Bhopal State-Corporate Crime continues to unfold, (1984 – Present), 35 years and counting

On the 35th anniversary of the Bhopal ‘disaster, focus is upon those who have avoided justice. In the pursuit of profit; corporations disregarded health and safety with impunity and appear untouchable…

Sharon Hartles photoSharon Hartles has recently completed her MA in Crime and Justice with the Open University. She has an interest in crimes of the powerful, including state and state-corporate crime. In an explicit attempt to move beyond criminology, she draws upon a zemiological approach to evidence the social, political and economic context in which harm (including crime) is produced and interwoven into society via socio-economic inequalities.

 

On the 3rd December 1984, part of the Union Carbide Corporation (hereafter UCC) chemical plant in Bhopal, a city of Madhya Pradesh, India, exploded. Within three days of the gas leak up to 10,000 people (men, women and children) died and hundreds of thousands more were poisoned. The UCC plant in Bhopal was built and run by Union Carbide India Ltd (hereafter UCIL) an Indian public company in which Union Carbide, an American company, had a majority shareholding. An Operations safety survey was conducted by UCC technicians for the UCIL in May 1982 (thirty-one months prior to the gas leak), which noted various lapses in safety regulations. Three months before the gas leak, (September 1984) an operational safety/health survey raised concerns about a possible runaway reaction; pointing out that water from an identified leak would hasten this reaction resulting in catastrophic failure.

This state-corporate crime (the spillage of large quantities of methyl isocyanate (MIC), a very toxic substance, into the atmosphere from the pesticide plant) was preventable, insofar as it was a consequence of foreseeable and alterable social conditions. UCC ‘was aware of the possibility of a potential runaway reaction that triggered the MIC leak in Bhopal‘ and ‘was aware right from 1982 that the Bhopal plant suffered from serious safety problems‘. In addition, recommended follow-up action was overlooked. Therefore these capitalist harms were not inevitable, but were determined by the (in)actions of powerful states and corporations or crimes of the powerful. This evidences how the Bhopal ‘disaster’ was not an accident, because an accident by definition is an unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally. Instead, “it was caused by law-breaking, and involved the complicity of a multinational company and Governments”.

Contemporary criminal justice systems (the Indian Penal Code, the official criminal code of India) recognised parts of this ‘disaster’ (Union Carbide’s gassing of Bhopal) as ‘criminal offences’ under the law of culpable homicide (not murder and not negligent manslaughter). However, in June 2010, seven executives of UCIL were found guilty of criminal negligence (not culpable homicide). What is interesting, but not surprising, is that all seven of those (junior officers and senior officials of UCIL) successfully convicted individuals were Indian. This makes visible the stark inequalities in the application of justice administered by the criminal justice systems. Different social groups, for example the relatively poorer, Indian people prosecuted experienced the Indian criminal justice system differently to the American businessman Warren Anderson. Warren Anderson the Chairman and CEO of the UCC at the time of the Bhopal disaster in 1984, on arriving in Bhopal was arrested and formally charged with culpable homicide, punishable by 10 years to life imprisonment and a fine. Although this is a strictly non-bailable offence, meaning the granting of bail would be unlawful, Warren Anderson posted bail, left the country and absconded from justice (he died in September 2014 and never faced trial).

Lawyers representing UCC and Warren Anderson, argued that neither American nor Indian laws applied due to the globalised nature of the state-corporate nexus.  UCIL reported to Union Carbide Eastern Inc (UCE), a wholly owned subsidiary of UCC incorporated in the USA (however, this operated in Hong Kong). Moreover, the intricate globalized network continued because the Bhopal plant reported through another wholly owned USA subsidiary of UCIL, the Union Carbide Agricultural Products Company.

As a consequence of these global economic processes, representatives were able to take advantage of the globalised space in-between the laws, rendering the crimes of the powerful (state and corporations) beyond the reach of the law. In effect, they used the  letter of the law to defeat it’s spirit. With this in mind, it is clear to see how contemporary crime and justice systems focus their wrath on the ‘players’ with less power, (junior officers and senior officials of UCIL) as tokenistic involuntary lambs sacrificed for the slaughter. Whilst those ‘players’ with elite power (Warren Anderson and UCC) elude punishment and exist to commit further state-corporate transgressions.

Multinational corporations are well versed in ‘creative compliance’: using professional advisers with knowledge of the law to take advantage of legal loopholes and UCC is no exception. In 1994, UCC conveniently sold its stake in UCIL and so no longer has assets in India. Practices such as this promote the evasion of accountability and allows UCC to hide-in-plain-sight, but always just out of the reach of justice. In this regard UCC has concealed its actions to be perfectly legal or at least not expressly illegal’.

Seven years later (2001), UCC merged with Dow Chemical Company, and as such it is completely owned by Dow which means Dow (as the parent company) holds all of UCC’s ‘common stock’. In 2002, Greenpeace stated that under US legislation, as ‘parent’ company of UCC, Dow should incur liability to clean up Bhopal. In a series of statements addressing the disaster, Dow (which in September 2017 merged with DuPont) noted its purchase of UCC excluded clean up liabilities from Bhopal.  ‘The chemical industry learned and grew as a result of Bhopal – creating the Responsible Care program with its strengthened focus on process safety standards, emergency preparedness, and community awareness.’ A critical response might question why a morally Responsible Care programme has not been implemented for Bhopal?

Dow celebrated its success of developing ‘ECOFAST’ technology (November 2018) which it claims will reduce environmental harms. A statement which is ironic given the human, non-human and environmental devastation still taking place in Bhopal. Approximately 25,000 people have died, to date, from the gas leak/gas-related illnesses. Thousands of others suffer from chronic debilitating illnesses, and a staggering 570,000 people were exposed to damaging levels of toxic gas. In addition, year-on-year, children are born with congenital malformations evidencing inter-generational trauma.

​In 2018, in stark contrast to Dow whose primary focus was to promote its ECOFAST pure technology, a world away in Bhopal, reality and priorities differ vastly. The abandoned UCC plant remains full of toxic waste, the soil is 100 per cent toxic and pools of mercury are visible on the ground. Ground water at the site, which provides a drinking water supply for approximately fifteen communities is contaminated because untreated chemicals continue to leach through the soil into the aquifer.

​In 1989, thirty years ago, UCC paid out a sum of $470 million in full settlement and never looked back; leaving the residents of Bhopal exposed to ongoing contamination from their abandoned factory site. This worked out to each gas-exposed victim receiving an amount of $500 for life-long debilitating injuries and to pay for decades of medical bills. The next generation of children (afflicted by Union Carbide’s poison) of gas-affected parents received no financial aid. Activists have been fighting ever since to get more compensation for those affected, to get the site cleaned up and to prevent the devastation from spreading. The state of Madhya Pradesh has declared itself unequipped to deal with the Bhopal clean up and for these reasons claim that the 1989 settlement was inadequate. In a curative petition Dow have been requested by the federal government to pay an amount of $1.2 billion.

