Calling Time on Black Racism

Memory of the early-eighties: a school assembly. One of my classmates, who has joined the ultra-fashionable Rastafarian religion/movement, is ordered by the headmaster to remove his hat. The head has already spoken to the boy’s parents, who have agreed that their son shouldn’t wear his hat in school. My classmate refuses, claiming a religious right to cover his head. He is ordered to leave the school premises until he removes the hat. He marches up the stairs to leave the hall; at the top, he turns, raises his fist, and shouts “Jah Rastafari!”, before marching out. Cheers of support ring from the hall, but everyone else stays seated. For his Rasta salute, he is expelled. He never returns to school, and leaves without qualifications.

While he may have been unfairly treated regarding his religious choices, he was not a victim of racism. Rather, he was a victim of a black nationalist ideology that was a hangover from the earlier anti-colonial and civil rights struggles. He had been taught that “the system” (or “Babylon” as Rastas called it), was a white system, rigged against black people. He didn’t need the “white man’s knowledge” (you know – maths, science, that sort of thing) because it was designed to “keep the black man down”. In leaving school without any tools to thrive in the British economy, he was typical of many young black men of his generation. They rejected education because racist extremists had told them it was false knowledge, and that they could never succeed in white society.

This was untrue. In fact, literate, middle-class black kids, and especially those from African homes, found plenty of opportunity in the UK, regardless of the racism many encountered. Black nationalist ideology is a recipe for failure: many teenage boys would love an excuse to skip their classes and fail their exams, and afrocentric teaching gives them just that. But while this racist nonsense is rejected by most black parents, it is embraced by many confused white “liberals”, who amplify the message and patronisingly accept that when young black men fail, it’s not their fault: instead, it’s the white man, keeping the black man down via an intricate and invisible system of “structural racism”. As I’ve blogged previously, there is actually little evidence for structural racism affecting people’s economic outcomes, at least in the UK.

This imaginary “oppression” is increasingly used as an excuse for a huge upsurge in black racism. Those of us who have spent much of their lives as minorities along black communities (for 40 years, in my case) will know that black racism is not a new thing; but we are few, and the arrival of postmodern nonsense from Race Studies faculties that denies black people are even capable of racism has added fuel to the fire. While black racism has been largely ignored or excused by the black community and white “liberals”, the arrival of social media has made it increasingly hard to ignore. I have several hundred black Facebook friends – mostly in the UK but also in Africa and the US – and it’s rare that a day passes without seeing overt racism from black people that would be shouted down if it came from anyone else. Here are a couple of examples that have appeared on my timeline in recent days:

titanic

A bunch of white people died on the Titanic! Hilarious. Like most such memes, it’s based on a lie: black people were never barred from the Titanic, and in fact at least one black person was on board. Outside of the segregated southern US, colour bars were actually pretty rare; but history is now rewritten to be racialised, and a generation of black people raised on self-pitying “black history” rather than actual history is more than ready to believe this myth.

Here’s another:

go-black-people-go

There’s a nice, feel-good black business success story, coupled with a thinly-veiled celebration of an Asian business being burned to the ground. The message appears to be: black people can succeed, just like Asians! All you need to do is chase them out of black neighbourhoods! As in America, black provisions are often sold by Asians in the UK: human hair, hair and skin products and cosmetics stores in black areas are, more often than not, run by Asians, which causes resentment rather than self-examination among many. Anti-Asian racism is strong in the black community: in part, because Asian success gives the lie to the idea that non-whites can’t succeed in Britain.

Similarly, and for similar reasons, anti-African sentiment is strong among sections of the black community. At my school, this gave rise to “Ja-fake-ans”: Africans trying to pass as Jamaican to avoid bullying.

Every story that can be twisted into a black oppression narrative will be. The Ebola outbreak in West Africa prompted an equally virulent outbreak of racist conspiracy theories. First, it was a lie designed to allow neo-colonialists to invade Africa. Then, a genetically modified virus designed by the white man to wipe out Africans. Then, when an experimental vaccine was rushed into use, this was obviously a trick to poison black people. And then, as the outbreak came under control, new theories that the whole thing had simply never happened. All of this ignored the reality: that hundreds of white medical volunteers were putting their lives at risk to treat people, that European and American money funded the relief effort and the roll-out of drugs and vaccines, just as they had to tackle AIDS and malaria on the continent.

The Caitlyn Jenner episode, for some reason, prompted an upsurge of spiteful transphobia and racism from black people. One particularly odd meme originated from Snoop Dogg, who said:

Snoop-Dogg-instagram-post-congratulating-Akon

Where to begin? How about the laughable idea that an R&B singer is single-handedly bringing power to the entire African continent? The actual story was that he was funding a school for solar engineers in Bamako, Mali. This claim is particularly odd given the afrocentric obsession with pointing out how damn enormous Africa is. One moment, a huge continent, the next a plaything for an American celebrity. This was far from the only anti-Jenner hate I saw from black people. White “liberals”, normally outraged by the faintest hint of transphobia, appeared to be universally silent about this sort of thing. The racism of the new left excuses black people pretty much anything because – well – the poor, oppressed dears don’t know any better, do they? The new left has accepted the core ideology of the old, white supremacist right: that black people can’t be held responsible for their actions, nor held to be equals in any true sense.

