Friday, July 15, 2011

Charlie Gilmour and Politically-Motivated Sentencing

Gilmour not harming anybody during last winter's student protests
Charlie Gilmour - the adopted son of Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour - was today sentenced to sixteen months in prison for an act of political dissent which injured no-one. But Gilmour's is just the latest in a string of heavy penalties imposed on protesters. Unmistakably, the aim of this sentencing - plus police repression of those they don't arrest on demonstrations - is to set a "deterrent" against protest itself.

Tactically, Gilmour's actions were misguided. Apparently under the influence of LSD and Valium, plus upset over an incident with his biological father, Gilmour climbed up the Cenotaph monument in Whitehall, and swung from a Union Jack. He was then involved with the group of students who confronted the car carrying Prince Charles and Camilla. Such behaviour could hardly have been calculated to provoke more outrage in the right wing press.

However, the fact remains that no-one was physically harmed by Charlie Gilmour that night. And yet he has lost his liberty for at least eight months, right at the time when he has graduated from university, and should have the opportunity to move on with his career.

Francis Fernie, before he harmed nobody by throwing sticks
Similarly, Francis Fernie was recently given a year inside for throwing two placard sticks at police following extreme provocation on the March 26th anti-cuts demonstration. The incident took place outside luxury shop Fortnum & Mason, as cops began a mass arrest, having gone back on their word not to arrest anybody if the protesters moved outside. The placards did not cause any injuries, and Judge Nicholas Price made it clear he was punishing Fernie for the actions of others not before the court. This is a clear abuse of his power, which makes a mockery of the legal system's supposedly liberal basis.

In January, Edward Woollard was sentenced to thirty-two months for dropping a fire extinguished from the roof of Millbank Tower during the brief student occupation of Tory HQ. His action was certainly foolish - there were hundreds of protesters below for a start - but again, no-one was harmed, and society would have been better served if no-one had been punished. Instead, Judge Geoffrey Rivlin declared that:

"If ever a case calls for a deterrent sentence, this is it. [emphasis added] I wish to stress, however, that this is not a case of making an example of you alone. Anyone who behaves in this way and comes before the courts must expect a long sentence of custody."

Edward Woollard harmed nobody when he dropped a heavy thing
It could be argued that other cases are far more deserving of a deterrent sentence, particularly those in which people - perhaps millions - have been physically or emotionally harmed. These are the crimes which our ruling class commits every day, be it incinerating Afghanis by remote control, hacking the mobiles of dead children, or cutting the social safety net which allows many British people to survive. These crimes go unpunished because the ruling class controls the legal system through its capitalist state, while the Gilmours, Fernies and Woollards are punished for precisely the same reason.

Gilmour, Fernie and Woollard all acted out of a kind of desperation, a desperation that produced individual responses to a problem that requires a collective solution. Ultimate political responsibility for their acts rests with the ruling class, and their hangers-on in the trade union bureaucracy, who have done their best to stifle and frustrate collective responses to the crisis.

There can be little doubt that ruling classes around the world are preparing for a massive confrontation with their working classes, and they will seek to sweep aside democratic aspirations in an effort to make the planet safe for the financial aristocrats. In answer, the working class must demand the release of all class struggle prisoners.
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