Capitalist state uses ‘guilt by association’ to attack youth

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A REPORT by Manchester Metropolitan University’s Centre For Crime and Justice Studies published last week focuses on the way police and prosecutors collude to convict completely innocent youth, mainly from black and Asian communities, using the infamous ‘Joint Enterprise Law’.

This law, which in essence is simply ‘guilt by association’, allows the courts to jail people for crimes that they did not commit and indeed may even have had no knowledge about.

The study, entitled ‘Dangerous associations: joint enterprise, gangs and racism’, investigated the common claim by the police and faithfully reproduced by the capitalist press that the streets of UK cities are dominated by violent black street gangs.

Anyone even slightly associated with what the police designate a street gang is therefore automatically guilty of every crime or violent act attributed to the ‘gang’. What these academics found in their investigation was that this claim that black youth dominate street gangs and are therefore the most violent section of society is a downright lie.

In London, the police claim that black youth make up 72% of gang members, implying these are the most violent. The study found that official data shows that non-blacks committed 73% of violent crimes in London.

Facts are ignored, as the police promote a myth of lawless gangs of black and white youths out of control and in need of locking up or even shooting. Using the label of ‘gang member’ greatly enhances the prospects of prosecutors securing a conviction and lengthy prison sentence, despite any evidence that the accused had nothing to do with any crime.

The report found that non-crime related evidence, such as listening to rap music and texting friends, was ‘proof’ of gang membership. Such evidence was particularly useful when prosecuting youth who were not even present when the alleged crime was committed – proof of gang membership and therefore guilt by association and rendering them guilty under the Joint Enterprise Law.

Joint Enterprise has existed on the statute books for a very long time but it was intended for use in circumstances where two or more people were engaged in an agreed act of criminality and had knowledge of the crime before it was committed.

Over the past few years, however, the police have widened this to an all-encompassing category designed to criminalise any young person coming from the same area, connected to one another socially, no matter how loosely.

Over 3,000 people are serving prison terms ranging from three years to life, convicted as a result of Joint Enterprise Law, many of them youth. The most glaring example of this law in operation is the case of a 15-year-old blind youth sentenced to 15 years for being present when one of the group he was with hit a man who subsequently died.

The police and prosecution said at the trial he should have run away – not an easy thing if you are blind!

This is just one example, others include youth who have run away from a violent situation but still been convicted on the grounds of gang membership. Although the report highlights the racist targeting of black youth, its authors, Becky Clark and Patrick Williams, insist that this ‘process of criminalisation’ is rooted both in race and class, with the law used as often against working class youth, both black and white.

For the capitalist state and its police and courts the Joint Enterprise Law is an invaluable tool in its arsenal of repressive measures aimed at criminalising young people who are the most rebellious section of the working class.

It stands along with granting immunity to the police for operating a shoot-to-kill policy and making strikes illegal. This law is part of the preparations by the capitalist state to confront a working class that will not sit back and see its future destroyed in order to prop up a bankrupt capitalist system.

The only future for workers and youth is in bringing down capitalism and advancing to socialism. This demands building a revolutionary leadership that can take the working class to power, it means building the WRP and Young Socialists.