Tag Archives: justice

Tone Policing and Justice

Tone policing is the unpleasant habit of making the way the message is delivered more important than the content. It tends to be undertaken by the person with the most privilege in a situation as a way to ignore, diminish, take down or silence someone who is distressed. It also tends to go with treating someone who is distressed as invalid – too emotional, unreasonable, childish, out of control – so as to feel like there’s no need to take them seriously.

If the hurt feelings of the person with power and privilege are the most important thing, then of course nothing is going to change. And yes, it can be really uncomfortable looking at the ways in which you benefit from a system that hurts other people. It can be disturbing and upsetting to be told you’re perpetrating harm when you thought you were ok. These are hard lessons to learn, and tone policing is not the answer, not in this context.

There are however, times for tone policing. We should be policing ourselves, especially in situations where we have power and advantage. Are we speaking kindly and respectfully? Are we talking over other people? Are we increasing the anger in a situation? Are we punching down? Are we shouting someone else down? If you’re the person with the emotional control in a situation, are you using the fact that it isn’t hurting you to run power over someone who is being hurt?

Consider policing the tone of people who share your privileges. Call them out – gently and politely – when you catch them putting their own hurt feelings ahead of the actual oppression of other people. Call out the people who use anger and aggression to dominate spaces. Call out the micro-aggressions and be prepared to explain – calmly – why this kind of thing isn’t ok.

One of the biggest indicators of who has power can be seen around who is allowed to be upset. People with power and privilege are allowed to be upset when children’s cartoons aren’t made for them. People without power and privilege are not allowed to be upset when people in their community are murdered. If we want justice, then this is an area of human interaction that really needs some work. It is complicated territory and tends not to bring out the best in people, but small acts around checking your own tone, policing the people closest to you if they mess up, and defending the right of people to be upset by actual oppression will add up.


Druidry and Justice

“And in the knowledge of justice, the love of it” is one of the lines from the Gorsedd prayer. Justice is very much a consideration for modern Druids. Unfortunately, righteous indignation and attention seeking along with other ego-orientated activities are all very tempting and can make performing as a giver of justice addictive. Real justice – restorative justice that actually makes things better – takes time and work. Using your power to attack someone else is easy, satisfying and unhelpful.

Justice is often complicated and requires taking the time to understand what’s happening. It’s easy to tell people off for appropriation, it takes a bit more time and effort to find out whether you are talking to people engaged in a living tradition that is part of their own culture. It’s all too easy to centre yourself and end up speaking over the people you are supposedly speaking for. This can result in misrepresentation, in hiding what the real problems are, and in creating bad feeling. People who feel we have to ban Christmas things so as not to offend minorities largely contribute to the prejudice against minorities, for example.

I recall one justice-preaching Druid a few years back who was blithely explaining that accessibility is all about building design, it’s not about problems in the bodies of disabled people. Except, if pain and fatigue are your main issues, you won’t make it to the building, or the late starting meeting. For some disabled people, what happens in their bodies is limiting and no amount of refitting a building will change that. Speaking over disabled people with an inaccurate story is really unhelpful.

There’s nothing like righteous anger to make a person feel powerful and important, and I’ve seen Druids doing their justice on these terms and it isn’t pretty. Standing up to someone, calling them out, telling them off – it can feel really powerful doing this. But, did you have more power than them all along? Did you come in on the right side? One of the most popular tricks abusers and bullies pull is to play the victim and enlist people to help them attack the person they have been mistreating. There is no justice if you are misled into helping a bully torment their victim.

Justice requires us to take the time, to listen and to understand. Start by policing your own behaviour. Look at your own words and deeds first. If you’re going to call people out, make sure you know what’s going on – don’t call out indigenous people for following their own paths. Don’t assume you can tell who someone is by looking – mixed race people exist and you won’t know who they are from a casual glance at a profile picture.