Bhopal, has demonstrated how it is the most vulnerable members of society who continue to ‘pay the price’ for the crimes of the powerful or state-corporate crime-waves. Thirty five years after the preventable gas leak at Bhopal, its harms are still manifesting. All of this as a direct result of cost-cutting measures and failure to enforce health and safety regulations. The 3rd December 2019 is the thirty-fifth anniversary of the Bhopal state and corporate crime. It also marks thirty-five years of continuing trauma inflicted upon the Bhopali people and thirty-five years in which the Bhopalis continue to fight for justice and accountability.

As part of this continued fight for justice against the state-corporate massacre which took place in Bhopal the Indian courts yet again summoned Dow chemical to attend a court date, on 13th November 2019, to face criminal charges for the part Union Carbide played in the Bhopal state-corporate crime. However, as the Department of Justice (DOJ) (USA) did not serve the summons to Dow Chemical Company, the likelihood of them appearing was negligible, and Dow Chemical did not appear in court demonstrating disdain for previous negligence. Such incontrovertible evidence illustrates why the unending aftermath of the world’s worst industrial disaster resulting from state-corporate crime has continued to unfold across decades and generations, incurring new victims’ year on year, as the battle for justice for Bhopal endures.

Justice for Bhopal is an international campaign: a global coalition of environmental and social justice groups led by survivors of the ongoing disaster in Bhopal. There are many ways to support Bhopal, the three listed are just a few of those suggested by the Justice for Bhopal group:

Further campaign resources can be found here:

Alternatively, The Bhopal Medical Appeal is a health fund which provides appropriate response for the Bhopal survivors – because Bhopal matters.

 

Originally posted on:  sharonhartles.weebly.com

Contact: Sharon Hartles

Email: sh28739@ou.ac.uk

Twitter: @shartles1

Images: courtesy of the author and Wikimedia Commons CC-BY- 3.0

 

The Grenfell 72 – Two Years On: Remember the dead and fight for the living!

Grenfell, two years on, amidst the layering of contempt shown to the survivors and bereaved families, the fight for truth, justice and accountability continues.

Sharon Hartles photo

Sharon Hartles is a MA Postgraduate Crime and Justice student with the Open University.  She has an interest in crimes of the powerful, including state and state-corporate crime.  In an explicit attempt to move beyond criminology, she draws upon a zemiological approach to evidence the social, political and economic context in which crime is produced and interwoven into society via socio-economic inequalities.

The Grenfell Tragedy is an account that needs to be chronologically told to uncover the state and corporate subterfuge which orchestrated untold harms. Cutting corners, unresponsive local authority bodies and capitalist/aesthetic concerns will reveal the contempt to which this community was shown, elevating the scale of injustice. Drawing upon a counter hegemony approach, are there any lessons that can be learned to prevent such negligent disasters from re-occurring?

Wednesday 14th June 2017, is a date which is etched into the memory and hearts of thousands. A date which resonates loss and grief so painful that no amount of selected words will ever be able to offer any more than a symbolic gesture of empathetic comfort to the Grenfell community affected by the events which took place on that day have since unfolded and are still unravelling.

The 14th June 2017, was not going to be another ordinary day for the residents of Grenfell Tower, a twenty-three storey residential block of flats in West London, Kensington, or for the wider Grenfell community. Instead, the 14th June 2017 was going to be the day in which one of the UK’s worst, modern, avoidable disasters was going to take place. Just before 1:00am, a fire broke out in the kitchen of flat 16 which was situated on the fourth floor. An inferno soon took hold and Grenfell Tower burned. Despite the heroic efforts of the fire-fighters, the untenable situation meant that the Grenfell Tower burned for 24 hours before the blaze burnt itself out.

What was known as ‘home’ to approximately 350 people, had been engulfed in flames and smouldered until all that remained was a devoured, burnt-out carcass. In the immediate aftermath, the range of readily visible harms such as the loss of homes and possessions was apparent. However, this became interlaced with the realisation that along with the physical harms in the forms of injuries to approximately 107 individuals, this preventable tragedy had claimed the lives of 72 people. Seventy-two human beings had their lives stolen away from them in a horrific and inhumane traumatic event.

The realm of academia challenges the ball and chain approach (gate-keeping of knowledge) dares to defy the status quo imposed and governed by the powerful elite, such as state and corporations. By adopting a resistance perspective, this articulates how these ‘uncomfortable truths’ can be brought into the mainstream public domain. In remembrance of the Grenfell 72, in solidarity for the fight for the living, and through counter hegemony the truth will continue to be revealed.

In November 2018, at a public inquiry, Dr Glover, an electrical fire expert, concluded that a probable cause of the Grenfell Tower fire was a poor crimp connection. This led to an overheating within the compressor relay compartment of a Hotpoint fridge-freezer (Model FF176BP). What is startling is that plastic back casings which are combustible, contributing to the fire, comply with safety requirements in the UK. In contrast, the same appliances made in the US are required by Underwriters Laboratory Standards to be fitted with metallic steel casings as a preventative measure because they are non-combustible and they also help to contain internal fires for a longer amount of time.

The Grenfell Tragedy was certainly an event which caused and is still provoking great suffering, destruction and distress, but it was so much more than just a situated event. The Grenfell Tragedy was avoidable, preventable and foreseeable, it was not an accident and there was nothing natural about the systematic layering of failures which led to the catalyst moment that sparked the fire. The 72 residents of Grenfell Tower who had their lives snatched away should not be passed off as ‘fire-related fatalities’. The faulty malfunctioning appliance (that posed a so called ‘low risk’ – which might have posed an even ‘lower risk’ had it been fitted with a metallic steel casing instead of a plastic casing) was merely the tip of an iceberg in relation to the series of political and economic facilitated failures which led to the Grenfell Tragedy. The 72 deaths were a direct result of crimes of the powerful, and as such form part of the ever-increasing death toll of state-corporate-related fatalities.

To the detriment of the residents of the Grenfell Tower, like the vast majority of high-rise buildings in the UK, it was not fitted with a sprinkler system. Nick Paget-Brown, the Tory leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council, stated “There was not a collective view that all the flats should be fitted with sprinklers because that would have delayed and made the refurbishment of the block more disruptive”. The British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association estimated the cost of installing a sprinkler system in Grenfell Tower to be £200,000.

Summerland (1973), Knowsley Heights (1991), Garnock Court (1999), Harrow Court (2005) and Lakenal House (2009) were the locations where five fire disasters took place, all of which preceded Grenfell.  The Fires That Foretold Grenfell as they are now referred to, predicted a Grenfell-type inferno happening in Britain. More harrowingly, in November 2016, seven months prior to the Grenfell fire, the Grenfell Action Group predicted that a fire would take place in one of the tower blocks managed by the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) due to what it referred to as the poor safety record encompassing dangerous living conditions and neglect of health and safety legislation. “We have blogged many times on the subject of fire safety at Grenfell Tower” “showing the poor safety record of the KCTMO should a fire affect any other of their properties and cause the loss of life that we are predicting.”

