On Tuesday January 11th, Edward Woollard, an 18-year-old A-level student from Hampshire, was sentenced to 2 years and 8 months imprisonment for dropping a fire-extinguisher from the Millbank Tower during the student protest on November 10th, 2010. Whilst we cannot and should not condone the actions of Woollard, it is clear that the courts – along with the government – are clearly trying to make an example of this individual student as a threat to any future protestors.
The sentence handed to Woollard is extremely harsh given that it was not a pre-meditated act of violence, but was just an impulsive act made in the heat of the moment. Those who know Edward described him being of “good character” and “a loving, caring, gentle man”, and his lawyer said he was caught up in the passion of the day and his actions were a moment of madness. The sentence is even more unwarranted given that Woollard handed himself into the police five days after the event and pleaded guilty to violent disorder at the first possible opportunity.
The judge involved in the case even admitted that this case was “a deterrent sentence”. It is unclear whether the deterrent was solely for this particular young individual or for the mass of people who have been enraged and anger by the coalition’s attacks on the working class and youth of Britain.
The courts are not just being used to deter students from protesting. With the government facing the prospect of mass strikes in the coming period, the courts are increasingly being used by the government and the bosses to stop actions from taking place, as can be seen by the banning of strikes by cabin crew and rail workers last year on the grounds of “balloting errors”.
In addition, the government are facing the possibility of losing control of the police, normally the reliable “long arm of the law”, who are considering strike action in the face of 20% cuts to policing budgets, which will result in 20,000 jobs cut over the next four years. Talking about the possibility of strike action, Paul McKeever, the chairman of the Police Federation (the nearest thing that the police have to a union, given that they are legally not allowed to unionise or strike) said, “We don’t rule out anything at all”.
The case of Edward Woollard is clearly one of selective justice. We do not defend Woollard’s actions; however, nor do we side with the moralising, hypocritical bourgeois politicians who talk about the terrible “violent students”, but refuse to punish those who commit far more heinous crimes and acts of real violence. Why have no policemen been charged with causing brain damage to Alfie Meadows, the 20-year-old student from Middlesex University who ended up having surgery after being beaten by police batons on the December 9th demo at Parliament Square? Why aren’t the bankers and owners of big business punished for evading £70bn worth of tax every year? Why wasn’t Tony Blair arrested as a war criminal for dropping bombs (not fire extinguishers) on innocent Iraqi civilians? As John McDonnell, the Labour Party MP said, “The real vandalism is not a few Millbank windows broken, but £9,000 fees destroying the hopes of so many young people going to university”.
The Alfie Meadows case is not the only example of police violence going unpunished. Nobody in the police was arrested over the death of Ian Tomlinson, an innocent bystander who died after being hit by a police baton during the G20 demonstrations in April 2009. Nor were any policemen charged over the death of Blair Peach, a protestor who was killed by members of the Special Patrol Group during a demonstration against the National Front in 1979. In fact, you would be hard pushed to find any case where a member of the police has been punished for violence against those on protests or pickets.
Whilst the courts are nominally independent, Marxists such as Engels and Lenin explained that the courts, along with the police, the army, and the government, are part of the state, which, in the final analysis, are “armed bodies of men in the protection of private property”. In this day and age, that means that the judges, the police chiefs, the army officers, and the politicians generally do their work on behalf of the bankers and bosses who really run the country. We need a socialist government that is willing to punish these real criminals, instead of crying crocodile tears at the sight of “violent protests”.
- Defend victimised students!
- Punish the violence of the state!
- For a mass movement to overthrow the coalition government!