Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/698/13326
Unacceptable! Draconian sentences for Dundee 'Facebook riot' teenagers
Matt Dobson, Socialist Party Scotland, Dundee
There is anger and disbelief in Dundee at the jailing of teenagers who were involved in joke Facebook pages 'organising riots'. Four youth, the youngest being 14, were arrested by Tayside police in August as riots swept across cities in England.
A cursory glance at these web pages would have informed anyone sensible and without a preconceived agenda that they had no 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 12 December 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 protesters, are being politically punished in an attempt to obscure the real causes of the riots.
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".
But as the Guardian's Reading the Riots report shows, social networking sites were not widely used by people who actually rioted.
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 joke 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."
During the riots in England politicians, both Scottish National Party (SNP) government ministers and Labour in opposition, boasted that they were responsible for creating a different society in Scotland. 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 at Glasgow universities recently would beg to differ!
The reality is that brutal social conditions similar to those behind the riots in England exist in cities like Dundee and across Scotland and young people face just as bleak prospects for a future.
Students still receive EMA payments, but hundreds of places have been cut and courses slashed at both local colleges. The SNP government is embarking on a programme of merging colleges and universities across regions that will shut the door on thousands hoping to go into education.
A recent survey by Citizens Advice Scotland found that the majority of Dundee's young people are trapped in poverty and, in many cases, in unemployment. There are 1,000 NEETS (not in education, employment or training) who are under 19 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 criminalisation 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. School students walked out in April against the setting up of a city campus and cuts. Young people had a visible presence on the 10,000 strong demonstration on 30 November.
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.
In The Socialist 14 December 2011:
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