All of this comes on top of the vile #BlackLivesMatter campaign, which successfully turned the burning issue of police shootings into a racial one. While racial statistics on police shootings were initially hard to find (because, amazingly, no official count is taken), the Guardian stepped up to the plate by maintaining its own database. Via this, we discover that so far this year, 901 Americans have been killed by police, of whom 416 are white and 217 (24%) are black. Black Lives Matter is a slap in the face to the families of the rest: those whites, Hispanics, Asians and others who have lost a loved one to US police violence. Indeed, those who tried to propose an #AllLivesMatter hashtag were screamed down as racists on social media. #76PercentOfLivesDontMatter, apparently. Stupidly, this campaign has dismantled attempts to build a cross-societal backlash against police violence, and instead taken the opportunity to create another self-pity party for those who feel most hard done by. Martin Luther King is, no doubt, face-palming in heaven.

It’s true that black deaths are disproportionately high; it’s also true that black people are more likely to open fire at police officers (70% of shootings at police in New York State were by black people, according to an Economist audio report some months back). If you shoot at US cops, you’re going to get shot! There is a racism element in all this, no doubt, but it is undoubtedly smaller than Black Lives Matter claims.

Similarly, the death of Sandra Bland was breathlessly reported as the eighth black woman to die at police hands that year; the reporting failed to mention that 17 white women had died in the same period. Can you name any of the 684 non-blacks killed by American police this year? The supreme irony is that, while denouncing the media for ignoring black deaths, in fact the reverse is happening: only black deaths can be publicly mourned. The rest must go unmentioned, because to even mention their existence risks being tiresomely labelled “racist”.

Note that Black Lives Matter has nothing to say about the shooting of black people by police… in Africa, which is a daily occurrence. #BlackLivesMatterButOnlyWhenAWhitePersonCanBeBlamed, apparently.

The list goes on indefinitely… a UK government warning against washing chicken for hygiene reasons became a Facebook excuse to label whites as unhygienic. To explain context: washing chicken and meat is common in black cultures; so is a belief that white people are dirty.

Personally, I rarely give a damn about much of the casual racism directed against whites, Asians, mixed-race people and others by black people. I’ve experienced this more times than I can count, especially when in the company of my black partner: the sight of a white man with an attractive black woman is guaranteed to bring out the worst in some people; even more so now that we have a child together. This has been a background fact of my life for decades, but I know from experience that for every black person who dislikes me for my colour, there are many more who will stand up for me. But while we get hysterical every time some silly old white man says something vaguely racist, we are utterly silent in the face of more prevalent black racism.

Thankfully, there are signs that many black people are waking up to the problem, and challenging it. Several black friends of mine have begun to stand up to black racists on Facebook: bravely so, because to do so means dealing with accusations of being a race traitor, and other silly forms of abuse. Many within the black community are beyond sick of people playing the race card to excuse their failures, rather than take responsibility for themselves. Perhaps the tide began to turn with Chris Rock’s legendary “blacks vs niggaz” act, now almost 20 years old. In a recent discussion on a friend’s page, a black American woman contributed the following: “I’m tired of the race card being pulled some blacks are just misguided and stupid and create their own problems”. But the white-dominated anti-racism movement has proven itself too cowardly or simply unaware of this problem, and stays away. What’s the point of an anti-racism movement that ignores racism? This is gold dust for the far-right, which can harvest white, working class supporters rejected as “racists” by the left for merely complaining when they themselves experience racism.

Just as white supremacy was fatally holed by the election of a black President, and is sinking rapidly, so it’s time for racist black nationalism to go the same way. I have never tolerated racism in any form, and frequently stood up against it. I don’t intend to stop doing that now.

Free Speech, “Rape Threats” and the War on Twitter

Control-freaks hate Twitter (cartoon released into the public domain by Carlos Latuff)
Control-freaks hate Twitter (cartoon released into the public domain by Carlos Latuff)

British leaders often invoke the idea that Britain is a “beacon of freedom”. Anyone paying attention though, will note that free speech has always been strongly restricted in the UK: far more so than in the United States, where it is constitutionally protected. Sadly, most British people seem to have a vague understanding of what free speech is, or why it is so important. This lack of love for free expression runs across the political spectrum; of the three large parties, only the Liberal Democrats show any real interest in protecting it.

But the rot isn’t just within the political parties. By demoting free speech behind “security”, “protecting children” or simply “protecting against offense”, our political leaders are merely reflecting the attitudes of their supporters. I’m regularly told, by both righties and lefties, that “free speech doesn’t mean all speech” or “free speech is all very well, but there must be lines in the sand”. Thus demonstrating they don’t understand the basic meaning of the word “free”. Protection of free speech must include “bad” speech, by definition. After all, the ideas that women should get the vote or that homosexuality should be decriminalised were once “dangerous” ideas.

Despite the regular self-congratulations about how free we are, Britain has always had a censorious, paternalistic culture towards “protecting” its citizens from the menace of genuinely free expression. Our television is the most censored in Europe, and our government regularly blocks bigoted loud-mouths from entering the country (as if we didn’t excel in creating our own bigoted loud-mouths). This situation was suddenly disrupted by the arrival of the consumer Internet around 20 years ago, which brought truly uncensored expression to British people for the first time. With the later appearance of Web 2.0 – meaning tools that allowed non-technical people to easily publish content – true free expression accelerated further.

So the powers that be – government, police and media corporations – have always had an unspoken desire to rein in online free speech; to take us back to the 1980s, when they could largely control the flow of information to the masses.

