As the world awaits the verdict in the Grand Jury hearing into the killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, where a thousand newly-trained police and the National Guard are standing by, it is time to think too about parallels with British cases. A fortnight ago, families, friends and supporters of those killed in police custody, as well as psychiatric units and immigration detention centres, walked from Trafalgar Square to Downing Street as part of the United Families and Friends Annual memorial march [http://www.uffc-campaigncentral.net/], now in its 16th year, to listen to relatives of those who had died at the hands of the state.
Amid the anger and the sadness, the same message came through again and again: there was no justice to be found, anywhere. Ignored and brushed off by an unresponsive IPCC, faced with government indifference, with no punishment on the horizon for the officers involved, families and loved ones had faced years, sometimes decades, without answers. The current trial of three G4S guards charged with the manslaughter of Jimmy Mubenga (http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/nov/04/g4s-guards-jimmy-mubenga-court) is unusual, not for the inhumanity of his death, but for the fact that the CPS decided to prosecute in this instance.
The ongoing Hillsborough Inquest similarly demonstrates the glacial pace central to so many cases involving deaths at the hands of the state. Twenty-five years of waiting has seen countless family members pass away without ever getting justice for the 96 who died that April day. When the government decides it wants to act quickly in the name of its own version of ‘justice’, however, things couldn’t move more rapidly: the 24-hour courts set up in the wake of the riots saw people barely able to get adequate legal advice before being sent down for extremely long periods of time.
The cuts themselves, whether to legal aid, benefits, public institutions and provisions such as libraries and elderly care are similarly enacted with lightning speed. Time is everywhere being used as a weapon – some lives are simply deemed to be dispensable, while others – the already super-rich, corporations – must be allowed to grow wildly without constraint in a short a time as possible. As the state cuts back on everything it used to do that contained a human element – public goods, healthcare, education, welfare – it equally and oppositely invests vast sums in imperial wars, militarising and expanding the police forces, courts and jails: all that, in sum, serves only to repress populations rather than encourage them to flourish. To even imagine that the government should involve itself in the well-being of its citizens is to elicit cynical laughter from even the most politically optimistic.
As £218,000 worth of water cannon wait in the wings, somewhere, as Theresa May makes up her mind about giving them the green light, it is impossible not to see how all these things – austerity, the punishment of protesters and rioters, the exhausting and psychological punitive delays for victims of the state – are linked up. Cutting legal aid is just the cherry on the top of this particularly rotten pie. Although fighting back can at times seem like a thankless task, and one often forced on people rather than chosen, as millions more suffer economic punishment, and families have loved ones taken from them in the most brutal of circumstances, it is clearer than ever that the interests of the state and the interests of the population do not coincide. Even the father of liberalism, John Locke, agreed that people failed by a government that failed to protect their rights and promote the public good could be replaced with a better one. We thus have a right – and even a duty – to rebel.
Nina Power is a Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Roehampton and a founding member of the Defend the Right to Protest.
The Defend the Right to Protest annual conference took place this Sunday, 16th November (http://www.defendtherighttoprotest.org/national-conference/)