Sunday, December 26, 2004

Yorks police respond to their critics

Christopher Booker, in his column today, follows up on the travails of this Blogger:

West Yorkshire police certainly have a clear sense of priorities. At 25 minutes to midnight last Saturday, two policemen arrived at the door of my friend (and co-author) Dr Richard North in Bradford, threatening to kick it in. Instead, they entered his home through a window, scattering china ornaments, and arrested him.

They took him to Bradford's main police station, where he was thrown into a freezing cell for the night without bedding.

North's offence was that, for the second time in a few months, he had withheld his council tax. This is his continuing protest against the ever-rising payments that are demanded for what he and his neighbours regard as the lack of any proper service from their local police. Their street has suffered from a long succession of burglaries, without attracting much interest from the police, until two years ago.

North was in dispute with the police over a minor traffic offence. When bailiffs came to his door demanding the keys to his £12,000 car in payment of a £60 fine, he pointed out that this was illegal, since the car was "tools of trade". The baililffs called the police. Within minutes, five policemen arrived and frogmarched Dr North to the cells, where he remained for several hours until his long-suffering wife Mary arrived with the money.

Only later were North's solicitors allowed to see the court warrant. It had specifically prohibited the bailiffs from removing his car.

Act Two of this drama came last summer when North paid his council tax, but withheld the "police precept". Ordered to pay by the court, he offered to make his payment by credit card. This was not allowed, nor was he permitted to leave the court to obtain the cash. He was sentenced to 14 days in Armley prison. It was only that evening, when a friendly journalist arrived with the cash, that the prisoner was allowed to go free.

Last weekend came Act Three, when North was again arrested for not paying council tax. Normally, with a bailiff, he could have paid by credit card. But when the two policemen arrived just before midnight, having been seen reconnoitring the premises that afternoon, they would only take cash. Since this was not easy to obtain at such an hour, he was thrown into solitary confinement for 36 hours, to await Monday morning when Mary could arrive with cash to
release him.

Asked why it had been necessary to arrest him at this hour, West Yorkshire police explained: "It so happened that resources were available at that time on Saturday night" (even though, elsewhere, Bradford was undergoing its usual weekend mayhem). A source inside the police said, rather more plausibly: "It was to teach him a lesson."
Although the police so often bleat about "lack of resources", it is very difficult to take them seriously when they seem to have so much time and resource available to pursue their own vendettas.

More to the point, its is a "given" in this country that the police operate by "consent", relying on the support of the greater part of the law-abiding community in order to do their job.

As the speed cameras proliferate, as the police retreat more and more from dealing with "ordinary" crime", and as they indulge in the sort of activity described in this Blog, one wonder how long it will take them to realise that they are increasingly losing the confidence and support of ordinary people. And what will they do then?

Friday, December 24, 2004

Merry Christmas

Christmas is a time of festive cheer and good will to all men (and women). With obvious exceptions, I therefore wish all my readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy (jail-free) New Year.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Reactions to "a free country"

To everyone that has responded to me by e-mail and phone, thank you very much for my support. to those critics who say, somewhat simplistically, "you should pay your taxes" - think about it.

Specifically, council tax is about paying for services, including the police. In any other walk of life, if you pay you something, you have a right to get the service you pay for and if you do not, you have a right to withhold payment - and any court in the land will stand up for your right to do that.

But council tax is different. Not only do you have no rights to any service - and there is no functioning complaints system (have you ever tried to complain about WYMP, even when their officers break the law? I wish you luck) - but if you dare to withhold payment, you go to jail.

By any measure this is wrong, wrong, wrong. And the reason the government gets away with it is because WE let then. But I'm not suggesting you go as far as I do and go to jail - I did not intend to go to jail. But there are more of us than there are of them, and the only way the system works is because we co-operate - WE comply - like good little girls and boys, we do as our masters tell us, even though we hate the system and know it is wrong.