Twitter, a classic Web 2.0 creation, is quite probably the most free mass medium of them all. It represents America’s First Amendment distilled and productised. It allows people to publish what’s on their minds in an instant, and for popular ideas to be rapidly propagated. Twitter is the great leveller: it favours the unknown over the famous. Well-known individuals will always find themselves the butt of jokes and personal attacks, simply because they’re famous. On Twitter, the bigger they come, the harder they fall.

Needless to say, British authoritarians, control freaks and the fascist-minded hate Twitter. Our authorities have tried to keep American free speech at bay since the US Constitution was written, but now it has invaded our country: and we should be pleased of that. Since Twitter’s birth, it was only a matter of time before war was declared on the platform. The police have been flexing their muscles for some time. Since Paul Chambers went to court in the infamous Twitter Joke Trial in 2010, authorities have increasingly tried to take control of online speech. But Chambers attracted great public support; the authorities had chosen the wrong target.

The real War on Twitter began in mid-2013, when a well-orchestrated moral panic was launched. The clear aim of the panic is to create support for the idea that Twitter is a dangerous medium, and must be controlled. And sadly, many people – conservative and liberal – have swallowed the propaganda hook, line and sinker. The word “troll” – which originally referred to deliberately provocative posters in online chat forums – was appropriated by the media and redefined to mean “someone who is offensive online”. This now appears in a variety of contexts such as “abusive Twitter troll”, “misogynistic troll”, and so on.

Twitter has a block button, which easily hides future tweets from people one doesn’t want to see. I try not to ever use it (it would be pretty hard to watch morons if I did), but the mechanism works well for those who do. This means that the more delicate souls can forget that there are rude, foul-mouthed, abusive people on Twitter, if they want to.

The panic had clearly been primed and ready to go for some time. It found its perfect moment when a campaign was launched in 2013 to keep women on British banknotes, following the announcement of a new £5 note to be launched in 2016. A journalist, Caroline Criado-Perez, tweeted in support of the campaign, and received a number of offensive tweets in response: some of the abuse reportedly featured rape threats. Criado-Perez is an attractive, middle-class, young, blonde woman; the War on Twitter had its perfect victim, and operations commenced.

Another female journalist, who followed events on the day, tells me that Criado-Perez only received a handful of abusive tweets; and yet the event was picked up by the press and massively exaggerated. The tweets, from a handful of morons, became a “torrent”, and a “barrage”. A number of female journalists began an ironically patriarchal campaign, the subtext of which was that women are more delicate than men, and should not have to tolerate the nasty language that men do. Online death threats to men (of which I’ve received, and laughed off, many) are just boys being boys, but rape threats to women are beyond the pale.

Over the past six months, the campaign has been pumped up by the media on a regular basis. Learning from the Criado-Perez experience, the bulk of the coverage is dedicated to the online abuse of attractive young women. Feminists of the Women’s Lib generation might spot the misogynistic message being deployed here, but it appears not to have been widely noticed, with many self-declared feminists attacking “sexist Twitter trolls” rather than the sexist concept that women, unlike men, can’t handle nasty words being thrown in their direction.

Eventually, two young morons – a man and a woman, came to trial for abusing Criado-Perez. Yes, a total of two, despite the “torrent” of abuse reported at the time. The trial’s coverage was riddled with misogyny and class snobbery. Photographs of the overweight, unattractive pair were juxtaposed with the blonde demureness of Criado Perez. “Look at these oiks, abusing such a nice, middle class lady”, the news outlets (almost) screamed.

The hysterical coverage of “Twitter trolls” has set out to demonstrate that the problem of unregulated speech is real, harmful, and getting worse. The prosecution stated that:

“Caroline Criado-Perez has suffered life-changing psychological effects from the abuse which she received on Twitter”

The poor, delicate little thing (did I mention she’s blonde?)

I’m probably being unfair to Criado-Perez here; the Crown Prosecution Service were clearly desperate to get a conviction and extend British law into controlling what people can say in public. The prosecution may well have misrepresented and exaggerated her true feelings in their lust to increase their power over public discourse.

In my 25 or so years of online discussion, I’ve experienced far more abuse than I can remember. It includes threats of harm, anti-Semitic and racist comments, and endless personal attacks. And yet the idea of people being prosecuted for mere speech – however ugly the speech – horrifies me far more than the worst Holocaust joke I’ve seen. One of the preconditions for the Holocaust to take place was to silence Jews and other minorities. Free speech protects the most vulnerable in society. The idea that police should have any role in controlling expression is a horrific one, and can only have horrific consequences; and yet those who should be defending our free speech have fallen at the first hurdle because – shock horror – free speech means people might say nasty words to nice people.

It is tragic that, centuries after the Enlightenment, liberals still need educating in why free speech – even including nasty, bigoted, hateful speech – must be protected. Women, minorities and the poor are never protected by giving increased censorship powers to the state. In 1789, America’s founders recognised this and outlawed censorship in their Constitution. 235 years later, it’s about time Britain followed their example.

Pre-emptive Arrests In UK

With the upcoming Thatcher burial (or firing her out of a cannon, or whatever they’ll do with her), some people have been taken by surprise by suggestions that activists may be pre-emptively arrested to prevent them from disrupting the funeral.

