Parliament begins to debate the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill today. Following the scenes of heavy-handed policing at the vigil for Sarah Everard this weekend, there is perhaps a greater degree of attention being paid to the proposals than the government may have hoped for. The measures to update the common law offence of nuisance are a particular focus for those of us worried about state encroachment into civil liberties. Doing something that might annoy someone else should not be the basis of a criminal offence that carries a ten-year prison sentence.Continue reading “How Legal Drafting Chills Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Assembly”
In the United States, there is growing discussion on social media about the phenomenon of white people calling the police when they see a black person doing something entirely normal, or when they perceive a black person not showing enough ‘respect’.
When Yale student fell asleep in the library while writing an essay, someone called the police. When Tenessee real-estate developer inspected a house in Memphis, someone called the police. When Oakland resident Onsayo Abram set up a barbeque in the park, someone called the police.
Today I saw a variation on the theme: someone threatening to call the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) when he became annoyed by two women working at a cafe speaking Spanish to each other.
Many people have made the point that this is linked to President Donald J. Trump’s unpleasant rhetoric about ethnic minorities (and indeed, everything). He has set a terrible example which incubates racists attitudes and brings out the worst in people. Others say that this kind of racism was always present in the society and it is only thanks to social media that we know these incidents are systemic, not isolated (it is almost a decade since professor Henry Louis Gates Jnr was arrested for breaking into his own home).
But these incidents also illustrate something about civil rights that I had not understood until I started working for English PEN, and which I don’t think many other people appreciate, which is that ambiguous laws can erode our civil liberties. Continue reading “Someone called the police”
To all those who Tweeted messages of love after the Manchester bomb.
To all those who posted Facebook messages of defiance after the London Bridge attack.
To all those who shared pictures of the Jewish woman praying with the Muslim man, and to those who clicked ‘like’ on that video of the policeman dancing.
To those who spread about the Keep Calm and Carry On posters, and reminded everyone about London’s ‘Blitz Spirit’. To those who Tweeted banter and funny hashtags about the things that make Londoners really afraid.
To those who offers a cup of tea or a bed for the night to anyone stranded in Southwark. To those who offered a lif home to the kids stuck in central Manchester. And to all those who shared these stories and these memes, whose heart was warmed by the idea that we have ‘more that unites us than that which divides us‘. To those who said, over and over, that we would not let a few murdering idiots affect our liberal values or our democratic way of life.
To all these people I ask: how do you feel about Theresa May’s pathetic, ahistorical and opportunistic statement that she will weaken our human rights laws? Continue reading “Theresa May: Undermining British Values and Doing Nothing To Keep Us Safe”
The 2016 US Election has been, as they would say, a ‘dumpster fire’. The media have graded one candidate on a curve, and the discussion has been almost entirely about personalities. There does not appear to have been any sustained news cycle dedicated to policy. Indeed, even the discussion of actual policies in the debates was atrocious.
It’s clear that the country is incredibly polarised. Nevertheless, I still admire the American political system.
One silver-lining of the Trump candidacy is that there has been plenty of discussion about the US system. I don’t mean admiration for the electoral college (although I’ve heard some good arguments for its retention recently) but more simply and fundamentally, the fact that everything is subordinate to the Rule of Law, and a Constitution which places and incredibly strong emphasis of individual rights and protections against government over-reach.
This may seem like a statement of the obvious, but recent events elsewhere in the world have made me particularly appreciate the American approach.
Continue reading “I Admire the American Political System”
Not a week goes by, it seems, without a mass shooting in the USA. The world’s oldest democracy also has the highest rate of gun related deaths in the developed world. It’s a shocking public safety problem, and it’s caused by the fact that the Constitution of the Unitied States says that the government cannot curtail its citizens’ right to bear arms.
Many constitutional scholars say that the 2nd Amendment does not really mean that individuals can arm themselves. Rather, they say, it simply stops the Federal Government from preventing the formation of militia. The authors of that text were, after all, mindful of tyrannies, dictatorships and unchecked state violence. Continue reading “On Gun Ownership, Nothing Less Than Repeal of the 2nd Amendment Will Do”