This is not the creed of free men and women. It is the creed of slaves... of whimps. what you do is "block the system". You don't pay on time... you pay irregular amounts, at odd intervals, you write letters, you miss signatures off cheques... there are a hundred and one ways of messing up the system, without ever pushing it too far. Without our active support, the system collapses.

Anyhow, I'll leave as a sample of the responses, one comment I picked up off a discussion board, in response to a critic who said "pay your taxes":

...everyone retains the right to act as they please, as long as it does not infringe on the liberty of others. i would say "yea, aviod tax, get fucked" but he is making an importantpoint that the pigs dont solve crime, they raise cash. last month, three blokes wearing balaclavas and with ten inch kitchen knives burst into my house threatening to torture me, as they had been wrongly informed i sold coke (i fucking hate thestuff)

They took two days to come round, and the cid didnt turn up to take my statement (my first one mind) for two and a half weeks they could have got life, but becaus ei was an art student, and had no cash (=power) they didnt give a shit.

The pigs in this country are no better than the organised criminals that run bristol, or parts of london. they are thugs with no intention of keeping any peace or protecting ant innocents (unless theres a headline in it for em)

Why should we pay for these cunts? i dont pay for the crack heads in st pauls, so why should i pay for the pigs? or the military? i might do if we lived in a working democracy and i could actually do something about it, but that aint the case..

Police brutality, racism and corruption is a serious issue, that even the main stream press and govt regulators are acknowleding.

Why arent you?
Not the words I would have used, but I completely endorse the sentiments. I have been told or seen written hundreds of such stories, and been involved in some, which is why I chose not to pay. And it is not just the police but the council as a whole, corrupt, inefficient, expensive and each year they put up the bill.

SO WHY ARE WE PAYING FOR SOMETHING WE SIMPLY DO NOT GET. There is something serious wrong with a system which regards debt collection as more important than catching criminals and keeping the peace or, in more general terms, doing its job at a reasonable price.

Monday, December 20, 2004

So you think you live in a free country?

You really think that? Well, let me tell you that you do not. On Saturday night, 11.35pm, I had two uniformed policemen at the door, threatening to kick it in unless I opened it. When I opened the window to talk to them, one pushed the window fully open, sweeping the china onto the sink, and climbed into the house.

Were they attending the scene of a serious crime? Forget it - that takes days. Were they dealing with a serious criminal? Well you judge that. While the usual Saturday night mayhem was breaking our in Bradford centre, stretching police resources to breaking point, these policement were out debt collecting - on behalf of the state. And I owed the state money - my outstanding council tax.

Last year, I withheld £80 - that being the amount owed for the police precept - as a protest against the lamentable performance of West Yorkshire Police. Despite the furore over that, they official reaction was nil. Not a thing changed. Not even a glimmer of recognition that I had a just cause, and a reasonable complaint. So this year, I added a nought.

In fact, though - for reasons which I explain below - I have been playing this "game" for years. And yes, there was a bailiff's warrant out on me, and yes I hade been playing "cat and mouse" with him. But he would have caught up with me sooner or later and, at that point, I would have paid. And the warrant stated clearly that "plastic" was acceptable.

But last Saturday night, there was not a bailiff in sight. Instead we had West Yorkshire finest, performing their priority role - debt collection. Never mind what theft, thuggery or mayhem was going on - their priority was debt collection. And, becuase they were the police and not the bailiffs, they could not accept "plastic". It had to be cash - the better part of a thousand quid (with the bailiff's fees added), or go to jail immediately, do not pass go, until Monday, when the banks open and someone could pay the money in.

So you can see the game. North has provoked them and they are going to extract their revenge. Pick a time when the maximum inconvenience and distress is caused, and go in there at a time when it is virtually impossible to get the cash, and pick up North.

Now, this could happen to every one of you that has the fortune and misfortune to own or have a beneficial interest in property – of the bricks and mortar kind. And what it amounts to is that you are only free so long as you pay your annual license fee to the state.