If you’re one of those surprised people, you haven’t been paying attention. The police have increasingly arrested people – including those with no history of violence – in the run-up to major events.

This is just one more example of thought crime, which has been increasingly prevalent since 9/11. But, you may say, in a democracy, how can political speech be criminalised? It can’t – democracy is meaningless without the right to protest.

Arrests were made in the run-up to the Royal Wedding in 2011, and 97 people were arrested in the run-up to Notting Hill Carnival that year.

Here’s a video of the political arrest of Charlie Veitch, in 2011, in the run up to the Royal Wedding. He was held for 24 hours to prevent him from making any kind of protest, however peaceful or humour-based. This is what a police state looks like in Britain: polite police officers enforcing undemocratic edicts from above to prevent speech that upsets “the establishment” – whatever and whoever that may be.

Leveson, Corrupt Police and Prostitutes

It should be noted that Lord Leveson, in his infinite wisdom, has chosen to attack press freedom while almost completely ignoring the most serious issue arising from the phone -hacking scandal: corruption within the Metropolitan Police, and the worthlessness of the current police regulator, the IPCC. This fact has also been noticed by the English Collective of Prostitutes, who posted the following update yesterday on their Facebook page:

Prostitute women have suffered terribly from untruthful and unscrupulous exposes in the media which have compromised women’s safety and caused pain and suffering to us and our families. Sex workers are particularly vulnerable as we risk prosecution if we complain. When we do complain, we are ignored.

Last year police raided a flat, accusing the two women occupants of being sex workers – a photographer was with them. He took pictures inside the flat without the women’s permission. When they objected, officers said that the photos were for police use. This was a lie. The women were not charged with any offence, but the photographer turned out to be from the News of the World (NoW) and the next day the photos appeared in the paper and on the NoW website. They were removed only after we threatened legal action.

We complained to City of London Police that NoW was widely believed to be paying officers £2,000 to be allowed to accompany them on a raid, and that the officers on this particular raid had received money. Our complaint was dismissed with: ‘no evidence that any money was exchanged’ and ‘Officers individually or the City of London as a whole do not routinely receive payment from journalists or the media.’ We asked: ‘How routinely is routinely? Once a day, a week, a month? By how many?’What is going to be done about such media criminality? Phone hacking and other criminal activities by the press is only possible because police treat being bought by the media as a perk of the job.
What guarantee is there that an independent board will be any more responsive to the public’s complaints than the IPCC which rubberstamps police actions in over 90% of complaints? What is the point of regulations when government and police are allowed to get away with it once again?

The Murder Of Daniel Morgan

In 1987 Daniel Morgan, a London-based private investigator, stumbled across corruption involving the police. Not long after, he was hacked to death with an axe. In this audio interview, Daniel’s brother Alastair talks about his 25-year struggle against the British state to see justice done.

 

Greek Man Admits Racist Murder on Facebook

Golden Dawn supporter Andreas Asimakopoulos apparently admits murdering Iraqi immigrant

As the global corporatocracy forces Greece into implementing austerity measures that are guaranteed to destroy the country’s economy, the inevitable outcome is a widespread collapse into poverty, a breakdown of society, and the rise of nationalism. Organised fascism has appeared, in the shape of Golden Dawn. Unsurprisingly, the police have been accused of turning a blind eye to anti-immigrant violence – indeed, it’s been reported that 50% of Athens police voted for Golden Dawn in recent elections.

In one of many recent attacks, an Iraqi man is reported to have been stabbed to death on Sunday morning by five individuals. A Golden Dawn supporter, Andreas Asimakopoulos, appears to have admitted involvement in the murder on Facebook – another user took a screenshot of the admission; a translated version is shown above, and the original image (in Greek) can be seen here.

Activists have informed Athens police.

In the mean time, the centre-right Greek government has chosen to launch a huge round-up of immigrants in an attempt to attract votes away from Golden Dawn: a cowardly and dangerous strategy. The original cause of Greece’s ongoing collapse – austerity designed to force the country into selling its assets to private bidders – continues unchanged.

Update: the following is a translation of a Greek newspaper article I’ve been provided: The Facebook user in question has contacted TVXS and claimed that his Facebook posts were just “jokes between him and his friends”. He has also removed all mention of Golden Dawn from his Facebook page.

Porn Trial: How Consenting Sex May Be Illegal in the UK

Met Police
Coming Soon To A Bedroom Near You

Here’s a perfect illustration of how authoritarians make use of moral panics to persuade people that personal freedoms must be monitored and attacked by the state.

In 2003, a Brighton teacher called Jane Longhurst was killed by Graham Coutts. Coutts claimed that she had died during consenting sexual asphyxiation play, but the prosecution suggested that the two had not been lovers, and that she had been raped and murdered. He was convicted of murder and imprisoned. Much attention in the trial focused on Coutts’ interest in asphyxiation, and on his possession of pornographic images depicting this.

Although no evidence was provided to show that the porn had led Coutts to kill Longhurst (and indeed, such porn has become widespread without an increase in such crimes), a moral panic began over “violent porn”. The Labour government, already hugely authoritarian in many ways, first tried to ban web sites carrying “violent pornography”. When this moronic attempt at censorship failed, their next approach was even more authoritarian: to ban the possession of “violent” pornographic imagery. This was put into law as Section 63 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, better known as the Violent Porn Law.

