Is paramilitary punishment attacks the answer to crime?


We maybe 10 years on from the signing of the Good Friday but the blight of militarism in the form of the state and vigilantism continues to raise its ugly head and shows little sign of fading away. In fact it is embedded and enshrined in the new discourse which even the hype around the Titanic cannot simply wash away.

As the PSNI announces a new drive to tackle the rise in punishment beatings and beef up its clearance rate of 4% from last year,  ‘republican dissidents’ lay in the wings ready exploit the vacuum left behind by a ‘peace process,’ that has abandoned working class communities to the fate of a neo-liberal orthodoxy. Therefore knowbody should be surprised that in a recent poll on the Stephen Nolan show 57% of those 3,500 people phoned in supported punishment beatings in ‘limited circumstances.’

Oh dear!! To the shock and horror of the political establishment careful to promote a positive tourist image to investors abroad, while self-appointed vigilantes rub their hands in glee keen to keep doing the state’s dirty work in terms of cleaning up those in our communities who are deemed as ‘scum,’ ‘criminals’  and engaged in ‘anti-social behaviour.’ Yes the phrase we often here banded about by the media which first emerged from the lips of Tony Blair, the bastard son of Margaret Thatcher in his quest to outflank the Tories on the issue of ‘law and order.’ 

The problem is that ASB is so loosely defined that it can mean anything from youths standing on a street corner to drug dealing. On the other hand apart from being a sexy sound bite, it allows politicians to give more repressive powers to the police such as stop and search by whipping of fear and anxiety of the ‘other’. Of course it does little to address ‘crime’ or the causes of crime which our local politicians and Taliban style morality gangs not only ignore but help to perpetrate in terms of imposing vicious cuts to services and jobs.

However, it also should be pointed that the issue of crime in working class communities is serious and can have devastating effects but one that cannot be cured by the answer of punishment beatings and equally any new crackdown by the ‘legitimate’ gang of the PSNI which only gives a green light to further police harassment and abuse.

We need to separate fact from perception because the media frenzy over crime only feeds into an atmosphere of mistrust and fear, that in turn plays into the agenda of paramilitaries who are keen to keep themselves relevant and in business.  According to findings produced by the Northern Ireland Peace Monitering report overall paramilitary actions and crime is down from 2010. Concluding; ‘Overall, Northern Ireland is a relatively peaceful society. Based on the 2011 figures, the risk of becoming a victim is 14.3%, compared with 21.5% in England and Wales. While post- conflict societies like Kosovo, Guatemala or (especially) South Africa have often recorded increases in crime following a peace settlement, this has not been the case in Northern Ireland. And while conflict societies often record high rates of domestic violence, again this has not been true of Northern Ireland, where the incidence of abuse has consistently run below other parts of the UK.’

Punishment beatings and the so-called ‘war on crime’ prevent a formal and rational discussion around issues such as drug usage including legal substances such as alcohol.  Issues which which  never will be tackled by shotgun blast in some alleyway. To think otherwise is not only naïve but sets a dangerous precedent by giving power to a small group of individuals to control our lives and who is ‘fit’ or ‘unfit’ to live in our communities. As anarchists we are firmly opposed to punishment beatings even if there may well be substantial community support for such actions.

As the WSM points out in its position paper of partition; ‘We condemn without reservation the 'punishment' beatings and shootings of people accused of 'anti-social behaviour' or drug dealing carried out by both republican and loyalist paramilitaries. These actions are nothing more than a crude attempt by these groups to maintain control over what they view as 'their communities'. They are authoritarian thuggery. A stronger, more militant and confident working class will be able to, and must, take on responsibility for tackling anti-social crime in its own communities as part of a wider independent movement, because the state cares little.’

As anarchists, we don’t have the magic bullet but we do believe we can make an on-going constructive contribution to an important issue.  In the short-term, genuine and independent community restorative justice schemes can play an important role in alleviating some issues but ultimately any movement needs to focus on uprooting the root causes of crime; the social and economic inequalities and its preservation by government as part of the same struggle. A more confident, assertive and combative working class including defending itself against 'anti-social elements' is the only answer to the crime of gangster capitalism.