It’s a tumultuous time for England, for the United Kingdom and the planet as a whole. Globally, we’ve had protests and full-on riots, uprisings and rebellions, unemployment levels are very dodgy indeed, people are starving to death, caught up in a civil war nobody seems to care about, and we’re on the verge of that feared double-dip recession, because if you look beyond the rhetoric of politicians, you’ll find every country on Earth is essentially bankrupt.
Let’s face facts… things are going to get worse before they get better.
What is not going to help make things better is Western countries being transformed (or perhaps further transformed) into police states in order to deal with the inevitable increase in protests against our governments, or our courts of law handing out knee-jerk sentences in order to quell dissent.
So, the topic of today’s blog is ‘Justice and Compassion’ and why the problems we are facing today will never be solved when the two are separated.
Charlie Gilmour, aged 21, was sentenced to 16-months imprisonment in July for taking part in protests - in London, last December - against the colossal rise in student fees… and convicted of kicking a window and throwing a bin ‘in the direction’ of a Royal convoy.
He was ‘intoxicated by drink and drugs’ on the day and although things got a bit out of hand, it’s hardly crime of the century, is it?
Much was made of the fact he was seen swinging from a Union Flag at the Cenotaph, but as much as it was mentioned - and even though he wrote a very humble apology admitting it was him photographed - it wasn’t something he was charged for… though he appears to have been judged for it by the courts, by the media and by the general public.
I would argue that it’s a disgrace to the memory of those people that the Cenotaph represents, that it could be used so cynically by the media to rouse the emotions of the general public.
The Fallen died for our freedom.
At the time of Charlie’s run-around, there were tens of thousands of peaceful protesters – many of them children – being charged by police on horseback and ‘kettled’ into areas which were then cordoned-off. They were kept there in the freezing cold, in the middle of Winter, for hours.
The freedom that The Fallen died for includes the right to peaceful protest, and that’s what was happening, until the police decided to scare the living daylights out of children and adults alike, risking crushes and trampling as the crowds were forced into smaller and smaller areas.
This is an account, published on the BBC News website a day later (December 10th, 2010), from a 17-year-old girl called Rachel Bergen:
"We were right at the front. There was a huge crowd behind us so we were pushed forward. There was nothing we could do about it.
"They [the police] saw us coming towards them, these teenage girls who wanted to go home.
"They didn't show any mercy whatsoever. They threw around my friends who were just 17 year old slim girls. They were beating my friends with batons.
"They didn't show any sympathy in their voice and I didn't see anything in their eyes.
"It was awful. I've never experienced anything like it."
No wonder tensions were high.
Twitter lit up with outrage, watching the live footage of this happening on the TV and Internet. If everyone in the UK had a teleportation device in their house, there would have been ten million of us on the streets of London that night.
Charlie’s 16-month sentence isn’t justice. It’s revenge. They threw the book at him and made him a scapegoat.
If he’d committed those same crimes on the streets of Carlisle, while ‘socially confused’ on a Saturday night, he’d have got a caution, or maybe a criminal damage charge and a fine.
It’s not as if he had a long string of previous convictions and - exasperated at his continuance to show disregard for the law - the judge decided, finally, to give him a bit of prison time. He was of previously good character. He’d just finished second year of degree studies.
|Charlie, with his Mum and Dad|
How could any judge handing out this sentence possibly argue that it was for the public good to keep this guy incarcerated - at the cost to the tax payer of over £100 per day - when he was clearly repentant and embarrassed by his behaviour, admitted his guilt, and there were a whole host of other, non-custodial options available to deal with him?
Charlie threw a bin and ‘alarmed’ a few people. Okay, so those alarmed people may have included ‘Big Charlie’ (aka the future King of England) and his wife, but my binman alarms me every second Thursday at stupid o’clock in the morning, throwing bins around. Will I press charges? No.
Why should the public status of the person alarmed affect in any way at all the process of justice? Aren’t we all the same in the eyes of the law?