If something makes you angry, don’t act in the heat of that anger on a ‘justice’ crusade because the odds of getting it wrong are high. Take the time to reflect. Look at the situation properly. Think about what would be most helpful. So yes, call out your racist family members – you know what their background is. But be careful calling out people you don’t know when you also don’t know what’s going on. It is better to amplify the voices of people who are disempowered – it is a good and useful thing to do, and won’t mean you perpetuate misunderstandings. Listen, lift people, make space for them, encourage other people to listen. And if someone invites you to join a crusade against a person, look carefully at the evidence and the existing balances of power. Tread carefully.

If you care about justice, it has to come second to any desires you might have to feel powerful, or important or to put yourself centre stage.


Justice and the family

Yesterday I ran into a very powerful blog post about the treatment of women and children in the family courts. It is a tough read, CW for a lot of abuse detail https://victimfocusblog.com/2020/09/22/misogyny-in-the-family-courts/

I spent a couple of years in the UK family court system. I don’t think anyone who hasn’t gone through it appreciates what a harrowing system it is to be in.

Firstly, the assumption is that contact with both parents is what the child wants, and in the child’s best interests. This largely isn’t affected by what the child says. Or how the police assess risk in the situation. My solicitors told me that if I had been killed by my ex, he could still expect contact.

I was questioned repeatedly about traumatic experiences. This is the worst thing to do to someone who has been traumatised, but I was made to revisit those experiences over and over again. No one seemed to care what that, or any other aspect of the process was doing to my mental health. My poor mental health was, however, raised as an issue about whether I could be a good parent.

It is normal to threaten to take the child away if you don’t co-operate with contact. The parent who is seen as being hostile to other parent, will be told that non-cooperation can mean they are seen as the problem and the child will end up with the other parent. This is a terrifying situation to be put in. Give the child to the abuser, or the abuser gets the child for most of the time. The blog link I shared details examples of how this happens even when the child themselves is reporting being abused by the other parent. It is also normally the case, from what I’ve heard from other women, that victims of violence and sexual assault are treated as unreasonable if they don’t want their child to have contact with the person who did that to them. In all other contexts we try and protect children from known sex offenders.

I was upset, terrified and emotional the whole time. My ex was calm and reasonable. This counted against me. I was treated as though I was irrational. I never felt anyone considered that I might have had good reasons to feel as I did.

The family court system will put pressure on parents to present the other parent as a good person. This is hard when an adult is setting a child a really bad example. It’s also highly problematic if there is abusive behaviour. It’s really hard to parent well if you don’t feel safe telling your child if they are being treated badly, if something unsafe is going on, or inappropriate. For example, if one parent decides to ‘win over’ the child by letting them stay up late, watch whatever they want, eat what they want, not do their homework, and buys them anything they want it is the parent who stands up to this who is going to be in trouble with the family courts.

I’m just talking broadly here. I could write pages on the things that were said to me that haunt me still. It was a process that had a terrible impact on my mental health. But, I got my child through with no direct contact with the father he did not want to see. I was told repeatedly that he would want contact at some point. The boy is 18 now, and free to do as he pleases and oddly enough, he still doesn’t want contact.

This is a system that needs to change. There needs to be much better recognition of the widespread nature of domestic abuse. It needs to be clearly understood that an abusive person is not going to be a good or safe parent. Children who report abuse in this context should always be taken seriously. Safety should be the first concern, always. Better support needs to be in place for abuse victims.


Druidry and Rabbits

Rabbits are interestingly complicated from a Druid perspective. On one hand, they’re cute, fluffy mammals, and on the other, they could be the poster-creature for humans messing up.

We’ve been moving rabbits around the world for a long time. When exactly they came to the UK is uncertain – could have been the Romans, could have been the Normans. Certainly the Normans had to build warrens for them because apparently rabbits back then weren’t very tough at all! Old rabbit warrens in the landscape can easily be confused for other things. There’s an interesting pair near me that, in local legend, are supposedly mass graves for a smallpox hospital.

Rabbits in Australia have been an ecological disaster. They may be small and cute, but being in a landscape where they don’t belong has had a series impact on other species. Tree loss, soil erosion and loss of other plant species causes huge knock on effects.