Starting from the killing of one woman, and based on unfounded rumours that her killing had been linked to pornography, the UK government had instituted one of the most draconian pieces of legislation in recent British history. Now, a person could be imprisoned for downloading or possessing on video or DVD any pornography that might breach the law, even if they were unaware of the law’s existence.

The key parts of the law defining violent porn are as follows:

  • An act threatening a person’s life
  • An act which results (or is likely to result) in serious injury to a person’s anus, breasts or genitals

So for example, sexual asphyxiation could be deemed to threaten a person’s life. Although many people enjoy this act, possessing an image of someone enjoying it is now illegal. Note that the owner of the image has responsibility not just to be familiar with the law, but to make the decision as to whether is it “life-threatening” or not. In other words a video of two consenting adults engaging in asphyxiation, and causing no harm to each other, may still be deemed illegal, and result in a prison sentence for anyone possessing it.

The second provision is similarly vague. Anal fisting is an act enjoyed by many people, gay and straight. It’s perfectly legal to fist (or be fisted) so long as the act is consensual. And yet, if a photograph is taken, published on the Internet and downloaded, the person downloading it can be imprisoned.

The New Labour control-freaks have triumphed yet again: viewing of a consenting sexual act has become illegal. The government feels it has a right to decide which consenting sex acts are unsuitable for the British public. And to be clear, the key word here is consenting.

As I write this, Simon Walsh is on trial at Kingston Upon Thames Crown Court for possession of images of anal fisting. The police had raided him, found no imagery on his work computer, but then gained access to his email and found images attached to emails that he had received. The police have no evidence that the attachments were ever opened. By the fact that Walsh had simply received images of consenting sexual activity, the police and Crown Prosecution Service have decided there is a case to answer – and Walsh is facing up to three years imprisonment.

It gets murkier: in his professional life, Simon Walsh has been involved in… guess what? Prosecuting police officers who are charged with disciplinary offences. Perhaps this explains the police enthusiasm in finding pornography in his “possession” – and then proceeding with a prosecution.

I wish Simon Walsh all the best in winning his case, and furthermore hope that his victory will be a first step in revoking this ludicrous, draconian law.

The ongoing case can be following via the Twitter hashtag #porntrial. Walsh’s lawyer is Myles Jackman, who can be followed at @ObscenityLawyer and via his blog.

Why London Should Ditch Boris

Boris Johnson, our Moron Mayor
Our Moron Mayor

We’re coming up to the London mayoral election, where the second most powerful British politician is elected; the standard of debate is excellent, as it should be in such an important contest, and the media are doing their job of challenging the candidates on the many critical issues faced by London.

Not. Hopefully you were quick to spot my sarcasm. As is usually the case in important UK political decisions, the race is being trivialised and reduced to two personalities. London’s ever-moronic paper, the Evening Standard, has failed to hold Mayor Boris to account, as has most of the national press, and the entire race has been reduced to discussing smear stories against Livingstone, which are used to dispel any talk about issues and policies.

So let’s cut out the crap: it doesn’t matter if you like or dislike Ken or Boris. It doesn’t matter that Ken keeps newts and can therefore be labelled “slimy”. What matters is that one of the most powerful political positions is up for grabs, but morons are discussing Boris’s hair.

The reality is, only Ken Livingstone can defeat Boris Johnson; and here’s a selection of reasons why you should vote for him with either your first or second preference vote.

Congestion Charge

Ken was Mayor from 2000 and 2008, so there’s no need to speculate; his commitment to good public transport, and to reducing road traffic and air pollution, was nothing short of impeccable. He introduced the congestion charge scheme despite screams from the car industry and the media; he was loudly told the scheme would fail; but it didn’t. It reduced the number of cars, sped up traffic in London and reduced air pollution. He then extended the scheme to the west, again to screams from wealthy car-owning residents of Kensington and Chelsea; but the extension was again a success, and won over local people. Before the 2008 election, he announced plans to charge drivers of high-polluting vehicles (which I and many others would say have no place in a crowded city) £25 a day if they wanted to drive into the centre. This would have further cut congestion by cutting the number of super-large cars, and improved air quality by removing the worst polluters.

Boris, in order to win votes from Kensington and Chelsea drivers (one of the UK’s wealthiest demographics), promised to scrap the Western Extension Zone. This he did, to the benefit of very few and the detriment of many. Boris also scrapped plans to charge high-polluting vehicles £25 – much to the delight of Porsche, who had been suing Livingstone, and whom Boris paid an immediate £400,000 of our money in settlement. After instituting a 25% rise in congestion charge, Boris then froze the cost, benefiting car drivers and leading to an increase in congestion and air pollution. London is now regularly in breach of EU air pollution guidelines, with a resultant rise in breathing disorders and cost to the NHS. It’s worth noting that Boris’s response to worsening air pollution was to attempt a cover-up.

Public Transport

The situation inherited by Ken in 2000 was disastrous, particularly for bus users. Ken put around 5,000 more buses on the road, and enforced bus lane usage for the first time, leading to faster bus journeys. The congestion charge also enabled buses to run faster. On busy main roads, Ken introduced bendy buses which could rapidly move large numbers of people with minimal stopping time. The anti-Ken Evening Standard began a campaign, falsely labelling the buses as dangerous to cyclists; this was a straight lie. Not a single death occurred due to the introduction of bendy buses. Ken also introduced the Oyster card, speeding up and simplifying journeys, and making ticketing less labour-intensive.