In July 2016, KCTMO’s capitalist fuelled mindset, absolute disregard for health and safety legislation and therefore contempt for the Grenfell Tower residents, (their tenants and leaseholders) was captured “We need good costs for Cllr Feilding-Mellen and the planner tomorrow at 8.45am!“. The ‘good costs’ referred to was a saving of £293,368. KCTMO allegedly gave in to pressure from the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council (RBKCC) to save money and cost cutting measures led to Rydon (instead of D+B Facades) securing the Grenfell Tower cladding contract. In addition to this, subsequent haggling of a £293,368 saving reflected a further downgrade of the cladding selected for installation. In order to make this saving, the zinc cladding approved by residents was replaced, after tender, with cheaper aluminium. Despite this alleged ‘pressure’ KCTMO designed and delivered the Grenfell Tower refurbishment with consent and blessing from the RBKCC via their shared common interests, taking the form of health and safety regulation breaches. In this regard it is clearer to see how the capitalist modus operandi approach was championed – instead of a safety driven decision-making strategy – which inevitably led to the Grenfell Towering Inferno.

Life is priceless and no price should ever be put on the value of a life, yet it can be claimed that the RBKCC and KCTMO profit interests came before health and safety considerations, illustrating how the value each of the 72 residents who lost their life based on the £293,368 saving to be worth £4,074. Furthermore, in retrospect this equates to a valued life worth £838 when calculated between the approximate 350 residents who resided in Grenfell Tower at the time these cost cutting savings were agreed.

The cladding signed off for use by the RBKCC (suspected of fuelling the deadly conflagration), failed to meet the governments ‘A’ rating safety standards. By the time the cladding had been installed and due to the panel type (cassette system) fitted, the cladding panel rating varied from a ‘B’ and ‘E’ classification. An industry source discerned that “you wouldn’t put E on a dog kennel“. If KCTMO or the RBKCC had spent a little time looking into the cladding from a health and safety perspective, instead of a capitalist standpoint they would have been aware of this information.

In an interim report commissioned by the Department for Communities and Local Government, (published on December 2017) Dame Judith Hackitt advised “the whole system of regulation, covering what is written down and the way in which it is enacted in practice, is not fit for purpose, leaving room for those who want to take shortcuts to do so.” Therefore, it is contemptible to know that the building control managers at RBKCC approved the Grenfell cladding system, proposed by Rydon, without being in receipt of proof that relevant and up-to-date testing (BS 8414) had been carried out. Moreover, they were never going to get confirmation because it would have failed the standards process. In a nutshell, what this meant is that the responsibility for compliance (duty of care) with the Building Regulations rested with those carrying out work and building control bodies. Consequently, the complex chain of companies involved in the Grenfell Tower refurbishment project should not be used as a “problem of many hands” excuse resulting in a defence of  “diffusion of responsibility” for health and safety negligence. Within the process of outsourcing a chain of companies, who share a common goal, such as refurbishing Grenfell Tower, in effect, were authorised to act as a single entity, ultimately on behalf of the RBKCC. With that said, any and all attempts made by RBKCC to deny responsibility for the group of companies authorised in law to act as a ‘corporation of sorts’ through their signed contracts, only adds insult to injury.

What is even more senseless, is the fact that cladding was never part of the original refurbishment plans for Grenfell Tower. The cladding company D+B Facades provided a quote of £3.3 million, a figure based on “A1 non-combustible” cladding system, solid aluminium sheets, backed with mineral wool insulation which does not burn. It is ironic that KCTMO put the cladding contract out to tender and yet ended up “agreeing to an overall budget that put the cost for the cladding and insulation at £3.5 million – £200,000 more than D+B Facades’ quote for the noncombustible materials.” So, had the KCTMO not deviated from the original refurbishment planning for Grenfell Tower, it could have saved the RBKCC £3.5 million because the cladding was not mandatory.

With this in mind, it begs the question, why was the cladding included at a later date as part of the Grenfell Tower refurbishment? The answer and reason why cladding was added to the external faces of the Grenfell Tower, only adds to the disbelief and fuelled anger shared with the bereaved families and the Grenfell survivors. 72 Grenfell residents lost their lives, notwithstanding the subsequent multitude of harms that have followed, so that the “character and appearance of the area are preserved and living conditions of those living near the development suitably protected.” So the ‘uncomfortable truth’ of the matter is that the home of the Grenfell Tower residents was insulated in cladding, that was not fit for purpose, by RBKCC, (which is the wealthiest constituency in England) to improve its appearance when viewed by the  conservation areas and luxury flats that surround north Kensington. Clearly, this is distressing to know that the lives and health and safety of the residents who resided in the Grenfell Tower was of no concern to KCTMO and RBKCC, while ensuring it looked aesthetically pleasing was paramount.

Whether RBKCC is recognised as a representative of the state or as a corporate entity in its own right, its relationship with KCTMO facilitated the Grenfell Tower tragedy, of which there can be little doubt. As such, this event can be re-labelled as a state-corporate crime, which can be understood through the acts or omissions which resulted from deliberate decision-making committed in pursuit of its common goals such as profitability. Alternative labelling includes harms of capitalism, which have been socially mediated within harmful societies, or social murder, resulting in unnatural death as an inevitable consequence of conditions imposed by state and corporations. Regardless of the critical criminological framing lens, the focus remains on the visible and invisible, known and unknown harms which have manifested, and other harms which may not become clear for decades to come.

If this preventable loss of lives was not appalling enough, the bereaved families, survivors and the wider Grenfell community battle through daily barriers of contempt in their pursuit for Truth, Justice and Accountability for the Grenfell 72. The promise of a swift inquiry is broken and replaced with delays possibly extending to 2022, as detectives continue the investigation into a range of offences from corporate manslaughter to health and safety breaches. We can only hold out hope that the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, is able to bring some form of accountability for the Grenfell community. Sadly, the reality is that no large organisation such as RBKCC or KCTMO has been successfully convicted of deaths resulting from gross breaches of a duty of care, it seems very unlikely that the bereaved families will get justice for the Grenfell 72.

This is merely the latest unfolding harm, to be added to a series of failings, broken promises and contempt that have manifested and have been inflicted upon the survivors, bereaved families and immediate Grenfell community since Wednesday 14th June 2017. These harms extend beyond the physical to include social, economic, psychological and environmental harms as the following five examples demonstrate:

In the wake of the cladding scandal and the knowledge that this cladding was the popular choice selected in cost-conscious council refurbishment schemes, Theresa May pledged £400 million towards the removal of flammable cladding, in particular Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding, (aluminium cladding panels containing a plastic filling) from social housing such as councils and housing association properties. In November 2018, Housing Secretary, James Brokenshire, gave authorities power to remove panels from private blocks of flats and bill landlords, but these “are proving largely useless”.  In May 2019, a welcomed allocation of £200 million has been confirmed by Theresa May to remove combustible cladding from privately owned tower blocks. However, this small step will not cover all the costs.

According to the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government’s Building Safety Programme (as at 31st March 2019), only 89 buildings in England (comprising of both social and private sector) have had remediation work to remove Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding systems out of 434 identified. The remedial work on buildings has been laboriously slow. The 345 buildings, yet to be remediated (this number does not include 15 private sector buildings where the cladding status is still to be confirmed) are unlikely to meet Building Regulations. Therefore, the residents occupying these properties are living in fear, as the latest fire in Vallea Court, a private block in Manchester with Grenfell style cladding on the 4th May 2019 has proven.