Then we get myxomatosis – a virus that originated in South America and turns out to have hideous, crippling effects on rabbits, who die slow and painful deaths from it. I’ve heard a lot of stories about how it was deliberately brought into the UK to control rabbit populations – a horrible choice by any measure.

We move rabbits around so that we can eat them. We keep them as pets. We use the fur of Angora rabbits for clothing, but the treatment of those rabbits, is often appalling. The problems rabbits cause in the world stem from our human assumption that they are there for us to use in whatever way we see fit. When we colonise landscapes, our impact isn’t just about moving people in, and humans – especially white, European humans – have caused a lot of harm by deliberately and accidentally moving creatures to places where they do not belong.

Rabbits invite us to look at how we use power. They invite us to square up to a long history of ecological damage and arrogance. They are intimately tied up with colonial histories and the history of invasion. From a Druid perspective, they have much to tell us about what a lack of natural justice looks like, and what human hubris does in the world.


Eco Justice

Sustainability and economic and social justice all naturally go hand in hand. Any project that doesn’t deal with all of these areas together may be setting itself up to fail.

There are two major sources of pressure on the natural world. One comes from the greed of people who have far more than they need and will destroy environments to take more. That’s what we’re seeing with oil extraction, fracking, palm oil plantations, industrial fishing practices, rather a lot of mining – anything where big industry goes in and clears out what’s valuable.

This happens not only at the expense of the environment, but also to the detriment of ordinary people living in the afflicted landscape. People may be persuaded in the short term with the bribe of jobs and money, but it is they who will deal with the flammable water, the flooding that comes from deforestation, the soil degradation and all the other long term consequences of big industry destroying the landscape. It is important to recognise that people who have been bribed and lied to about the implications are not wholly responsible for where that leads.

The second major pressure on ecosystems can come from the aftermath of the above, or be generated by war, climate change or other such challenges. People in desperation simply trying to survive become locked into unsustainable practices that further deplete the land and the wildlife. Environmental damage caused by hungry people can only be tackled if you also deal with the hunger.

We have a nasty habit of thinking in terms of nature as human-free and protecting landscapes by either ignoring the people in it or taking them out. It tends to be the poorest and most vulnerable people who are treated this way. If we want long term environmental solutions, we need the people in the landscape to be part of it, not something to drive off.

Both sides of this damaging process need dealing with. We have to curb the greed of people with far more than they need. We have to reduce the desires to consume of people who already have a decent standard of living. We have to help those who have little or nothing to live at a decent standard in a way that will work for their local environments. While there is any significant belief that those with great piles of resources are entitled to what they have and those with nothing deserve nothing, we won’t be able to sort out the way human activity impacts on the planet.

We need to find ways of being that allow us collectively to live within the planet’s means. We need to question the idea that it’s acceptable for many people to starve while a few have grotesque excess. Justice for the environment goes hand in hand with justice for people. We have to replace our long out of date feudal thinking that has the rich few at the top of the pyramid and the deprived many at the bottom, and create for ourselves social structures that are much more equitable. To preserve our environment and keep it fit for human habitation, we have to live more cooperatively, and more equitably.


Justice for the dead

If terrorists killed 120,000 British people, the UK would be trying to bomb them out of existence.

If another country killed 120,000 British people, we would be at war.

In both of those scenarios, the right wing press would be screaming for blood and retribution.

It is equally true I think that if a private company, a food, a procedure or anything of that ilk was linked to 120,000 deaths there would be public outcry, investigations, prosecutions. The perpetrators would likely be shut down.

The British Medical Journal has explicitly linked government policy to nearly 120,000 deaths in the UK, with the over sixties and those in care being hit worst. More details here – http://blogs.bmj.com/bmjopen/2017/11/15/health-and-social-care-spending-cuts-linked-to-120000-excess-deaths-in-england/

The BBCs didn’t really run with it as a story, for reasons. I have no idea what the reasons were. To the best of my knowledge, there is no criminal investigation under way. No one in government has resigned over it.

