downes, J., Kent, G., Mooney, G., Nightingale, A. and Scott, D. (eds) Introduction to Criminology 2, Milton Keynes, The Open University pp. 185–208. 

Young offenders – the result of cause and effect

This week I want to reflect on young offenders. Should they be seen and treated as criminals at all, why do some young people offend and how can we change the course of their lives towards a more positive future? I would like to answer those questions by reflecting on my own youth and childhood.

Now, I don’t want to pretend I come from a typical working-class family from a deprived estate in one of the poorest area’s of the country, cause I actually grew up in a middle-class well off family, in a richer part of a new estate in a village in the West of the Netherlands. So straight off, that is not the average type of family for someone who briefly ended up in prison at the age of 18. But what is striking is the circumstances and behaviour prevalent in my family growing up, and that nobody intervened and tried to stop the harm that went on.

Many young offenders have grown up in deprived areas, in single parent families often from BAME communities, have experienced abuse and neglect and have poor academic achievements. After analysing child prison services in England and Wales criminologists Jessica Jacobson and collegues (2010) as cited in Manlow (2019, p. 166) argued that before being imprisoned:

  • 51% lived in deprived households and/or unsuitable accomodation
  • 47% had at some point in their lives run away from home
  • 27% had been in local authority care
  • 12% had experienced the loss of a parent/sibling
  • 48% had been excluded from school

Then a later report from the Ministry of Justice (2013) cited research with the following findings:

  • 50% of 15-17 year olds in public sector young offenders institutions had literacy levels expected of 7-11 year olds.
  • 18% had a statement of special educational needs
  • 27% of young men aged 15-17 had emotional or mental health problems
  • 39% had been on the Child Protection Register or had experienced child abuse or neglect.

Out of all these points I tick four. And I don’t tick more because Social Services didn’t get involved, because nobody alerted them, and nobody died although there were several attempts which could have resulted in death. I did have severe problems at school which turned out was partly due to having dyscalculia (dyslexia for numbers) which was never diagnosed. But I wonder, if those issues would be addressed, how many of those young people and children would still offend?

And that is the interesting question everyone in society should think about. I am absolutely convinced, that if someone had alerted the authorities, social services or the school I went to about the horrific abuse I was witnessing at home, the torture of my adopted sister by my mother, and the neglect we were both experiencing, that I wouldn’t have had the devastating consequences of this. If we would have been taken into care, and placed in a loving family with specialist support to deal with the trauma, I know we would both now been much better equipped to go through life, and support our own children. I would not have gone to prison, or experienced more endless abuse in my teens and adulthood.

I don’t think I even need to give evidence of the positive results of giving children love, compassion and attention, a decent home, food and clothing and especially the opportunity to play, and be heard. It is simply common sense. By locking children and young people up, depriving them from the basics a human need to develop, by treating them harshly and without compassion, what do you expect to happen to that person? What chance does that child have to be a law-abiding, productive citizen? I say none. And most young people and children in prisons in England and Wales have had traumatising experiences before being incarcerated, so by locking them up and depriving them from the basics what will happen to this child when released is to me simply cause and effect; they will be more likely to commit further offenses.

(cited in Manlow, 2019, p. 1

So, why do children and young people commit offenses? Well, this also is a matter of cause and effect. In this capitalist system, where public services like Social Services, local authority care provision for children, mental health services, schools and youth clubs are cut from funding to such a degree that quality service is no longer possible, the safety net for vulnerable children is no longer available. Then also wages are very low, work is precarious for many parents who fall into poverty, and domestic abuse and mental health problems cause many children to get into harmful or deprived situations. And where there is poverty and very few chances of decent work the easy money being made in drugs trafficking or other criminal behaviour is very tempting. Many children and young people are vulnerable to exploitation and get groomed into gangs or prostitution. And that is basically what happened to me too.

I suffered domestic abuse and neglect as a child and got expelled from school age 16. By that time I had already been sexually abused and ran away from home age 17. I was extremely vulnerable, I started to use drugs from age 15 and developed serious mental health issues as a result from the abuse which all was completely undiagnosed. I had psychosis and PTSD by the time I was 18 and still had not received any help, support or diagnosis from anyone. I continued to be sexually abused by men, sometimes I knew them, but often I didn’t. I had no control over my life at all. I got into prison when I took part in a resistant eviction of a squat, together with 6 others. I got sentenced to 3 weeks in prison of which 2 weeks on licence, so I only was in prison for a week, but it was very hard, because I wasn’t allowed to mix with the other inmates, and was locked up 23.5 hrs a day, half hour in the yard by myself. There was no support at all and we were treated very badly by the police and in court, including extreme interrogation techniques. They left the light on for 24 hours a day, and non-stop music in cells so you couldn’t sleep. They beat some of my friends up really badly for no reason, in the cell next to me which I could hear. They followed and monitored my friends on the outside.