Despite losing their loved ones, neighbours and homes in the Grenfell Tower fire, and facing a daily battle against contempt, Grenfell United, a registered family association, made up exclusively of Grenfell Tower survivors and bereaved families, have drawn upon their grief and experiences and channelled this into a campaign which actively calls for the Government to create a new housing regulator that works for tenants. The aim of their campaign is to send a clear message to the government that all “people living in social housing deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.” Two years on from 14th June 2017, the Grenfell survivors, bereaved families and community stand united in solidarity to ensure that Grenfell will not be forgotten and will remain forever in our hearts; as they work together for their community and campaign for safe homes, justice and real change for people across the country.

For those who want to show their support you are warmly invited to attend an evening of remembrance, entailing: Wreath Laying at the Tower, Multi Faith Vigil and a Silent Walk. Alternatively, why not take action by holding a Green 4 Grenfell Day between 14 June and 28 June 2019 and do something good for your community by supporting a local cause? Or simply wear green as a mark of respect for the bereaved families, survivors, the Grenfell community and in remembrance of the Grenfell 72 who lost their lives:

Tony Disson, Ali Yawar Jafari, Abdeslam Sebbar, Denis Murphy, Zainab Deen, Jeremiah Deen, Mohammad Alhajali, Steve Power, Hamid Kani, Debbie Lamprell, Majorie Vital, Ernie Vital, Joseph Daniels, Sheila Smith, Kamru Miah, Rabeya Begum, Husna Begum, Mohammed Hanif, Mohammed Hamid, Khadija Khaloufi, Vincent Chiejina, Isaac Paulos,  Birkti Haftom, Biruk Haftom, Sakina Afrasehabi, Fatemeh Afrasiabi, Mohamednur Tuccu, Amal Ahmedin, Amaya Tuccu-Ahmedin, Eslah Elgwahry, Mariem Elgwahry, Mary Mendy, Khadija M Saye, Jessica Urbano Ramirez, Farah Hamdan, Omar Belkadi, Leena Belkadi, Malak Belkadi, Abdulaziz El Wahabi, Faouzia El Wahabi, Yasin El Wahabi, Nur Huda El Wahabi, Medhi El Wahabi, Logan Gomes, Raymond ‘Moses’ Bernard, Ligaya Moore, Nura Jemal, Hashim Kedir, Yahya Hashim, Firdaws Hashim, Yaqub Hashim, Sirria Choucair, Bassem Choukair, Nadia Choukair, Fatima Choukair, Mierna Choukair, Zainab Choucair, Marco Gottardi, Gloria Trevisan, Hesham Rahman, Mohamed Neda, Gary Maunders, Abufars Mohamed Ibrahim, Isra Ibrahim, Rania Ibrahim, Fethia Hassan, Hania Hassan, Victoria King, Alexandra Atala, Maria Del Pilar Burton,  Fathia Ali Ahmed Elsanosi, Amna Mahmud Idris.

 

Contact

Sharon Hartles, MA Postgraduate Crime and Justice student with the Open University

Email: sh28739@ou.ac.uk

Twitter: @shartles1

Images: courtesy of the author

Race Matters: A New Dialogue Between Criminology and Sociology

The symposium created much-needed energy and new connections between scholars working around race and crime.

Authors: Rod Earle, Alpa Parmar, and Coretta Phillips

“I wish my department meeting looked more like this”

This rueful but heartfelt observation by Dr Patrick Williams captures many of our intentions in organising Race Matters: A New Dialogue Between Criminology and Sociology at the LSE at the end of August 2018. We wanted to create a gathering of black and minority ethnic scholars active in criminology and the sociology of race to focus on how race and ethnicity generate not only differential experiences of criminal justice but also of criminology. To achieve this we, as organisers, opted for an invitation-only format that would allow us to focus attention on key issues and speakers, create a small participative environment and manage the prevailing white majority structures and tendencies of British criminology – by reversing them: minority ethnic presence was deliberately majoritised, prompting Patrick’s remark as he prepared to present his paper to a gathering of approximately 30 invited scholars.

Two papers opened the symposium. The first, by Professor Katheryn Russell-Brown, advanced and updated her call, in 1992, for the development of a Black Criminology. This criminology needed resources currently absent, neglected or suppressed in mainstream, white, criminology. These would draw from the humanities as much as the social sciences, refusing a binary fostered by the dominant scientific trends in US criminology. Katheryn insisted that Black arts and artists had shown themselves to be more adequate than criminology to the task of representing black lives and the injuries of American criminal justice. Black criminology was needed to widen the visions of justice that criminologist might pursue, and would be a criminology that valued the extent and range of minority ethnic perspectives.

Katheryn’s 1992 paper prompted Coretta Phillips and Ben Bowling’s 2003 call, some 10 years later in the British Journal of Criminology, for minority ethnic perspectives to be afforded greater recognition and support. Another fifteen years later, and with precious little evidence of change, her paper, with the other symposium organisers, Rod Earle and Alpa Parmar, called out to white criminology: ‘where has all the racism gone?’ The paper, like the organisational effort of the symposium itself, was prompted by a growing suspicion that British criminology lacks the theoretical, conceptual and motivational resources to explain the differentials referred to above, in criminal justice and in criminology that sees black people swept into police cells and prisons, kept out of universities and black academics off the curriculum. Strangely though, it seems that racism has disappeared from criminology’s agenda. The paper develops an analysis of the ‘disciplinary unconscious’ of criminology that allows (or worse, encourages) the erasure of race and racism from its business as an academic discipline. We pointed to the recurring absence of papers on race and racism in criminology conferences, journals and edited book collections, even as racial disproportionality in criminal justice escalates and intensifies. We identified tendencies in British criminology to highlight and theorise US experiences of race and racism at the expense of working with a narrative of British colonialism and the differentials generated by domestic criminal justice systems that have long outstripped those of the USA. As minority ethnic scholars addressing a roomful of other minority ethnic scholars Alpa and Coretta could also share and reflect on the continuing impacts of ‘everday racism’, the small injuries that perforate their academic lives and snag their careers with condescension, indifference and insults, in the knowledge their experiences were like, rather than unlike, most of those in the room.

The second and third keynote presentations were from Professor Shaun Gabbidon and Professor Karim Murji. Shaun began in the particularities of ‘shopping while black in the USA’ in a paper that explored shoplifting as a neglected object of criminological study, before telescoping out toward a sustained critique of surveillance techniques and technologies that smuggle racism through the back door of supposedly ‘race-neutral algorithms’. This is a term used and developed in Pamela Ugwudike’s paper about the ‘under-the-radar’ aspect of familiar racialized dynamics that are cloaked through the operation of new technologies. It was a theme featured in several papers, particularly those of Patrick Williams and Tara Young.

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Karim Murji’s paper focussed on the unique styles and insights of Stuart Hall. An established and legendary figure to many criminologists, Karim insisted that the measure of his reputation among criminologists rested on too narrow a reading of his extraordinarily diffuse scholarship. Karim traced and retrieved the sometimes hidden Hall and urged a wider and more critically engaged reading of his works, methods and style.

As one of the leading figures in the contemporary sociology of race the symposium was grateful to welcome Professor David Theo Goldberg for a keynote presentation, ‘On Racial Judgment’. Goldberg has been central to the resurgence of theorising around race, particularly criticising the habits of ‘post-racial’ perspectives that assert the declining significance of race and racism to social divisions. Rather than recognising a historical system of exploitation, these perspective focus on habits of prejudice and individual moral deficiencies marginal to social structures. The persistence of racial judgment, according to Goldberg, and its expansion from the formalities of criminal justice should be a warning to criminologists, and sociologists, that race retains its deadly vitality and is neglected at our peril.