The dead deserve justice. I don’t see any difference between killing people via terrorism and killing them via government policy. Not when those policies are designed to harm and obviously going to hurt and clearly putting the most vulnerable at risk for political reasons. Terrorism is violence with a political agenda. Austerity is a political agenda that kills. Unfortunately we’ve no mechanism for dealing with political violence when it comes from the establishment and kills on this scale.


Working with the system

Most of the systems that countries depend on rely on our engaging with them. The police are a good case in point here. There are generally not enough police in most countries to apply law by force, and if people don’t consent to be policed, they stop being effective. People who consider the police to be fair and reasonable will consent to being policed. When people think their police are corrupt, unjust and unreasonable, they won’t cooperate.

The same can be said of tax systems, border control, customs and excise duties, benefits systems and so forth. Give people a fair system and the vast majority of people will deal fairly with it, will self-report fairly, and so forth. Give people a corrupt or unfair system, and many more people will be inclined, or obliged to try and cheat it.

If the system appears to be unfair, cheating it can feel like justice. If you can’t trust the system to treat you fairly, there’s no incentive to cooperate with it and every reason to try and fudge things so that you get what you need. Why should I pay my tiny amount of taxes (this is a rhetorical question) when big companies who owe millions, don’t?

However, it’s noticeable at the moment than many systems in the UK are skewed towards trying to catch out what had been a tiny minority of cheats, and do so at the expense of fairness to the majority. By this means, many more people are moved towards not co-operating, and as a consequence the whole thing becomes ever more corrupt. Our benefits system pushes people to the edge and over it all the time. Survival depends on playing the system, taking cash in hand work, and for some people, theft. Given the beliefs and attitudes of our current government, a punishment-orientated, ever less fair system is likely to result from this.

Treat people as though they are good, decent and likely to do the right thing, and the vast majority of us will. Treat people as though they are suspect, make it hard for them to sort out what they need, and you give them little choice but to cheat you in order to get by.


Accidentally Evil

One of the things going on in my gothic webcomic, www.hopelessmaine.com is a meditation on how evil functions. Most of the characters are not evil. All of them would tell you that they do the best they can with what they are up against. They have tough choices to make. There was no other way. It was for the greater good. They all have reasons. We all have reasons.

Most people are not evil, and yet evil thrives in the world, and does so because the majority let it. For a start, like the islanders of Hopeless Maine, many of us are wilfully oblivious. We don’t want to know about the nasty things, so we avoid them, tune them out, ignore in the hopes it will go away.

We believe we’re too good, hard working or lucky to have it happen to us. Like attracts like and I am good so what is in my life is good and I don’t have to wonder about its motives, or side effects.

We are afraid of change, afraid to challenge, afraid to be different, afraid to be the victim. It is safer to be silent, or to go with the flow, and so we go with the flow all the way to the killing fields and the concentration camps, telling each other we have no choice, no power. Wringing our hands as we facilitate death and suffering.

We don’t care. We’re not evil, just selfish and oblivious and easily persuaded that it’s no big deal, or the victims deserved it, or some other idea that allows us to carry on feeling comfortable. Our illusion of comfort is more important to us than truth, justice or other people’s lives. We know when they come for us there will be no one left to speak for us, but its more comfortable to imagine it will never get that bad.

We don’t want to believe the worst of people. They seem ok, they’d never set out to destroy us, or wipe out the disabled or slaughter the Jews, imprison the gypsies or torture the gays. They tell us they aren’t doing that. They tell us no one is really dying in their prisons, at the hands of their police officers, they haven’t tortured anyone. We want to believe them, and so we undertake to believe them. Anyone who tells us otherwise is scaremongering.

We walk to the shower block, telling each other it is a shower block and not a gas chamber. Because we’ve learned from history and we know that couldn’t possibly happen again. Not here. Not to us.

And anyway, it was only a small infringement of rights, and he was a criminal, and the police are on our side, and the corporations wouldn’t be so irresponsible as to poison the water and the politicians only have our best interests at heart, and no doctor would ever murder their patients and she was always polite to me in the street so I never thought about her child stealing from birdfeeders, and if they bring back the death penalty and take away the right to protest they won’t actually kill me for protesting, will they? Will they?

