The Sideways Times Podcast is back! After quite a long absence we’re back with a great interview with Sophie from Docs Not Cops, who campaign against the British government’s ‘hostile environment’ policy in the National Health Service (NHS). In this podcast we talk about how Docs Not Cops organise, the history of charging, and the hostile environment within the NHS. We also touch on the wider context of racism within the British healthcare system. Sophie is a doctor who’s been involved with Docs Not Cops since its beginning in 2014. The interview was conducted before the British general election in December 2019.
by Lani Parker
UK Hate Crime law is currently being reviewed by the Law Commission, and civil society groups will be invited to respond to the consultation. The aim is to assess whether to treat crimes motivated by or demonstrating hostility or prejudice against women (i.e. misogyny) or hatred of older people as hate crimes. The Law Commission is therefore surveying the scale of these problems in order to decide whether to award higher sentences for such offences. The police trialled treating misogyny as a hate crime in Nottingham last year, which revealed that offences targeting women were ‘highly prevalent’.
It’s not difficult to agree that directing violence and abuse at someone because of who they are, because of their identity, should be stopped. It’s also not difficult to see what a devastating impact acts of violence like this have on individuals, families and communities. So it is completely understandable that organisations that represent marginalised people might want to have these incidents recognised as specific acts of violence that target people for who they are. When I worked within the disability sector supporting survivors of hate crime, I saw the trauma that constant harassment causes and I also saw the impact of violence. When people did come forward to report their experiences to the police, which was quite rare, they wanted to feel safe in their neighbourhoods. They wanted justice to be done and they wanted to be heard and not dismissed by the authorities, or anyone else.
In my experience, the reporting of a hate crime, whether it be related to disability, race or sexual orientation, started off a process where the survivor had to recount incidences and document if and how it continued. The reporting in itself could sometimes give a feeling of being listened to by the authorities, but this was often short-lived as the process for proving that harassment is a hate crime is long and drawn out. Reporting at a police station can be re-traumatising for many people, particularly those who have experienced police brutality, and the reporting itself certainly doesn’t necessarily stop harassment if it is ongoing.
There is an understanding amongst disabled people’s organisations that experience of ableism, misogyny, racism and homophobia do not happen in a vacuum – they are part of the everyday oppression of disabled people. Here, I want to address this bigger system, and specifically the use of prisons and punishment within it, in order to raise concerns about advocating for increased sentences or police powers of criminalisation, even when it appears to be on the side of those experiencing violence, in this case hate crime.
What are prisons really for?
Whenever we are dealing with the criminal justice system, and incarceration in particular, we need to understand the wider network of surveillance and criminalisation it relies upon – namely the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC). Empty Cages defines the PIC as: “the overlapping interests of government and industry that use surveillance, policing and imprisonment as solutions to economic, social and political problems… the mutually reinforcing web of relationships, between and not limited to, for example, prisons, the probation service, the police, the courts, all the companies that profit from transporting, feeding and exploiting prisoners, and so forth”. This definition is a starting point to understanding how the PIC works as a tool of control, particularly targeting people of colour, other working-class people and disabled people.
We can see this in particular ways. For example, recent statistics show that black women are more than twice as likely to be arrested as white women in England and Wales. We can also see this in increasing state powers such as Prevent and immigration powers to criminalise migrants. This control is necessary to ensure that marginalised groups do not rebel as easily, and are deterred from doing so – it’s a tool of segregation, as were workhouses, and as psychiatric hospitals and segregated schools still are. All serve to define, segregate and incarcerate.
The British state and other states, particularly settler-colonial ones, have used prisons as a tool of control as part of their imperial projects, going as far back as the colonisation of Australia as a penal colony. Later on, directly following the Indian Rebellion of Independence in 1857, the British set up a penal colony in the remote Andaman Islands in the Indian Ocean. They went on to build a massive prison there based on Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon design, in which every inmate knew that in any moment they could be watched from a central guard point in the centre. The rise of prisons was part of European capitalist imperial expansion, and the creation of the concept of the individual upon which capitalism relied: As Angela Davis points out, “Before, the acceptance of the sanctity of individual rights, imprisonment could not have been understood as punishment.”
Today, prison sentences are disproportionately given, and disproportionately long, according to ethnicity. A 2011 study by The Guardian of over 1 million court records found “black offenders 44% more likely than white offenders to be sentenced to prison for driving offences, 38% more likely to be imprisoned for public disorder or possession of a weapon and 27% more likely for drugs possession.”
There are high proportions of people with learning difficulties in particular incarcerated or caught up in the legal system. According to a recent report by the Prison Reform Trust, 7% of people in contact with the criminal justice system have a learning disability compared with only 2% of the general population. We also know that a high proportion of prisoners experience mental health issues, although the government has no recent statistics. In 2009, the Prison Reform Trust estimated that 70% of prison inmates had two or more diagnosed mental health illnesses.