Dr Suki Ali, acting as a particularly creative discussant to the unfortunately absent Professor Mary Bosworth convened a lively discussion around Mary’s paper (delivered by misbehaving technology) on ‘Race and Border Criminology’. The proceedings were also enlivened by Dr Martin Glyn’s delivery of his own ‘data verbalisation’ thesis. Mixing music, poetry and performance Martin urged participants to make their work more accessible to the black and minority ethnic communities that helped them produce it.

The final keynote, from Professor Chris Cunneen picked up and reinforced two recurring and contrasting themes in the symposium. The first of these is the increasing influence of digital technologies in covertly reproducing the dynamics of race and the functionality of racism. Drawing from research with Australia’s indigenous peoples, and particularly young men, Chris reported how policing and criminal justice agencies increasingly resorted to actuarial risk assessment technologies that reproduce discredited white racist schematics. Indigenous communities resist their pathologisation and a key feature of their resistance is their reliance on their arts and crafts to sustain themselves as communities, narrate their experience and express their resilience.

Closing the symposium with brief summary remarks Steve Garner and Omar Khan placed their emphasis on, respectively, the salience of whiteness, positionality and affect, and the way the weakness of criminological analysis of race and racism had serious policy implications.

RaceMatters3

The symposium created much-needed energy and new connections between scholars working around race and crime. As organisers, we feel it lived up to its ambition to start a new dialogue between criminologists and sociologists of race, and bridged a gap that has widened alarmingly in recent years. Emerging from the symposium are plans to launch a BSC Race Matters network and promote a Black Criminology Month to run alongside Black History Month every October. Papers from the symposium will, we hope, be included in a Special Issue of a leading criminology journal before too long. In the meantime, if you are interested in supporting the formation of a Race Matters network and enlarging the conversation around race and racism in criminology please contact us.

 

Contact

Rod Earle, The Open University (r.earle@open.ac.uk )

Alpa Parmar, Oxford University (alpa.parmar@crim.ox.ac.uk )

Coretta Phillips, London School of Economics. (coretta.phillips@lse.ac.uk )

Images: courtesy of the author

What future(s) for juvenile justice in Europe?

Modern-day cultural, social, political and economic transformations carry multiple implications for juvenile justice in Europe

Barry Goldson

Professor Barry Goldson holds the Charles Booth Chair of Social Science at the University of Liverpool and is the Chairperson of the British Society of Criminology Youth Criminology/Youth Justice Network (YC/YJN).

 

 

In 1816, the report of the first major public inquiry into ‘juvenile delinquency’ in any European country was published in London, England (Committee for Investigating the Alarming Increase of Juvenile Delinquency in the Metropolis, 1816). The inquiry reflected a series of burgeoning concerns – in England and elsewhere in Europe – regarding ‘juvenile delinquents’ in the high-density urban populations of rapidly growing industrial towns and cities. Moreover, as the nineteenth century unfolded the same concerns inspired a wide range of reform initiatives across Europe and, by the beginning of the twentieth century, recognizably ‘modern’ juvenile justice systems had emerged. In England, for example, the Children Act 1908 formed the legislative foundations of an institutional architecture designed specifically for the administration of juvenile justice and, as such, it represented similar developments taking place throughout Europe.

In 2008, exactly one hundred years following the implementation of the Children Act 1908, a global financial crisis rocked the foundations of European economies. The ‘crisis’ produced, and continues to produce, deep-cutting and wide-sweeping ‘austerity’ measures that, alongside the longer-term reformulation of welfare settlements and welfare states, have had the effect of plunging millions of Europeans into profoundly adverse social conditions. And in 2016, exactly 200 years following the publication of the first major public inquiry into ‘juvenile delinquency’, the United Kingdom European Union membership referendum – also known as the ‘EU referendum’ and the ‘Brexit referendum’ – returned a vote in support of the UK’s departure from the European Union. Many commentators have argued that recent patterns of migration and immigration into Europe imposed significant influence in shaping the vote to ‘leave’. Whatever the motivations, however, Brexit has ‘created severe tensions and strengthened exit movements elsewhere, notably in France, Italy and Denmark’ (Taylor-Gooby et al, 2017: 3).

In the opening two decades of the twenty-first century financial crisis, the re-drawing of welfare settlements and welfare states, Brexit – and the wider tensions that it signals – and unprecedented patterns of migration and immigration, represent key transformational conditions in Europe, just as the industrial revolution characterised radical change across the nineteenth century. Equally, the same modern-day cultural, social, political and economic transformations carry multiple implications for juvenile justice in Europe, just as the industrial revolution had some two hundred years earlier.

How might the past inform the present and to what extent does the present provide a compass to the future? Fundamentally, these are the questions that are addressed in a new book: Juvenile Justice In Europe: Past, Present and Future.

Furthermore:

  • What do we know about contemporary juvenile crime trends in Europe and how are nation states responding?
  • Is punitivity and intolerance eclipsing child welfare and pedagogical imperatives, or is ‘child-friendly justice’ holding firm?
  • How might we best understand both the convergent and the divergent patterning of juvenile justice in a changing and reformulating Europe?
  • How is juvenile justice experienced by identifiable constituencies of children and young people both in communities and in institutions?
  • What impacts are sweeping austerity measures, together with increasing mobilities and migrations, imposing?
  • How can comparative juvenile justice be conceptualised and interpreted?
  • What might the future hold for juvenile justice in Europe at a time of profound uncertainty and flux?

The above represent a series of pressing questions for juvenile justice researchers and youth criminologists. The book begins to define and develop the co-ordinates of a wider critical research agenda that is vital for advancing knowledge of, and intervening in, the ways in which children and young people in conflict with the law are governed, and will be governed, through reformulating juvenile justice systems in Europe.

 

References

Committee for Investigating the Alarming Increase of Juvenile Delinquency in the Metropolis (1816) Report of the Committee for Investigating the Alarming Increase of Juvenile Delinquency in the Metropolis. London: J. F. Dove.

Goldson, B. (ed) (2018) Juvenile Justice in Europe: Past, Present and Future. London and New York: Routledge.

Taylor-Gooby, P., Leruth, B. and Chung, H. (eds) After Austerity: Welfare State transformation in Europe after the great recession. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

 

Contact

Professor Barry Goldson, Department of Sociology, Social Policy and Criminology, School of Law and Social Justice, University of Liverpool

 Email: b.goldson@liverpool.ac.uk

 

Copyright free image courtesy of author

 

Music, criminology and justice

The way that music is used, suppressed or censored is an important area for criminologists to consider as this can uncover violations of the human rights of individuals and groups and reveal grave social injustices.

 

 

E Peters

Dr Eleanor Peters, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, Department of Law & Criminology, Edge Hill University. Eleanor worked for many years as a youth justice researcher in the voluntary sector and is the author or co-author of several publications in this area. She is currently researching the connection between music and crime.