In response to the farcical campaign against bendies, Boris promised to scrap them and commission a new Routemaster bus. The new bus wasn’t necessary, and turned out to be hugely expensive at £8m each; only a handful of the new buses have been introduced (“coincidentally” just in time for the mayoral election) but for the same price, 96 hybrid buses could have been rolled out instead. The new bus turns out to be nothing but a multi-million pound election campaign ad for Boris, funded by us, and although it’s admittedly pretty, has done nothing to improve London’s transport.

And let’s not forget: while holding down the cost of congestion charge, Boris introduced huge fare rises – up to 83% in some cases.

Cycling

Boris has introduced two initiatives: the Barclays-sponsored cycle rental scheme, and cycle super-highways. The former is a nice idea that already works well in Paris, Barcelona and elsewhere. I joined it the moment it appeared, and it worked well, for a few weeks. Then, demand picked up and the scheme’s mismanagement and under-funding meant that it became increasingly difficult to use. The cycles tend to distribute themselves unevenly – for example, in the mornings, they migrate from the outer stations such as Euston and Waterloo to the centre of London. If the scheme is to remain usable, cycles must be collected from full docks and put in empty ones. This redistribution system appears to have completely failed; it’s rare to be able to complete an end-to-end journey – either no bike is available at the start, or no free dock can be found at the end. It’s a simple management issue, but as so often noted, Boris doesn’t do management. I quit the scheme after the first year.

Boris’s other cycling “achievement” was the introduction of the “cycle superhighways”. Great name – useless scheme. For a mere £100m or so, Londoners got shiny new blue paint on the roads to mark out the highways. Unfortunately, that’s about all they got. The blue lanes aren’t protected by any kerbs or physical obstacles to motor vehicles, and cars are allowed to drive in them if they want. Inevitably, deaths have occurred on the super-highways; the scheme joins the new bus as an example of an expensive but worthless high-profile scheme whose ultimate aim seems to be the promotion of Mayor Boris.

London Pride

The introduction of the position of Mayor gave London its first chance to develop a city-wide identity since Thatcher scrapped the GLC in the 1980s, and Ken took full advantage. I remember three areas that stood out, and heralded a return of pride in our city.

The first was London’s response to the Iraq War. Our Prime Minister Tony Blair had dragged the UK into an illegal war, against the wishes of the British people. A few months after the start of the war, in late-2003, Bush came to London on a state visit. A huge rally was held in Trafalgar Square to protest the presence of a war criminal in Buckingham Palace. Meanwhile, a few miles further east, Ken Livingstone hosted an anti-war event to show the disgust of Londoners against Bush, Blair and their acts of mass murder. He had also spoken brilliantly at London’s immense anti-war march in February 2003. It was a moment to be proud of London at a time when many were ashamed to be British. It goes without saying that Mayor Boris has not repeated such an event, and has left London devoid of a sense of community or leadership.

The second was the redesign of Trafalgar Square itself. London’s places of beauty had slowly been torn apart by the car lobby, and Trafalgar Square itself became a dirty, polluted roundabout. Ken’s redesign saw a large part of the square pedestrianised, and reclaimed from cars by pedestrians. Artworks were displayed and a sweeping staircase led from the square up to the National Gallery. The new Trafalgar Square is a testament to Ken’s love of London, and his hard work as mayor. Conversely, Boris seems to work little and care even less.

The third was the magnificent RISE festival, a free music festival with an anti-racism theme, that attracted top music acts, and brought together Londoners from all communities in a day of celebration. This became London’s second festival, after the Notting Hill Carnival, and an important community hub. Boris, elected at a time when racial tensions were rising and far-right groups gaining in strength, virtually scrapped the festival. It was rescued by trade unions, but is now a far smaller event with a much lower profile.

Housing

London councils are being forced by the government to relocate poor families – not just the unemployed but many who work – to towns far from London. London is being socially cleansed; property prices are spiralling in a frenzy of speculation, and the poor are squeezed out. This is detrimental not just to our culture, but to the economy too; a city filled with bankers and media executives still needs lower-skilled workers. Boris has said, and done, nothing. He has failed in his duty to defend our city against the right-wing onslaught from central government.

Ken, as mayor, flew the flag for affordable housing and the maintenance of diverse communities. Indeed, he happily admitted that his prime reason for backing the London Olympics bid was to get East London redeveloped, and get large amounts of affordable new housing built.

Policing

The great bendy bus myth was one of two big lies used by the pro-Boris media to help him defeat Ken. The second was far more serious: the misreporting of a “knife crime epidemic” that didn’t actually happen. This resulted in an increased fear of crime and increasingly heavy policing. Random stop and search by police increased dramatically, and was especially used against young black and Asian men. The mayor has a duty to ensure London is being properly policed and listen to community concerns – but Boris has been the absent mayor. Community groups increasingly warned the mayor of an increase in anti-police feeling, and a breakdown in police-community relations. There were clear warnings of riots. And when they arrived in August 2011, few Londoners were surprised. Boris’s response? He turned up a few days later for a photo opportunity with local people who were sweeping the streets clean. He appeared to have little understanding of the issues; he didn’t go to Tottenham, the source of the riots. In short, he failed to lead.

We have an Alternative Vote system – so you can vote for Green, Liberal Democrat or whoever else you like. But Livingstone is the only one who can beat Boris, and deserves your second vote, if not your first. It really doesn’t matter if whether you think Ken is “slimy” or not – London is one of the world’s great cities, and deserves a leader who – pardon my language – gives a fuck about it.