All this time I had not received any help, support or intervention from any services, nor were me or my sister taken into care, which should have happened, and my parents should have been charged with child abuse and neglect. Instead my sister was blamed for having behavioural issues and my parents continued to abuse her until finally at 15 she left. I am sure if she had stayed she would have died. All this happened in the 70’s and 80’s when mental health and social services were in its infancy.

As a result my life totally spiralled out of control, and around age 22 or 23 I was addicted, and nearly got groomed and forced into prostitution by a gang of criminals. I managed to escape, but at that time I was so utterly traumatised, ill and skin on bones I felt I had no choice but to go back to my parents, to get off drugs and try to turn my life around. I did that all by myself, because still, I had no help or support. I didn’t know where to turn or what to do, but I got out and started again.

I think, that if the thousands of opportunities were taken by state agencies to interfere and rescue me and my sister at a young age, much of the abuse and trauma that happened even through to my adult life wouldn’t have occurred. I might very well have not got to prison, not been excluded from school and had a successful career. Instead I now struggle with chronic mental health and back pain and have for most of my life had to live of benefits because I can’t hold down a job. I have suffered domestic abuse by 2 partners who are also the fathers of my children. I still can’t deal with relationships and struggle to have a social life. All this could have been prevented.

My point is, that in my opinion many crimes can be prevented if we look after people in society. If people have the means, and I mean this in the broadest sense of the word, to work and sustain themselves in every aspect of life, they generally won’t commit crime. If children, all children, are looked after with love, care and respect, and are listened to, they likely won’t commit crime. Maybe we should give it a try.

References

Manlow, D. (2019), ‘Deconstructing youth justice’ in Downes, J., Kent, G., Mooney, G., Nightingale, A. and Scott, D. (eds.) Introduction to criminology 2, Milton Keynes, The Open University.

Political Crime

An inevitable confrontation for revolutionary socialists

In this sixth edition of articles about criminology concepts in a socialist context I will talk about political crime. Admittingly this also is the subject of this week’s study material, but off course as a socialist I can’t ignore this important topic. To be honest, before I started reading about this last Monday I did not even know of the existence of political crime as a concept. Or perhaps it is more that I never considered it, which is strange because I am a political activist and campaigner.

Defining political crime

Anyway, let’s start by explaining what the definition of political crime is. It is, as cited in Kent (2019, p. 129),

politically motivated acts by citizens challenging the state, which are labelled as criminal, and as a consequence acted upon by the criminal justice system’.

I have to add that this concept is contested by many in the criminology field, including myself even though I am only just starting as a student. What is ‘political’ is contested, as well as what is ‘crime’, because both concepts are defined by the state. And the state, as Friedrich Engels (1977) explains, (cited in Head, 2011, p. 5)

“.. is a tool by the ruling class, a tool for the oppression of one class by another; the creation of ‘order’ that legalises and extends the oppression by regulating the conflict between classes whilst stripping the means and methods of struggle from the oppressed class to overthrow the oppressors”.

In most Western societies only a mere vale of democracy is draped over this concoction and really only officially allows freedom of press, freedom of assembly and equality before the law for all citizens but has always possibilities built into its constitution to declare martial law whenever a ‘crisis’ erupts and the people attempt to defy bourgeois rule (Head, 2011, p. 6). Trotsky observed that in times of economic growth and prosperity states can afford to rule democratically, showing leniency towards industrial action and political opposition but as soon as times get tough there would be no room for manoeuvre. He explained that moving to totalitarianism (in the 1930’s) came from the fact that parliamentary democratic institutions could not stand the pressure of tensions internally, and conflicts internationally (Head, 2011, p. 6).

Marxist criminologists Marshall Clinard and Richard Quinney (1973) as cited in Kent (2019, p. 135) divided political crime in two categories:

  • Crimes against government
  • Crimes by government
Socialism in the 21st century, available at LeftBooks

Unfortunately, because crimes are defined by the state, government can still potentially evade accountability for its own harmful actions, simply by not defining them as crimes.

Remaining options of opposition

Keeping this in mind, it is interesting to see current events unfold after the worst economic downturn since the 1930’s. The Conservative government has implemented legislation criminalising trespass, which deeply curtails legal opportunities for the whole of the working class to agitate, protest and oppose their rule, as well as criminalising traveller communities and the homeless. This is, in my mind, because the government fears massive outburst of anger and protest after the latest lockdown ends. Just this week they have announced a measly 1% pay ‘rise’, a pay cut off course in real terms for nurses, only months after the prime minister and his club of chums was clapping for carers and praising the NHS staff for saving his life from Covid-19. And that is only an example of the complete disastrous handling of the pandemic, the looting of public money by handing track & trace contracts to inept private companies (75% Tory donors). There is also a wave of unfair dismissals of union reps across industries and fire-and-rehire tactics by big companies, lowering the wages and T&C’s of staff. I think all this is political crime by the state and big industry to the aim of at any cost maintaining and continuation of the capitalist system.