My interest in music as a subject for criminological study goes back a long way. I was born and brought up in the Black Country, and some of you will realise the significance of this in musical terms as the home, alongside its neighbour Birmingham, of heavy metal. References to metal in the media and in academic texts portrayed it as a misogynistic, devil worshiping cult followed by greasy working-class white young men; a picture I found unrecognizable from my involvement in a local metal scene. In the pivotal Subculture: The meaning of style, Dick Hebdige (1979) says heavy metal fans ‘can be distinguished by their long hair, denim and ‘idiot’ dancing (the name says it all).’ Chambers (1985; 123) describes the heavy metal audience as being ‘composed of a popular alliance of scruffy students and working-class followers.’

Later I read about the use of heavy metal music as a method of torture and wondered why my beloved music was used in such a way. This was the response of Christopher Cerf, composer of the Sesame Street theme, when he discovered that US intelligence services had tortured detainees at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib using his music. His journey is documented in the film Songs of War, where he meets soldiers and ex-prisoners who discuss their experiences of music as torture. This includes an interview with members of the band Drowning Pool who say they were aware of soldiers using their music in Iraq, and that they were regarded as the unofficial soundtrack of the military. The band members do not answer directly Cerf’s questions to them about their songs being used as an interrogation tool, but joke about how their music could be torture for people. Of course, this is ‘funny’ because everyone ‘knows’ metal is torture (‘they don’t even sing, they just shout’, ‘what a racket!’). Although various types of music have been used to torture, as part of enhanced interrogation techniques (more commonly known as ‘torture lite’), the use of heavy metal and rap by US forces was partly the result of the personal tastes of soldiers but also because of it being culturally alien to detainees. This use evidently breaches the UN declaration of human rights article 5, ‘no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’ (Universal declaration human rights) and the Geneva Convention.

It does not have to be heavy metal or children’s TV theme tunes; any music or noise over a certain volume can cause harm to humans. Hearing can become damaged when the frequency of a sound exceeds 20,000 hertz. As Attali (1984; 27) argues ‘in biological reality, noise is a source of pain. Beyond a certain limit, it becomes an immaterial weapon of death.’ However, there are reasons why certain genres of music are more likely to be used in conflict situations and this is because ‘metal and rap are part of a larger system of cultural beliefs that project certain power relations or ideologies’ (Pieslak 2007; 124). Heavy metal is loud, fierce and to many, discordant with violent lyrics.

While the use of music as torture in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay is an obvious human rights violation, there are other forms of injustices that a criminological study of music can uncover. Even when specific laws are not being violated, the erosion of the protection of people’s rights in terms of freedom and autonomy, which is one of the most common social injustices, can be instigated by the state. The United Nations has had a Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights since 2009, which highlights the importance of human rights in artistic expression and freedom, and the knowledge that music can reflect more important messages about problematic social arrangements and practices, rather than just being entertainment.

Where music has perceived negative consequences, then censorship can be a perceived answer; in these cases, laws regulate and discipline popular culture. There are power issues at play in whose, when, and what music and sound is labelled as deviant and this can lead to an erosion of liberty. Heavy Metal has often been at the centre of debates about censorship and is banned or suppressed in a number of countries around the world, for example, Russia, China and Malaysia (LeVine 2010). It is not just those less democratic countries where metal (and other ‘deviant’ music) is outlawed; for example, the alleged links between listening to heavy metal and suicide or committing violent acts has a long history. Following suicides and suicide attempts of American fans, Ozzy Osborne was sued in a US court over his song Suicide Solution, despite it being about alcoholism, and Judas Priest were accused of suicide-inducing hidden messages on their album Defenders of the Faith (Wright 2000). The Columbine school shooters were alleged to be Marilyn Manson fans (Muzzatti 2004) and this led to a decline in airplay, and bans on performing in many locations for the artist. Indeed, Manson has recently said that Columbine ‘destroyed his career’ (Petridis 2017).

Political censorship can be understood predominantly in terms of censorship, occurring through laws, interpretations of those laws by judiciary and police, and government actions. Moral censorship of musicians is exercised through ‘social pressure by religious and other social movements, and economic pressure through the refusal of economic entities such as record companies, radio stations, music video channels or music programmes to air their music’ (LeVine 2017; 55). Moral censorship can be exercised though religious or campaign groups such as Mediawatch UK, which was formerly called the National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association (NVALA), whose first president was the campaigner Mary Whitehouse, or the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) in the US, formed by women with strong connections to Washington politics who called on governments to ban, or corporations to suppress, certain forms of expression.

If censorship is conceived as the control of information and ideas, this can be explored through the example of grime music. In common with its close musical relation, rap, grime has been deemed to be many things; violent and misogynistic (Springhall 1998) and responsible for deaths and riots (Bramwell 2015). The perceived problems associated with grime and similar musical forms (such as Afrobeats, bashment, all of which are commonly described under the umbrella term ‘urban’) have led a suppression of live events featuring these genres. It is difficult for artists to find venues to play in, partly because of the Metropolitan Police form 696. Originally introduced in 2005 as a risk assessment for live music to prevent violence, the original form 696 was amended in 2009, when two questions which asked for the ethnic make-up of attendees and the genre of music being performed were removed following accusations of racial profiling, and the unfair targeting of specific musical genres on a racial basis. Despite the form now being rescinded, black promoters still feel discriminated against when trying to book clubs for gigs (Bernard 2018).

Avowedly political musicians in despotic countries where artistic voices are being silenced by political, religious, cultural, moral activities endure similar problems in terms of economic suppression of their music. As LeVine (2017) discusses, some musicians are moving to Europe, sponsored by the anti-music censorship group Freemuse, to be able to work and play their music. One musician, Ramy Essam, ‘the bard of Tahrir’ is currently exiled in Sweden. Moroccan rapper L7a9edis (or El-Haqed, translated as ‘the enraged’) is currently applying for political asylum in Belgium. These artists faced arbitrary arrest, beatings and torture but also the inability to make a living because of bans on airplay and performances in their home countries and travel restrictions preventing them from touring abroad.

The continued social injustices that can occur through the use, abuse, and suppression of music have great importance to criminologists who are interested in how state and corporate power can be used against the most powerless in society. The erosion of freedom of expression for many musicians, the use of music as a means for the powerful to torture the powerless are areas that the discipline of criminology has much to contribute.

 

Attali, J. (1984) Noise: The Political Economy of Music. Manchester, University of Manchester Press

Bernard, J. (2018) Form 696 is gone – so why is clubland still hostile to black Londoners? Guardian, 31 Jan

Bramwell, R. (2015) UK Hip-Hop, Grime and the City: The Aesthetics and Ethics of London’s Rap Scenes. London, Routledge

Chambers, I. (1985) Urban rhythms: Pop music and popular culture. Macmillan, Basingstoke

Hebdige, D. (1979) Subculture: The meaning of style. Abingdon, Routledge

LeVine, M. (2010) Headbanging against repressive regimes: Censorship of heavy metal in the Middle East, North Africa, Southeast Asia and China. Freemuse, Report no. 9. Copenhagen, Freemuse.