And so in our fear, our apathy, our disbelief, we cower, and do nothing, and trust that those we have given all the power to won’t hurt us even as we know they have hurt others. Thus there is evil unechecked. If we ask the awkward questions, if we bring our doubts and anxieties to the table, if we refuse to sit down and shut up while accepting that someone else knows best, if we take care of each other and consider kindness essential, we can change this.


Triggering and justice

I do not have any kind of formal PTSD diagnosis, although it’s been suggested a few times by people qualified to say, that it might be an issue for me. To get a diagnosis, I’ve have to show up and answer questions, and I have resisted this strenuously. This week really required me to look hard at what’s happening there.

I’ve just had a wholly different situation in which professional scrutiny was an option. It went fairly painlessly, and well on the day, but the level of anxiety, panic attacks and flashbacks beforehand were startling. I haven’t been like that over anything in a while. If you suffer from PTSD, then you will have triggers that give flashbacks and really bad reactions. I do seem to have these symptoms, and it would appear that professional scrutiny is a trigger for me. This makes it nigh on impossible to bear the prospect of asking for proper help.

How I might have got here is no great mystery. People who experience trauma and who are not helped are more vulnerable to being further traumatised. There is nothing worse for a trauma victim than being made to revisit the memories, but for several years, I was repeatedly forced into contact with professional people who demanded I did just that. Every new professional in the equation wanted a retelling of the worst things that have happened to me, so they could come to their own decision about whether or not I was telling the truth.

What that adds up to is ten different occasions when I had to talk in detail about traumatic experiences. There was also one hideous physical examination. Most of the professional people I had to deal with were not professionals when it came to dealing with my issues – they had other roles, and no training in how to minimise the damage for me. Several of them were disbelieving and hostile, putting me in situations of having to revisit trauma whilst being told off, blamed, humiliated and otherwise made to feel awful and responsible. Several were keen to minimise both the physical and psychological impact of what I’d experienced. Perhaps because they did not understand and were unable to imagine. The one additional round of talking to a professional who was in the mix just to help me – a counsellor – resulted in being taken seriously, but by then I was so damaged and demoralised by how I’d been treated by other professionals, that I found it difficult to make good use of her time.

In any compassionate situation, what happens to a trauma victim post-trauma is that support is given to make sure they do not carry a sense of blame or responsibility for what happened. This is key to recovery. However, we have an adversarial court system, and what I’ve been put through is the exact opposite. I had years of a process of being blamed, held accountable and told it was my fault and my failing, or that I was lying. The idea of professional scrutiny has become unbearable to me, and there is now no way I could now bear to submit to letting anyone try and help me with this.

What troubles me most about this is the certainty that it won’t just be me. All victims of crime are vulnerable to feelings of distress and trauma. Victims of violent and sexual crimes are likely to be traumatised by their experiences, and to need professional support to overcome this. What we have instead is this adversarial justice system that exposes victims to hostile questioning, requires them to repeat, in great detail the worst things that have happened to them, thus increasing the trauma, and where attempts to humiliate and discredit are pretty much a given. This is not justice. Even if you win, having to endure the process is not justice. Given our increasing levels of understanding about human psychology, this whole process needs a radical rethink. I do not have any answers, but I feel strongly that we need to be asking questions.


A real charity case

Below is a press release from the National Bargee Travellers Association. Please share the link, this story needs to be in the public eye so that people understand what a donation to ‘charity’ Canal & River Trust means in practice. This situation is sick, and only widespread public condemnation will bring this outfit into line. It is my personal opinion that there is nothing charitable about the Canal & River Trust and that their behaviour is a affront.

Waterways Charity demand £76,000 from disabled boater denied Legal Aid

Following a Section 8 case, the Canal & River Trust (CRT) is bringing further court proceedings to obtain over £76,000 it claims it spent on legal action against disabled boat dweller George Ward. Mr Ward’s Legal Aid covered advice but he was unable to obtain Legal Aid for representation in court. If he had been represented through Legal Aid, CRT would not be able to make this claim for legal costs.