So far, besides the big protests last year after the murder of George Floyd by police and several similar cases here in the UK, a big eruption of anger is still at large. But it is inevitable that people will start to engage into struggle, as living and working conditions are severely compromised and the unemployment rate soars. The government can’t delay ending the furlough scheme beyond September, and even with that money it is still a 20% cut in wages which few can afford. It is absolutely depressing to see the endless queues for foodbanks and the soaring rise in domestic violence deaths, especially when it is said that the 10 richest have gained $540B since March 2020.

But are there still means by which the working class can legally oppose and protest? I think it is a duty of any citizen that is aware of the threats and murderous regime (and who can say they aren’t in this digital age) to at the very least call out all injustices, corruption and exploitation to as wide an audience as possible. I think we can all join a union and get active organising in workplaces, and educate ourselves. Still the best option we have is organise, in trade unions, in political parties like the Socialist Party or standing in elections in coalitions like TUSC. We need political representation, not to win in a system which won’t allow that, but to find a path to power, to arm us politically and find and educate as many as possible to lead us in the struggle to a socialist society.

The right to rebel

Democracies rely on the concept of the social contract;

  • an explicit agreement among everyone in society to exchange some individual freedoms and uphold certain responsibilities for certain state protections and so we can live peacefully together (Drake and Scott, 2019, p. 59).

The Russian-American Emma Goldman was an anarchist political writer and activist who challenged the US government by publishing ‘A New Declaration of Independence’ in 1909 by claiming:

When existing institutions prove inadequate to the needs of man, when they merely serve to enslave, rob and oppress mankind, the people have the eternal right to rebel against, and overthrow, these institutions.

(Goldman, 1909, p. 1 as cited in Kent, 2019, p. 144)

Additionally, the UN Declaration of Human Rights also gives provision to uphold the right to rebel against tyranny and oppression (UN General Assembly, 1948 as cited in Kent, 2019). But Goldman really raises the question why it is illegal for citizens to rebel in democratic states, when those states don’t hold their end of the bargain, namely the social contract. I think the answer lies in the fact that to the ruling class the gloves are off when it comes to defending the capitalist system. They have purposely created this whole charade of ‘democracy’ to be able to get away with political crimes themselves and in the process criminalise any act of defiance which could jeopardise their power structure. It really is a dictatorial regime with no solutions to social and political conflict. In fact, it doesn’t offer solutions to any of the problems that face humanity at the moment, and that means time is up for capitalism.

Conclusion

Political crime is a construct of the state to defend the capitalist system against the threat of political or social opposition, by criminalising dissent, protest or other acts of defiance and violence. Even though the UN Declaration of Human Rights state that people have the right to protest, and rebel against oppressive states, many capitalist governments don’t acknowledge or accept it in practise by the way they define crime or legislate. This is how they can evade being held to account on their own conduct. In the long term this doesn’t offer any solution to conflicts which arise in society. I think socialist ideas from great socialists like Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Leon Trotsky and Vladimir Lenin offer great potential for solving those massive upheavals we are facing today. I urge you to read their books.

References

Drake, D. H. and Scott, D. (2019) ‘Law and order or harm and disorder?’, in Drake, D. H., Nightingale, A. and Scott, D. (eds.) Introduction to criminology 1, Milton Keynes, The Open University, pp. 55-78.

Head, M. (2011) ‘Introduction: what are crimes against the state?’ [Online] Crimes against the state: from treason to terrorism. Available at https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/open/reader.action?docID=714104 (Accessed 12/03/2021).

Kent, G. (2019), ‘Deconstructing political crime’ in Downes, J., Kent, G., Mooney, G., Nightingale, A. and Scott, D. (eds.) Introduction to Criminology 2, Milton Keynes, The Open University.

Gendered violence, will it ever end?

In this fifth edition in my series of articles of criminological concepts in a socialist context I am going to discuss gendered violence. The question in the title suggests two different contexts; will it ever end in society and will it ever end for the person on the receiving end of it. Because when you are in a violent relationship it can feel like it can only end one way, with death. And actually, even a survivor of gendered violence outside of the violent relationship can feel like it will never end, as every next relationship seems doomed to go the same way. And off course, also outside of the home gendered violence exist, even just being yourself as a trans or gay person can be enough to encounter violence on the street or in public spaces by complete strangers or the police.

‘It doesn’t have to be like this women and the struggle for socialism’ paperback from Leftbooks

What is gendered violence?