LeVine, M. (2017) Enraged and defiant: Revolutionary artists against the state in Morocco and Egypt. In Kirkegaard, A et al (eds) Researching Music Censorship. Cambridge, Cambridge Scholars Press

Muzzatti, S. L. (2004) Criminalizing Marginality and resistance: Marilyn Manson, Columbine and cultural criminology. In Ferrell, J et al (Eds) Cultural Criminology Unleashed. London, Glasshouse Press.

Pieslak, J. R. (2007) Sound targets: Music and the war in Iraq. Journal of Musicological Research, Volume 26, Issue 2-3

Petridis, A. (2017) ‘Columbine destroyed my entire career’: Marilyn Manson on the perils of being the lord of darkness, Guardian 21 Sep

Songs of War [2012] A&O Buero filmproduktion for Al Jazeera

Springhall, J. (1998) Youth, Pop Culture and Moral Panics: Penny-Gaffs to Gangsta Rap, 1830-1996. London, Palgrave Macmillan

Contact

Dr Eleanor Peters, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, Department of Law & Criminology, Edge Hill University.

Email:  peterse@edgehill.ac.uk

Twitter:  @DrEleanor1

 

Copyright free images: from author and pixabay (CC0 Creative Commons Free for commercial use, No attribution required)

 

For LGBT People, Criminal Justice Equality Remains Elusive

While same-sex sexual activity is no longer criminalised in much of the Western world, and acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people is growing, full equality for LGBT people before the law and criminal justice systems remains elusive.

Matthew Ball Author image

Dr Matthew Ball, Crime and Justice Research Centre, Queensland University of Technology

 

 

While same-sex sexual activity is no longer criminalised in much of the Western world, and acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people is growing, full equality for LGBT people before the law and criminal justice systems remains elusive. Taking stock of some of these inequalities in Australia, the USA, and the UK reveals some startling insights into the extent of this inequality, and highlights where criminal justice practitioners, governments, and communities must continue to fight for change.

The ‘Bathroom Bills’ recently proposed in some US states are clear examples of recent attempts to reinforce legal inequality. These laws intend to force people to use public bathrooms that match the sex on their birth certificate, whether or not this aligns with their gender identity. These laws specifically (and deliberately) intend to expose transgender people to possible legal sanctions simply for using facilities that align with their gender, and force them to use facilities in which they may be at risk of violence. In Queensland, Australia, the homosexual advance (or ‘gay panic’) defence was only removed in March 2017. This legal defence allowed murder charges to be reduced to manslaughter if the deceased ‘made a pass’ at the perpetrator, to which the perpetrator reacted violently. This was an acceptable legal defence for a gay hate crime – one that South Australia has yet to remove. These laws play on old ideas that LGBT people are deceptive or predatory, and pose a threat, whether to children or heterosexuality.

While governments have recently expunged the criminal records of those convicted under sodomy laws, and issued formal apologies to LGBT people for government and police behaviour, for many LGBT people, the damage to their lives has been done. They may have lost jobs – or been unable to apply for others – because of their criminal record. In some jurisdictions, despite having had consensual sex with another adult who just happened to be the same sex, they may have had to register as a sex offender. The historic criminalisation of LGBT people thus casts a long shadow.

It might be less surprising that LGBT people remain the victims of some truly horrific hate crimes. The recent murders of fourteen-year-old Giovanni Melton and eight-year-old Gabriel Fernandez, allegedly committed by their fathers who feared having gay sons, highlight the extreme family violence often directed at LGBT people. Hate-motivated violence from strangers also remains a significant issue. For example, while there is debate over whether to classify the 2016 mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in the US as a terrorist attack or hate crime, the fact remains that most of the 49 victims were Latino LGBT people.

These are certainly extreme events and receive significant media coverage. However, the everyday forms of victimisation that LGBT people experience often remain overlooked. In Australia, it has taken recent debates over marriage equality and the Safe Schools anti-bullying program to expose the largely invisible undercurrent of homophobia and transphobia impacting on LGBT people. This has been lent some political legitimacy by prominent politicians such as former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who has very publicly stated that ‘It’s OK to say No’ to marriage equality. This has also limited progress in other areas where LGBT people experience significant victimisation. Evidence suggests that LGBT people experience domestic violence and ‘revenge porn’-related offences just as much, or at higher rates, than non-LGBT people, and yet this research has not translated into visible public campaigns to address these offences.

A key aspect of the inequalities experienced by LGBT people in the criminal justice system is their interactions with police. Unsurprisingly, given the historical role of the police as a source of injustice and discrimination in their lives – whether by arresting them for same-sex sexual activity, failing to take their victimisation seriously, or committing acts of violence against them – many LGBT people remain reluctant to report victimisation to the police. This has a very direct impact on their access to justice.

Police services have taken great strides in many respects to improve their relationships with LGBT people. I’ve spoken to many police officers who demonstrate a real commitment to change. The Queensland Police Service recently released a powerful video of officers talking about the struggles they have faced as LGBT people themselves. In 2016, Constable Mairead Devlin, a transgender police officer, raised a rainbow flag to celebrate International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) at Queensland Police headquarters. Similar visible symbols of support are not unusual across the UK and USA, with police services increasingly participating in LGBT-related campaigns, such as Wear it Purple Day or IDAHOT. While these attempts to shape the ‘public image’ of the police can be dismissed as symbolic, these symbols are nevertheless powerful. They may actually lead to a victim of hate crime reporting to police as opposed to suffering in silence.

But healing the historical rifts between the LGBT community and the police is challenging. Even where significant progress has been made over decades to do so, it only takes one incident – or one homophobic or transphobic officer – to open up old wounds. The violent arrest of Jamie Jackson Reed, a young gay man, at the 2013 Sydney Mardi Gras Parade, which was filmed and subsequently circulated online, led to questions about just how committed police were to LGBT people, even in the Australian city considered the most progressive on these issues. Incidents such as these have a disproportionate impact on the levels of trust LGBT people have in the police. And they only entrench the difficulties that LGBT people experience accessing justice.

The barriers that LGBT people encounter accessing justice also appear in the harshest part of the criminal justice system – imprisonment. And nothing illustrates this more than the experiences of transgender inmates, who have long encountered significant and unique inequalities here. Transgender inmates have been uniquely impacted by our long-standing tendency to house male and female prisoners separately, based on the sex assigned to them at birth and not on the basis of their gender identity – regardless of whether or not they have undergone any kind of hormonal, surgical, or social transition. This means that transgender prisoners have continually experienced institutional misgendering, and had restricted access to gender-appropriate clothing or personal items, hormones, and transition processes.

These policies have had serious and compounding impacts on transgender inmates. Not only have they impacted significantly on their mental health, but they have also put them at risk of violence from other inmates. The unique vulnerabilities of transgender inmates have often led to them being housed in high-security areas or solitary confinement, not because of any wrongdoing on their part, but for their ‘protection’ from other prisoners. The resulting increase in security measures governing their lives in prison has further limited their ability to express their gender identity while incarcerated. Coupled with the isolation that comes with such housing, it has only increased their risk of suicide.

Though prison authorities are increasingly recognising and responding to these unique needs, as suggested by the recent UK Ministry of Justice ‘Review on the Care and Management of Transgender Offenders’, and the guidelines issued by the US Department of Justice, change is not yet widespread. In some jurisdictions, limited information about the policies underpinning the treatment of transgender inmates is available, and little is known about the experiences of transgender inmates themselves. And the rights of transgender inmates to access surgery and other treatments as part of their transition remains hotly debated in some contexts.