Systemic change, not punishment
Abolitionists understand violence as systemic, rather than as occurring in a vacuum outside of the wider context. There is an understanding that violence is produced by society and is a product of racism, patriarchy and classism. For instance, recently in the UK the government has implemented policies which have exacerbated racism and ableism, including the hostile environment policy for migrants and austerity policies which have hit women of colour and disabled people the hardest. In 2016 the Women’s Budget Group and the Runnymede Trust calculated that by 2020 black and Asian women will have lost nearly double the amount of money to white men, as a result of tax, benefit and public service changes since 2010.
We therefore need a radical, structural approach which is based on accountability, not segregation and punishment, and which produces systemic change, not more violence.
What might this look like? It’s clear that when people experience hate crime they want justice. They want the violence to stop, or for it to never have happened, and for the person or people causing harm to be held accountable for what they did. I did have one person say to me that they wanted the person causing them harm to be locked up and to ‘throw away the key’. But even when we look at it on an individual level, in general, accountability and justice does not look like punishment through prison. It looks like changing the conditions that produce the harmful behaviours. For instance, the Nottingham trial’s evaluation concluded that the solution most favoured among those who had experienced offences categorised as misogynistic was not criminal remedy, but rather education to ensure that people know such behaviour is not acceptable.
Responses to violence need to be built by communities; we cannot rely on the state, as it plays a big part in producing this violence. Abolitionists work to shrink the surveillance powers of the state and the state’s ability to criminalise people. Because if we see it as a whole system, each new law adds to the ways in which the state can control people. Abolitionists also work for good housing, healthcare, and education as a remedy for poverty, discrimination and violence. They aim for ‘non-reformist reforms’; in other words, reforms that are not about developing or expanding the PIC, but rather about shrinking it and replacing it with what we need to build a world without oppression and structural violence.
The consequences of advocating for more laws which punish more people for violence caused by systemic, structural factors, risks further criminalising and controlling individuals and communities. Thus, making misogyny a hate crime would not be a non-reformist reform, one which shrinks state power, but would expand the power of the state to control us. In addition, I would suggest that these efforts also often unintentionally take away energy from challenging the causes and consequences of oppression. Although we can argue that changing laws helps educate people about what is and is not acceptable, it would be better to put our energies into education projects and creating survivor-centred ways of keeping people safe, and fighting for the resources we need in our communities. Misogyny is about the hatred of women. How we so often grow up feeling smaller than we are, being constantly undermined, frozen out of spaces we should be in. Expected to do the work, often dangerous work, and for most of that work to be unrecognised as valuable. Misogyny is ingrained into society. It is in the ways we are denied resources, the ways we are violated, objectified, imprisoned, and the ways we are killed. This is part of the system and so is the PIC. Let’s trust that we can create alternatives to violence that do not create further systemic violence.
If you want to find an accessible venue in London, Access Able (previously Disabled Go) is a good place to start. They do fairly comprehensive audits of particular venues, and you can search by location, type and name of venue (type the name of the venue in the box labelled ‘I’m looking for…’) and filter by accessibility requirement, venue type and distance. Another way is to type that venue and Access Able into a search engine and you will find the venue’s audit if they have done one.
Here we will collect a list of accessible venues. However, not all may have had a full access audit so it is advisable always to check with the venue first, or look to see if there is an Access Able audit.
If you have any comments or information to add, please contact us. It would be great to keep this list expanding – both in and outside London!
If you would like to do your own audit you could use the template developed by the Radical Mapping Project Vancouver (please credit them).
Sisters of Frida have also produced a toolkit for practical, physical access to events.
- Waterloo Action Centre – wheelchair accessible but not free. For bigger events and meetings.
- The Cut, 106 the Cut – community room, wheelchair accessible and low cost.
- Fitzrovia Community Centre – not free.
- Somers Town Community Association – not free.
- Holborn Community Association – not free.
- Marchmont Community Centre – not free.
- Hilldrop Community Centre – not free but is wheelchair accessible.
- Whitechapel Ideas Store – not free but is wheelchair accessible.
- Canvas Cafe – community space that’s free – wheelchair accessible but no disabled toilet facilities.
- Tindlemanor – relatively low cost and is wheelchair accessible.
- Latin American Women’s Aid – wheelchair accessible.
- St Luke’s Community Centre – wheelchair accessible but not free.
- New Cross Gate Trust – wheelchair accessible and free for community groups to use some evenings.
- Deptford Lounge – not free but is wheelchair accessible.
- The Café at The Albany (for smaller meetings) – they don’t make you buy anything and it is wheelchair accessible, although not private obviously as it’s a public café.
- Peckham Library – not free but is wheelchair accessible.
- Bermondsey Village Hall – not free but wheelchair accessible.
Thank you to Sisters Uncut for providing some venues that they use.
This is a continuation of the conversation we began, using Harsha Walia’s Undoing Border Imperialism, to explore organising spaces, interdependence and relationship building.
Part 2 picks up on the theme of slowness and preparedness in organising, as well as the necessity of centering relationship-building in a world of scarcity and precarity.
This is not a “polished piece.” And, of course, it doesn’t reach some kind of end point but we hope that it can serve as a something to continue from…
I really love what you said and made me think a lot things I hope that some of it makes sense.
Slowness and responsiveness also relates to building as well as being: the current system forces us to be reactive because it is full of scarcity and fear. We are built to be both reactive and responsive, I think, but the responsiveness is the element which allows us to build. What does it look like to really build together?