Boris’s Imaginary Knife Crime Epidemic

KnivesEveryone, in London and beyond, will remember the horrendous knife-crime epidemic of early-2008. The story was spread far and wide – indeed, friends of mine from France and the United States mentioned it in conversation at the time. The opposition Conservative party and most of the British media picked up the story, and used it to show us just how dangerous life had become in Britain’s capital. It should have been a scary time for me, my friends and family here in London… but it wasn’t.

Why? Because the “knife crime epidemic” of 2008 was a lie. A scare story concocted by the (then in opposition) Conservative party, most of the British press, and in particular, London’s Evening Standard. The timing of the story was no coincidence; it came in the run-up to London’s mayoral election, in which the Conservative challenger, Boris Johnson, was to defeat Labour’s Ken Livingstone – London’s mayor from 2000 to 2008. Livingstone had a long record in London politics, having won the top job way back in the 1980s, and he was (and still is) hated by the conservative media, especially the Standard.

London is an incredibly safe city for its size – one of the world’s safest – but being a city of eight million people, it’s easy to find a violent crime to report any day of the week, if the press so chooses. Beginning in early-2008 the Standard suddenly began to pay more attention to violent crimes, and especially stabbings. There is roughly one murder every two days in London (New York sees around five times the number of murders), so the Standard quickly managed to create the impression that London was in the grip of a sudden surge in knife crimes, even though there was no surge. In fact, as you can see below, the knife crime rate in London has been fairly flat, and had been higher in 2004/5 than in 2008. Certainly, there is nothing that could be called an epidemic.

Crime rate 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008–09 2009–10
Knife enabled crime[34] 10305 12985 12367 12301 10699 12345 12611
Rate per 10,000 London 13.7 17.3 16.5 16.4 14.3 16.4 16.8

Source: Wikipedia Crime in London page

The knife-crime-epidemic-that-never-was contributed heavily to Boris Johnson’s victory in the May 2008 election, and has been resurrected regularly by the press ever since. It was also used by the increasingly authoritarian Labour government of the time to introduce draconian sentences for carrying a knife.

If there was an epidemic in London, it came after the mayoral election; and it wasn’t a knife crime epidemic, but a plague of police stop-and-searches, using the imaginary knife crime epidemic as an excuse, along with the never-ending “terrorist threat”. This new policy was carried out aggressively by the Metropolitan Police, with the strong backing of Mayor Boris, and disproportionately targeted young black and Asian men. This in turn created a surge in anger and resentment against the Metropolitan Police. When a young mixed-race man, Mark Duggan, was shot by police officers (who then lied that he had been carrying a gun), the anger boiled over and led to the Tottenham riots of 2011, which spread around the UK.

A “knife crime epidemic” invented by the Conservative Party and right-wing press in 2008, in order to get Boris Johnson elected mayor, had eventually led to harassment of hundreds of thousands of young men, and helped trigger last year’s riots. Boris has never admitted this dangerous lie, which has proved divisive and damaging to London. While the Standard yet again runs daily smear stories against Ken Livingstone for being “slimy”, nobody is holding Boris Johnson to account for unleashing brutal policing on London.

Trayvon: A View From The UK

Trayvon Martin Demonstrators Wearing Hoodies
A Killed Boy Or A Broken Country?

A tweeter questioned today whether I (being British and watching from afar) perhaps don’t understand the anger driving people over the Trayvon Martin shooting. I’d suggested that all sides needed to “chill-the-fuck-out”, following a bounty put on Zimmerman (the shooter) by the New Black Panthers, and the retweet of Zimmerman’s address by film-maker Spike Lee (which turned out to actually be the address of an old couple).

It’s true that, from afar, it’s hard to really take the pulse and understand people’s feelings in a foreign land – although Twitter does help convey the emotion of the event far better than the “old media”, where events are cleansed through the minds of journalists. It’s been possible to watch the reaction emerge hour-by-hour: incredulity that Sanford police didn’t arrest a killer; the obvious racial stereotyping that was going on; the shouts of racism; the counter-accusations from morons determined to find fault in a 17-year-old unarmed boy who had been killed; the bizarre, peculiarly American polarisation, splitting the country in half over a case where the basic facts seem so simple.

It’s true, I’m undoubtedly missing local, cultural nuances, watching  from London, but I have some advantages; it’s easier to see bigger pictures from afar; and I have the advantage of comparison. How would this same story unroll in the UK, mainland Europe or elsewhere?

There was a time, before mine, when America was viewed here with little but admiration. The US presents itself so effectively; Hollywood had packaged and presented a place that was exciting and free (if somewhat violent). But coming of age in the early-80s, that time had already passed. The civil rights era and Vietnam had tarnished America’s claim to being the land-of-the-free. By the time I could follow politics, America, under Reagan, was the world’s foremost sponsor of terrorism, and a threat to the independence of small states. I had Chilean friends who had fled Pinochet’s regime of terror, backed to the hilt by Reagan. South African apartheid was holding together, largely because of quiet backing from the US, and nearby states such as Angola were being torn apart by US-backed insurgencies. The small Caribbean island of Grenada was directly invaded to prevent a left-wing government taking over. US-backed terrorists were killing thousands in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala and more. The Afghan Mujahideen, precursor of Al Qaida and the Taliban, was skinning Russian soldiers alive, backed with US funds and arms.