CRT is aware that Mr Ward’s only income is Incapacity Benefit and Disability Living Allowance of £102 per week. He has been unable to work since an injury that left him disabled. Mr Ward’s only assets are his home, a pair of historic boats needing extensive repair work that he bought for £3,830. If CRT is successful in enforcing its costs order, it can petition for Mr Ward’s bankruptcy which means his boats can be sold to pay the costs, leaving him homeless. Much of the £76,000 CRT claims to have spent was used to pay the QC, Christopher Stoner, who unusually for this type of case, represented CRT in case management hearings as well as at the main trial. According to CRT’s Bill of Costs, Mr Stoner’s fees amount to almost £45,000.

BW/CRT started Section 8 proceedings in 2010 after Mr Ward was unable to get a Boat Safety Certificate in time to re-license his motor boat. On the day that he got the Certificate, BW issued the Section 8. During the court proceedings BW prevented him from re-licensing his butty boat, claiming that its licence depended on the motor boat being licensed, which was not true as both boats had been licensed independently. Mr Ward attempted to licence his boats several times but each time BW sent back his cheque, even when he tendered all the money BW alleged he owed including a disputed Late Payment Fee of £150.

Mr Ward eventually bought a second motor boat for £1,100 and tried to license the two boats not subject to Section 8 proceedings, but BW again returned his cheque. Shortly before the hearing in Bristol County Court in October 2012, he sold the first motor boat, using the proceeds to repair his second motor boat. The court granted the Section 8 but this was nullified by the fact that the boat had a new owner. The Judge declined CRT’s request to apply the Section 8 to any other boats belonging to Mr Ward and did not grant CRT the injunction it wanted to evict him from its 2,000 miles of waterways for ever. An injunction could have meant that Mr Ward risked being sent to prison simply for living on the two boats that had never been subject to Section 8 proceedings.

George Ward said “CRT’s move to take over £76,000 from me that they know I don’t have is vindictive and malicious. They are determined to hound me off the waterways. They failed with the Section 8, they failed to get an injunction, so they are trying another way to make me homeless”. He continued “This is harassment, they are trying to put psychological pressure on me so that I move off the canals. They won’t succeed, except over my dead body”.

CRT knows that if Mr Ward had obtained Legal Aid for representation in court it would not have been able to claim these costs from Mr Ward. There is no realistic prospect of recovering £76,000 from a 54-year-old disabled man on benefits whose only assets are worth less than £4,000. Civil court costs cannot be recovered through deductions from welfare benefits. Neither can costs be recovered from money paid to the same organisation for another purpose. CRT is aware that pursuing Mr Ward for this debt will make him homeless.

CRT could have allowed Mr ward to re-license his boat when he obtained the Boat Safety Certificate, and could have sought to recover the disputed late payment charge as a Small Claim. CRT could also have used its discretion under Section 17(11) of the British Waterways Act 1995 to permit his boat to be on the waterways without a Boat Safety Certificate until the certificate was obtained. Instead it vindictively pursued him with a Section 8 action and rejected all his attempts to pay.

In the absence of a Solicitor to represent him, Mr Ward was assisted in court by Nick Brown, Legal Officer of the National Bargee Travellers Association (NBTA). This was necessary partly because Mr Ward found the court hearings extremely distressing. In a move that was obviously intended to intimidate Mr Brown and silence the NBTA, CRT also sought a costs order against Mr Brown. The Judge rejected this, stating in the Judgement that Mr Brown had been “helpful and polite”.

The Royal Courts of Justice provides guidance regarding “McKenzie Friends” (unqualified assistants for people in court without a legal representative). Nowhere does this guidance include a warning that a McKenzie Friend is at risk of a costs order against them for helping someone who would otherwise face court proceedings alone and unassisted.

Section 8 (2) of the British Waterways Act 1983 entitles CRT to remove an unlicensed boat from the waterway. A Boat Safety Certificate is normally required before a boat can be licensed.

For more information contact: secretariat@bargee-traveller.org.uk