Gendered violence or gender-based violence is abuse that reproduces the dominant social order with regards to gender. In Western societies a binary form of gender is the norm in which 2 ‘natural’ sexes are fixed from birth and are physically identifiable. These are off course male and female with distinct behavioural and physical features like being quiet, caring and pretty for girls, and being strong, loud and independent for boys. Displaying these features for respective girls or boys is rewarded by society with acceptance as being female or male (Downes et. al., 2019a, p. 103). Social scientists West and Zimmerman (1987) argued that gender is something that is actively ‘done’ in every day life, rather than something that is fixed. This then begs the question does gender actually exist? But going back the the question, gendered violence is violence towards people that behave or dress outside of the norm of these two gender identities. Gender violence is disproportionately experienced by women and girls and is a key obstacle to global equality, development and peace (United Nations, 1993, 2017; Council of Europe, 2011). I would add to that people from the LGBT+ community and especially trans gender people. Feminists have argued that this violence is rooted in male entitlement, privilege and the assertion of male control and power over women and girls (Hanmer and Saunders, 1984; Kelly, 1988; Stark, 2007; Romito, 2008; Westmarland, 2015). This leads to the understanding that gendered violence is both the cause and consequence of gender inequality (Downes et al., 2019a, p. 104). However, class, race, disability, immigration status and sexuality also have influence on shaping these responses and experiences.

Domestic Abuse

Since the 1960’s and 70’s some forms of gendered violence have not been taken seriously by the state and police. Only after decades of protest and campaigning gendered violence has been recognised and now includes domestic abuse, rape, violence against family members, honour-based violence, forced marriage, female genital mutilation and violence in same-sex relationships. The term domestic abuse is now widely used instead of domestic violence to include coercive control, emotional, verbal and financial abuse. Coercive control is a way violent partners control their spouses and children by regulating and manipulating their every day lives. All these little control measures add up to a pattern of violence and abuse which on their own wouldn’t be regarded as abusive behaviour. It can include controlling when and what a person eats, drinks, watches on TV, wears, when and where to sleep, have sex, see their friends and family etc. Only in December 2015 this was recognised in law as a criminal offence. And still, the definition of what is abuse and violence changes. However, criminalisation of gendered violence is contested because it can improve access to justice for some, but can keep justice out of reach for others and create unintended consequences (Downes, et al., 2019a, p. 105-108).

The socialist context

So what would happen to these horrific crimes placed in a socialist context? I think it might take generations to collectively recover from centuries of patriarchy and off course these crimes would not disappear overnight. We would need to develop a programme of education and built collective kitchens, cleaning regimes and childcare facilities to relief women from the drudgery of housework and make bringing up children a community responsibility. We would need a collective recovery programme, and discuss the power inequalities, and try to find ways to prevent these behaviours to take hold in our communities. I think the whole make up of society would be reconsidered, as well as the role of the traditional family, and notions of traditional gender identities. In western societies the traditional family is already changing a lot, with single households increasing dramatically which to me indicates that the divisive character of the capitalist system has penetrated deep into our family lives. In a socialist society this would probably be reversed, with many people developing communal types of living, with a generational make-up, to support our elderly and children, as well as enriching our lives through the inclusive diversity characteristics of socialism.

So when you then as a society go through a revolution and establish a democratic worker’s state, in which each citizen has direct power to influence the way society is run, I believe that slowly, as it progresses, violence will be taken out of the equation purely because people will have real power to live their lives exactly the way they want to. Equality is the bedrock of socialism and as the drive to profit through exploitation is taken away, the way capitalism pitches people against each other, creating competition and individualism and uses division to maintain control, for a socialist society this would not exist. Inclusion, collectivism, equality and diversity are the key words on which society would be run. But to get there, we need a collective discussion on all the problems that exist today, and how we should best deal and recover from them, and most of all we need to work towards a socialist world.

References

Downes, J. (2019) ‘Contesting responses to gendered violence’, in Downes, J., Kent, G., Mooney, G., Nightingale, A. and Scott, D. (eds) Introduction to Criminology 2, Milton Keynes, The Open University, pp. 101–27.

Hanmer, J. and Saunders, S. (1984) Well-founded Fear: A Community Study of Violence to Women, London, Hutchinson.

Kelly, L. (1988) Surviving Sexual Violence, Cambridge, Policy Press.

Romito, P. (2008) A Deafening Silence: Hidden Violence Against Women and Children, Bristol, Policy Press.

Stark, E. (2007) Coercive Control: How Men Entrap Women in Personal Life, New York, Oxford University Press.

United Nations (1993) Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, General Assembly, 20 December, A/RES/48/104.

West, C. and Zimmerman, D. H. (1987) ‘Doing gender’, Gender and Society, vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 125-51.

Westmarland, N. (2015) Violence Against Women: Criminological Perspectives on Men’s Violences, Abingdon, Routledge.