We also learned that life in the US was different from the Hollywood view. British reggae band UB40, a favourite of mine at the time, wrote a song in 1981 called Tyler, about Gary Tyler, a young black man from Louisiana who had been obviously framed on a murder charge; yet not one person, police, judge or jury, stopped him from going to jail. Similar stories were to be heard frequently. The freedom mask was slipping.

I first went to the US in 1989, and have been perhaps 15-20 times since. I fell in love with San Francisco and other cities, and began to see a 3D picture behind the 2D portrayals. As I visited more, I went more off the beaten track. The segregation was the first thing to surprise me. It seemed the civil rights movement hadn’t settled racial issues as I’d thought, but merely ended in a ceasefire. White flight left black populations inside cities, while the suburbs were white. And notably, the sight of a mixed-race couple, which was becoming commonplace in London, was extremely rare, even in “liberal” bastions like New York or San Francisco. I began to see that police brutality was so common, it could happen right in front of even me, a tourist. The police acted with such arrogance and authority, I began to wonder how such a police state could exist in a country that believed itself to be, not just a democracy, but THE democracy.

I saw homelessness on a scale I’d never seen in Europe or elsewhere. I visited black ghettos in New York, Boston, San Francisco and Las Vegas, and saw a desperate, poor, lawless country, unlike anything I’d seen before. I saw that thuggish police drove around the ghetto outskirts, the message clear: you do whatever you want inside, but don’t you dare step outside. US ghettos aren’t just poor neighbourhoods; they are drug-infested, crime-infested prison camps.

I saw the reality of a country without universal healthcare. People everywhere living in fear of the simplest thing: falling ill. I’d been born two decades after the establishment of Britain’s NHS, and the idea that people in the richest country could have to cope without medical care was shocking. Today, universal healthcare is even appearing in Africa: Ghana was the first to implement it there, a few years ago. And yet America is currently tearing itself in half over Obama’s simple proposals to ensure that people are covered by insurance.

I began to be sure of one thing in America’s future. There’s a revolution coming. Or perhaps more accurately, there’s a permanently rolling, rumbling revolution ready to burst to the surface when it can. Why else would military-style policing be needed on a daily basis? How else do you explain an incarceration rate higher than China or the Soviet Union at their worst? I began to wait for the trigger.

In 2000, the election was blatantly, publicly rigged to bring George W Bush to power. Voter lists had been casually cleansed of black-sounding names. Florida police had been physically stopping black people from voting. In the 21st century, the old South was still there, plain as day. The US journalist Greg Palast quickly exposed the scam in a short film. But not one media network in the US would show it. The US media was censored to the hilt. The film was instead shown on BBC TV’s Newsnight – I’m not sure if it’s ever reached American TV, and YouTube didn’t exist back then. Then Katrina hit, and the world saw a third-world population living in the middle of the world’s wealthiest country.

In late-2001, four black friends of mine came to visit London from Houston. At the time, London tourism had been badly hit as Americans had cancelled flights, post-9/11, so I asked my friends whether they’d been afraid to travel. One of the girls looked at me and said “We’re black. We live in Texas. Pretty much anywhere is safer than home.”

In 2011, Occupy Wall Street, a remarkable grassroots movement, exploded into life from apparently nothing. Putting aside arguments over its approach or lack of policies, what has been most obvious is its violent suppression. The scenes coming from New York or Oakland aren’t scenes from a free country. The first amendment seems to no longer apply on America’s streets.

Violence, daily police harassment, police killings with impunity are the day-to-day experience of many Americans. Meanwhile, in TV-land, perfectly coiffured blondes report on a version of reality that doesn’t seem to exist if you walk the streets of an American city. The shooting of Trayvon Martin inevitably crystallised the rage.  The screaming over racism-or-not, justified-or-not doesn’t capture what I see: a place that’s so afraid of itself that it’s possible to debate whether killing of an unarmed man may have been justified. Whether Zimmerman was racist or not, he was conditioned enough to see a threat in a lone, unarmed black teenage male. He was scared. From here, all of America seems scared. Of what? Of “black crime”. And Muslims. And Latinos. And immigration. And drugs. And people-muscling-in-on-my-hard-earned cash. And getting sick. And terrorism. And Iran getting nukes. And Iraq getting WMDs. And Communism. And Somali pirates. And Hugo Chavez. And Fidel Castro. And people peacefully protesting against injustice in the streets. What sane wealthy country would need to build gated communities?

The people who are least afraid are the ones who most deserve to be. America’s minorities seem to be weary, fed up, and angry. The rage around one boy’s shooting is a small taster of what is to come. America: You can’t lock up everybody, although you seem to be trying to. Egypt and other countries showed that the most brutal policing won’t keep people in their place forever.

The US is a country that feels it should “police” the globe. In practise, US wars bundle up the racism, fear and hatred prevalent in US society, and inflict them, unwanted, on the rest of the planet. If the US ever did have a moral right to intervene in other countries, it long since surrendered that right. All this can be fixed: get corporate money out of politics, put the police in their place as servants, not masters, reduce prison populations, introduce modern healthcare, stop letting the ultra-rich set the media agenda. Alternatively, perhaps you should revisit your national anthem: land of the free and home of the brave? That’s not how it looks from here.