Likewise, why are judges bowing to media and political pressure when applying such ludicrous sentencing? Even now, in the aftermath of the riots in England over the past week, judges are being told to jail those convicted of involvement.
There are also plans in the pipeline to evict these people from any council properties, and even the suggestion that they could lose benefit payments.
That is, surely, just making a bad situation worse?
When you take compassion out of the justice system, it becomes a machine without a heart… it processes people like a computer would, rather than applying humanity, in which case the bigger picture would be looked at, with empathy, and a solution that benefits everyone would be pursued.
Justice without compassion is simply revenge, and that’s not the sort of foundation that a society should be built upon.
What also gets my goat (not literally, as I don’t have one) is that Charlie’s father wrote to his local Member of Parliament, Francis Maude MP, but it was reported that Maude was ‘not minded to take a stance’.
MPs are not masters over their constituents… they are servants. They are voted for and elected by the people, to represent the people, and not just the people who voted for them, not just the people they agree with or like… but everyone in their constituency.
Charlie has clearly been given an inflated prison sentence, and – in the interests of true justice, human rights and freedom – his MP should be straight on the case… not cow-towing to his party or the papers.
Charlie Gilmour should be taken back before the courts, given an appropriate, sensible, community sentence and you bet, he’ll never be standing in front of a magistrate or judge again for the rest of his life.
|Behind every great man...|
To remind you, Gary hacked in to various US government computer systems in 2001/2002… systems without passwords… and he left a few messages. He didn’t trash or rob anything. He was curious, looking for repressed clean energy technology and information on UFOs.
Gary has Asperger’s Syndrome, and this sort of obsessive behaviour is common in people with such a condition.
His crime is akin to him looking around for ATMs that haven’t been locked, then, finding one, leaving a note saying: “I can see your money!”
He didn’t actually steal anything, yet he’s facing a sentence as harsh as if he’d walked into a branch of his local bank, opened up on the customers with a shotgun, then emptied and ran off with the contents of the safe.
To put it in perspective, Anders Breivik – who committed the atrocities in Norway in July – faces a maximum sentence of 21 years for murdering 76 people. That’s a little over three months for each person he killed.
If extradited, Gary faces 70 years in prison for accessing ‘top secret’ computer networks… which were connected to the Internet with entry gateways left wide open. Not that ‘top secret’, then?
At the time of Gary’s poking around, it was clear that the US government’s cyber security was woefully lacking, and that embarrassed them… so, again, they are using a mask of justice to hide the fact that they want revenge. They want to save face, to make an example of him… and they still want to do this, nearly ten years later.
Like when the doctor told me he suspected I had cancer, the waiting must be the worst thing; an almost unbearable strain on Gary, his mother, Janis Sharp, and all their family.
I don’t know how Janis does it each day, and after every knock-back in her tireless campaign to have her son’s extradition stopped… she just gets back up, hides the tears and the heartache and marches on. She’s powered by a limitless fuel of love.
If rehabilitation, rather than vengeance, were at the heart of justice (and it should be), this would have been sorted out years ago in the UK courts – again, most likely with a fine or a community sentence – and Gary would have been at liberty to get his life in order and make a contribution to society, rather than being trapped in the limbo his life is right now.
The governmental and media stance that all of the people involved in the recent rioting should be jailed is ludicrous, short sighted and – if the courts are bowing to politics and the flame-fanning of the newspapers – an aberration of justice.
It would cost in excess of £300,000 ($488,000) to jail ten people for a year, yet if you gave all of them community orders and invested that same amount of money in community projects that encourage positive change, you could help hundreds of people – you could give them opportunities and hope to transform their lives, which in turn could change the fortunes of generations to come.
Compassion. Empathy. Humanity. Separate those qualities from justice, and what example does that set for the rest of society? Isn’t that exactly what was lacking from the rioters last week?
An eye for an eye and the whole world becomes blind.
Let’s open our eyes and hearts wide, and let’s be part of the solution.