While the injustices discussed here are significant – and certainly not exhaustive – important changes have occurred to improve equality for LGBT people in the criminal justice system. And the pace of change is tied to broader social gains addressing other inequalities facing LGBT people. After all, efforts to improve reporting and response rates for homophobic and transphobic hate crimes are only effective as long as there is a broader social commitment to eliminating homophobia and transphobia.

However, those seeking to address legal and criminal justice inequalities face the danger that the broader social appetite for equality for LGBT people extends only to more ‘palatable’ issues such as marriage equality, or violence prevention, and not less popular issues such as the treatment of transgender prisoners. Meaningful change in the interests of justice obliges us to pursue goals that may not be immediately embraced by the public at large. Those who fought against criminalisation, and who sought to separate in the public’s mind LGBT people from the ‘sex offenders’ and ‘perverts’ they had long been associated with, faced similar problems.

Major gains have only occurred because LGBT people have had their voices heard, their unique experiences of legal and criminal justice acknowledged, and because police, government, and community leaders have recognised the need for business as usual to change. These must remain key components in the struggle to achieve greater justice and equality for LGBT people.

 

Dr Matthew Ball is a researcher in the Crime and Justice Research Centre, Queensland University of Technology, Australia. His research examines sexuality, gender, and the criminal justice system, and he has published widely. Matthew is the author of Criminology and Queer Theory: Dangerous Bedfellows?, and co-editor of Queering Criminology.

Email: mj.ball@qut.edu.au

Twitter: @Dr_Matt_Ball

Copyright free image: from author.

Race and the Death Penalty: The Hanging of Hassen Mohamed, 1923

This article explores the case of Hassen Mohamed, a marine fireman hanged for murdering his fiancée, a white woman named Jane Nagi, in 1923

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LSeal1

Lizzie Seal, University of Sussex

 

I am principal investigator on a Leverhulme funded project entitled ‘Race, Racialisation and the Death Penalty in Twentieth-Century England and Wales, 1900-65’ (RPG-2016-352). Research Fellow Alexa Neale and I are collecting the archival records (predominantly case files) for all cases of black and other minority ethnic people sentenced to death in twentieth-century England and Wales prior to the abolition of capital punishment for murder in 1965. You can read more about our research questions and the aims of the project here in this blog post by Alexa https://raceanddeathpenalty.wordpress.com/about

We have encountered many fascinating cases so far, which shed light on the kinds of racialised discourses produced by the criminal justice system, the everyday lives of the condemned, their victims and witnesses to the case, and understandings of what the death penalty was for. Here, I shall discuss the case of Hassen Mohamed, who was hanged in Durham for murdering his fiancée Jane Nagi (also known as Jennie) in 1923. According to the Home Office file, Hassen was from Aden in what is now Yemen but at the time was a province of British India. He worked as a marine fireman and lived in a seaman’s boarding house in South Shields. Jennie was a young woman from Jarrow who was widowed having previously been married to a man described as an Arab. She and Hassen were engaged, having ‘kept company’ for nine months, and were shortly to marry.

According to the depositions and trial transcript, on the 12 March Jennie had been drinking during the day and was very drunk by the afternoon. She was at Simon Ali’s coffee shop in the ‘Arab colony’ in South Shields. Hassen came to the shop and wanted Jennie to leave with him but she refused and reportedly told him that she was finished with him. He left for around three or four minutes, returned and shot Jennie dead in the presence of three people. After he was arrested and taken to the police station, he reportedly said ‘Me fire one shot. Me sorry. Me keep that girl for 8 weeks, and she has been drunk’ (Testimony of Sergeant Gray, Trial Transcript, TNA/HO144/3009).[i] Hassen’s defence was that the revolver went off accidentally as he was bundled out of the coffee shop and that someone else was holding it at the time. This contradicted what he had said to the police and the testimony of eye witnesses. He was found guilty and hanged at HMP Durham on 8 August.

What can be learned from this case? As with most of our cases, it provides a fascinating glimpse of Britain’s multicultural history: in this example, the Arab community in South Shields, which was centred around boarding houses, cafes and restaurants. One significant issue to arise from the case file material and press coverage is contemporary attitudes towards ‘interracial’ relationships. The Brief for the Prosecution notes that there was a large population of Arabs in South Shields and that ‘it is sad to relate many white girls mix with Arabs’ (HO144/3009). Local newspapers reported that a ‘young Englishwoman’s acquaintance with an Arab was brought to a sensational termination’ when she was shot dead by ‘her coloured lover’ (Shields Daily Gazette, 13 March 1923). The same paper quoted the Deputy Coroner as describing the case as ‘very sordid’ and also stating:

I have come into contact with a number of cases in which white women have married coloured men […] it seems a great pity that white women should marry men of a different nationality […] steps should be taken to prevent these unions if possible (Shields Gazette, 16 March 1923)

Such attitudes reveal much about the constitution of ‘Englishness’ as whiteness and the extent to which respectable citizenship was racialised. We are starting to draw on concepts such as affective citizenship and racialised emotional regimes to explore how intimate relationships between individuals were, or were not, endorsed and recognised and how this related to how citizens were encouraged to feel about themselves and others.

Another intriguing aspect of the Hassen Mohamed case is the discussion that it sparked in relation to capital punishment. Following his hanging at Durham, the coroner was widely reported as having ‘made some injudicious remarks about capital punishment’ as the Evening Standard (10 August 1923) put it. The News of the World related that he ‘condemned in no unmeasured terms’ disputed the effectiveness of capital punishment as a deterrent (12 August 1923). The coroner argued that ‘the murderer should be treated as dangerous to the community, like a ferocious wild animal’ but that they should also have the chance to make peace with their maker. Taking a life was ‘barbarous’ and flogging followed by life imprisonment should be used instead. The Manchester Guardian published an anti-capital punishment editorial following the coroner’s comments (15 August 1923).

This attention to the utility and advisability of the death penalty in 1923 is fascinating as it precedes the strengthening of the abolitionist campaign in the 1930s. These articles demonstrate that capital punishment was an issue that was debated in the press, although not to the extent that it was in the 1940s and 50s. The coroner’s views are also intriguing in themselves; he found execution barbarous but was not opposed to the bodily punishment of flogging. This does not neatly fit our understandings of views on punishment and pain inflicted on the body but reveals complexity in how people felt about this.

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Our project is currently at the data collection stage and we have thousands upon thousands of pages of case file material to read, take notes on and analyse. We are beginning to find patterns and to identify useful concepts for our analysis but we still have a long way to go.

Follow our Twitter account https://twitter.com/RaceandPenalty for updates on the project and visit our blog https://raceanddeathpenalty.wordpress.com/

[i] This account of what Hassen supposedly said should be treated with caution. We have found that the recorded speech in depositions and statements of most people who were not white and did not have English as their first language is represented in this way, with the explanation of actions in the first person always beginning with ‘Me’. This is constant across people from a wide range of countries with a wide variety of first languages and perhaps reflects conventions in how their speech was recorded by the police more than it does how they actually spoke.

Copyright free images: from author.