More commonly, this "license" is known as the council tax, for those who actually live in the property they own or rent, but its better description is that of "license". As a tax it makes no sense. It is levied arbitrarily, the charge on the individual bears no relation to his or her ability to pay, and the amount thus extracted bears absolutely no relation to the goods or services supposedly provided.

Furthermore, while you are required as of law to pay for those "services", whether you want them or not, the recipient of your enforced largess offers no reciprocation. You have no rights nor any sanction if those services that you do need or desire – which the state purports to supply – and if they fall short of the minimum expected, you must still pay – and pay, and pay.

For, each year, the state comes back with its hand out, and each year, the amount it demand increases – way above the rate of inflation - yet each year there is no discernible improvement in services and, in many respects, the quality of services claimed to be provided seem to decline.

But most crucially, unlike any other debt, there is no negotiation or recourse to the normal edicts of civil law; no appeal that the taxmasters were charging you more than you could bear; that they were unjust. The equation is simple: pay up or go to jail. You are not free men and women. The default position in this society for every person subject to this iniquitous tax is prison – we stave it off only by our annual subventions of Danegeld to the ravening monster, and we pay, whether we like it or not.

And we do pay - or you do. You grumble, we chaff, some write to newspapers, some to your MPs. You debate, you have discourses, and you vote for councillors and MPs – but none of these activities have any influence on the rate and nature of this tax. It stays, and each year it goes up. And you pay - but some of us go to prison.

So what should you do? Says Henry David Thoreau – the grandfather of civil disobedience – you are guided by your conscience. In his "papers on civil disobedience" he writes:

If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go; perchance it will wear smooth—certainly the machine will wear out. If the injustice has a spring, or a pulley, or a rope, or a crank, exclusively for itself, then perhaps you may consider whether the remedy will not be worse than the evil; but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine.
He writes many other things on this topic, and many of those things apply to the iniquitous council tax. For instance, he suggests that:

All men recognize the right of revolution; that is, the right to refuse allegiance to, and to resist, the government, when its tyranny or its inefficiency are great and unendurable… All machines have their friction; and possibly this does enough good to counter-balance the evil. At any rate, it is a great evil to make a stir about it. But when the friction comes to have its machine, and oppression and robbery are organized, I say, let us not have such a machine any longer…
Another quote from him that I particularly like is:

Let every man make known what kind of government would command his respect, and that will be one step toward obtaining it.
And then, in respect of each and every one of you individually, he writes:

Can there not be a government in which majorities do not virtually decide right and wrong, but conscience?—in which majorities decide only those questions to which the rule of expediency is applicable? Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right.
"Action from principle," he writes — which he defines as "the perception and the performance of right" — "changes things and relations; it is essentially revolutionary, and does not consist wholly with anything which was. It not only divides states and churches, it divides families; ay, it divides the individual, separating the diabolical in him from the divine."

So, not paying my council tax until they come to get me is an act of folly? It is a useless, puerile gesture, which causes me and those close to me great hardship and distress? It is a waste of time – after all, you cannot beat City Hall?

All right, maybe it is all of that. But it is also an act of principle. And, as Thoreau says: "The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right." I agree with Thoreau on this and if, as I do, I think council tax is unjust - nay iniquitous – that the automatic penalty for non-payment is imprisonment, whatever the provocation, is a disgrace and a negation of the very concept of freedom, then what right do you have to pay it, without protest, each and every year. What right have you to roll over and take the easy way out, for convenience, for an easy life, or because you simply cannot be bothered to fight City Hall?

And here Thoreau has it in one. He writes of "obligation" – "The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right." That is the view I take, and I think the council tax – for all the reasons state – is a vile, perverse tax. To try my best to frustrate it is, as I see it, not an option. It is an obligation.

So, I spent Saturday night, all of Sunday and the better part of Monday in a 9ft x 9ft cell. What did you do with your weekend?