Sunday, 29 January 2012

Statement on draconian Facebook "riot" sentences Dundee YFJ

There is anger and disbelief in Dundee at the jailing of two teenagers who were involved in joke Facebook pages “organising riots”. Four youth, the youngest being fourteen, were arrested by Tayside police in August as riots swept across cities in England.
A cursory glance at these pages would have informed anyone without a preconceived agenda that they had no serious intention of organising a riot. Joking about the riots at a time when people were being burnt out of their homes was insensitive but these outrageous sentences have to be understood in the context that in Dundee and the rest of Scotland, no riots took place.
These young people are victims of a politically motivated miscarriage of justice, they are being punished for events they did not cause that occurred hundreds of miles away.
The four were kept in police custody for the maximum duration and were initially refused bail. Two have been banned from any form of internet use. Shawn Diven, 16 and Jordan McGinley, 18 who did not set up a group but were added by others as administrators were jailed on December 12 after pleading guilty, expressing regret at what they had done and having been incarcerated on remand for months awaiting trial.    
It is clear from the sheriff’s remarks on sentencing, that Shawn and Jordan, like others jailed for being caught up in the rioting and the recent cases of the student protestors, are being politically punished in an attempt to obscure the real causes of the riots, scape goating young people as “mindless criminals” and absolving the real instigators of social unrest, the politicians and the wealthy elite they represent at the top of society raining down cuts and austerity.  
Sheriff Elizabeth Munro called the riot that didn’t take place “the most serious breach of the peace, I have ever come across”. The justification for the severe sentences was based on the fact that the facebook groups were set up at a time of “widespread disturbance and civil unrest”.
The evidence suggests otherwise, as the Guardian’s research in the “Reading the riots” shows that social networking sites were not widely used by people who actually rioted.
The Sheriff’s out of context sentencing implied that the previous involvement of one of the youth in vandalising a bus meant they were intent on organising a full scale riot until the police intervened. Jokes  on the Facebook wall about using guns to attack the police made by young people on the page were held up as evidence of actual intention.
A local trade unionist made the point in a Facebook discussion after the sentencing that the authorities are out of touch   “Jeremy Clarkson can joke about shooting public sector workers in front of their families and nothing happens, these lads make a silly jokes on facebook and they get three years in prison” A school student activist expressed the sentiments of young people and the wider community “It’s not okay to ruin their lives to make an example”.
Politicians in Scotland, both SNP government ministers and Labour in opposition boasted that they were responsible for creating a different society during the riots in England. This week the Scottish Sun carried an article claiming the main cause of a lack of unrest in Scotland was that the police were more polite, the students and young people attacked on protests recently at Glasgow universities would beg to differ! The reality is that similar social conditions that caused the riots in England exist in cities like Dundee and across Scotland and young people face just as bleak prospects for a future.
Young people still have the EMA, but hundreds of places have been cut and courses have been slashed at both local colleges. The SNP government is embarking on a program of merging colleges and universities across regions that will shut the door on thousands of youth hoping to go into education. A recent survey by  Citizens Advice Scotland found that Dundee’s young people are in the majority trapped in poverty and in many cases unemployment, there are 1,000 NEETS who are under nineteen in Dundee.
The Youth Fight For Jobs and Education Campaign demands Shawn and Jordan are immediately released and internet sanctions on young people are immediately lifted. The widespread anger in the community at these sentences shows that the criminilasation of young people in the city will not be accepted.
Recently Dundee’s streets have been filled with young people organising and protesting, not rioting which Youth Fight For Jobs are opposed to, with the school students strike in April against the city campus and the visible presence of young people on the 10,000 strong demonstration on November 30. Young people are enraged by the conditions they face  but they also want to organise and fight back. Youth Fight For Jobs and Education fights against education cuts, unemployment and for democratic rights.

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