One of the principles of disability justice that came out of a group of disabled people of colour in the States emphasises collective liberation: what does it really mean to move together, to be responsive together, and not be simply reactive? I feel there are a lot of times when I’m trying to organise with people that I feel, and probably am, slower than others. I can be both slower and faster – perhaps we all can be.
Sometimes I think that it doesn’t look like much to be slow, that you can’t really “see it” – perhaps it is more of a feeling. I know that for me access is more of a feeling; it’s not so much about whether I can get into a building but how people react, how people are flexible, how people see me. Like you said, if you slow down, you can often see better. Learning to really see each other seems to be part of the work. Being doesn’t always mean being slow and I often really don’t know how to be collective about that. I guess it’s about holding each other. But how does that look? It doesn’t always look like waiting. It would mean grappling with deep-seated feelings of loneliness and grief and also fear. I think that both disability justice and healing justice work can see some of this.
I hear what you’re saying for yourself in terms of being selfish and needing to find people who nourish you and to let go of those who don’t…. And the fact that this is lonely work. It made me think about how much it is possible for me to create those spaces by being different. Not necessarily letting go but holding gently, giving space. How much do I have the resources to not get sucked in by negative energies or situations (as I do have a lot of resources in this power structure!)? Perhaps this is about the ways that we are connected.
From the moment we are born we are betrayed – born into a world that does not meet our expectations, even when we are born into the arms of people who truly love us we are disappointed by them and betrayed by them in small ways which are painful and enormous ways which are painful. This conversation is also making me think about the way that we learn and unlearn patterns of behaviour and intergenerational trauma. There is a lot of talk about the importance of vulnerability, about how we do not know how to be loved, about how we cannot bear it and that the only way we can do it is to actually show that vulnerability.
Our conversation makes me think, on the one hand, of something obvious – that to be in community is to be in relationship. And we often do describe organising spaces as community. On the other hand, precisely because to be in relationship requires a certain kind of work – of building intimacy, of making oneself vulnerable, of holding some form of responsibility to one another – we may actually tend to place a separation between this organising community and other relationships, i.e. relationships outside and beyond organising ‘communities’. I know I have been guilty of this for certain. And of course, in the context of facilitation and mediation, we see that there’s various groups needing support around “accountability”. But isn’t this all about learning how to be in relationship?
As you say, this is possibly because we are constantly living within a dynamic of scarcity. There’s too little time, too little energy. And so what we have we use on cultivating (hopefully) nourishing private lives. In a previous blog post I wrote: “Precarity, then, is a concerted strategy to disallow collectivity and solidarity. In this circumstance, the fight against precarity must be the fight to create and maintain the conditions for solidarity.”
This brings us back, of course, to capitalism. And to lies, too, maybe. But if scarcity and precarity is what disallows us from forming organising communities as relationship – not just as places of action, of work – then surely a critical political task is to do precisely that, i.e. build organising spaces as relationship?
This is what I mean when I talk about the misuse of decoloniality. Oftentimes in organising spaces we talk about being in community, building community. But if we were to actually try to practice this, it would require a radical – “decolonial” – rethinking of what politics is, of what our work is. But I’m not sure we do that. We take up ideas without really thinking through what it is to practise them. So, perhaps we are building our own “alternate” web of lies?
I think all of this is quite related to disability justice – please correct me if I am wrong. The way I understand it is, disability is constructed around these very notions of scarcity, precarity, of a certain kind of lack (and speed/slowness being an aspect of that lack). I don’t want to make some kind of simple comparison between those that identify as disabled and those that don’t, but I do think it is necessary to ask ourselves about all the ways in which we have been disabled by colonialism and capitalism. What kinds of sense of wholeness – or fullness may be a better word – have we been denied? And do we refuse to recognise, because to do so would be too dangerous?
This post has also been published on rashne.li.
Thanks for reading this far – hope you liked it. We’re hoping to keep the conversation going so we’d love to hear your thoughts too; if you want to pick up on any of the themes, feel free!
Poet, artist and writer Khairani Barokka (Okka) speaks to Lani Parker of Sideways Times about the importance of narrative, storytelling and emotions as an artist; colonialism, disability, her art and her PhD.
Being a human is confusing, and challenging for everybody. But I’m glad that I feel like the worst of what I’ve gone through in life, knock on wood, was gone through with an understanding of how language can shape and reflect experiences.
Read the transcript:
Khairani Barokka: I am an Indonesian writer, poet and artist in London. I’m a PhD researcher at Goldsmiths in visual cultures, doing a PhD by practice. I have been researching and writing and making for 6 years now on specifically intersectional experimental ways of telling stories, particularly around crip cultures and feminisms. Continue reading Disabled artists are out here: A conversation with Okka
This month Lani interviews Steve Graby, a Disability Studies researcher at the University of Leeds. They discuss the tensions inherent within the personal assistance employer-employee relationship, as well as the opportunities for solidarity.
Read the transcript below. Continue reading Conversation with Steve Graby on Personal Assistance: The Challenge of Autonomy