Thoughts from the criminology team

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The Origins of Criminology

The knife was raised for the first time, and it went down plunging into naked flesh; a spring of blood flowed cascading and covering all in red.  The motion was repeated several times.  Abel fell to his death and according to scriptures this was the first crime.  Cain who wielded the knife roamed the earth until his demise.  The fratricide that was committed was the first recorded murder and the very first crime.  A colleague tried to be smart and pointed that the first crime is Eve’s violation in the garden with the apple, but I did point out that according to Helena Kennedy QC, she was framed!  In the least Eve’s was a case of entrapment which is criminological but leaves the first crime vacant.  So, murder it is!  A crime of violence that separates aggressor and victim. 

The response to this crime is retribution.  In the scriptures a condemnation to insanity.  In later years this crime formed the basis of the Mosaic Law inclusive of the 10 commandments and death as the indicative punishment.  In the Ancien Régime the punishment became a spectacle on deterrence whilst the crowds denounced the evildoer as they were wheeled into the square! In modern times this criminality incorporated rehabilitation to offer the opportunity for the criminal to repent and make amends. 

‘The first man who having enclosed a piece of ground bethought himself of saying “This is mine”’!  This is an alternative interpretation of the first crime, according to Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1762/1993: 192).  In The Social Contract he identifies the first crime very differently from the scriptures.  In this case the crime is not directed at a person but the wider community.  The usurping of land or good in any manner that violates the rights of others is crime because it places individualism ahead of the common good.  As in this crime there is no violence against the person, the way in which we respond to it is different.  Imperialism as a historical mechanism accepts the infringement of property, rights, and human rights as a necessity in human interactions.  The law here is primarily protected for the one who claims the land rather than those who have been left homeless.  In this case, crime is associated with all those mechanisms that protect privilege and property.  Soon after titles of land emerged and thereafter titles of people owning other people follow.  The land becomes an empire, and the empire allows a man and his regime to set the laws to protect him and his interests.  Traditionally empires change from territories of land to centres of government and control of people.  The land of the English, the land of the Finnish, the land of the Zulu.  In this instance the King become a figure and custom law subverts natural law to accommodate authority and power.

These two “original” crimes represent the diversity in which criminology can be seen; one end is the interpersonal psychological rendition of criminality based on the brutality of violence whilst on the other end is an exploration of wider structural issues and the institutional violence they incorporate.  The spectrum of variety criminology offers is a curse and a blessing in one.  From one end, it makes the discipline difficult to specify, but it also allows colleagues to explore so many different issues.  Regardless of the type of crime category for any person attracted to the discipline there is a criminology for all. 

Between these two polar apart approaches, it is interesting to note their interaction.  In that it can be seen the interaction of the social and historical priorities of crime given at any given time.  This historical positivism of identifying milestones of progression is an important source of understanding the evolution of social progression and movements.  Let’s face it, crime is a social construct and as such regardless of the perspective is indicative of the way society prioritises perceptions of deviance.  

Arguably the crimes described previously denote different schools of thought and of course the many different perspectives of criminology.  A perfectly contorted discipline that not only adapts following the evolution of crime but also theorises criminality in our society.  When you are asked to describe criminology, numerous associations come to mind, “the study of crime and criminality” the “discipline of criminal behaviours” “the social construction of crime” “the historical and philosophical understanding of crime in society across time” “the representation of criminals, victims, and agents in society”.  These are just a few ways to explain criminology.  In this entry we explore the origins of two perspectives; theology and sociology; image that the discipline is influenced by many other perspectives; so consider their “origin” story. How different the first crime can be from say a psychological or a biological perspective. The origins of criminology is an ongoing tale of fascinating specialisms.  

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, (1762/1993), The Social Contract and Discourses, tr. from the French by G.D.H. Cole, (London: Everyman’s Library)

‘Now is the winter of our discontent’

As I write this blog, we await the detail of what on earth government are going to do to prevent millions of our nations’ populations plummeting headlong into poverty.  It is our nations in the plural because as it stands, we are a union of nations under the banner Great Britain; except that it doesn’t feel that great, does it?

As autumn begins and we move into winter we are seeing momentum gaining for mass strikes across various sectors somewhat reminiscent of the ‘winter of discontent’ in 1979.  A few of us are old enough to remember the seventies with electricity blackouts and constant strikes and soaring inflation.  Enter Margaret Thatcher with a landslide election victory in 1979. People had had enough of strikes, believing the rhetoric that the unions had brought the downfall of the nation. Few could have foreseen the misery and social discord the Thatcher government and subsequent governments were about to sow.  Those governments sought to ensure that the unions would never be strong again, to ensure that working class people couldn’t rise up against their business masters and demand better working conditions and better pay.  And so, in some bizarre ironic twist, we have a new prime minister who styles herself on Thatcher just as we enter a period of huge inflationary pressures on families many of whom are already on the breadline.  It is no surprise that workers are voting to go on strike across a significant number of sectors, the wages just don’t pay the bills. Perhaps most surprising is the strike by barristers, those we wouldn’t consider working class. Jock Young was right, the middle classes are staring into the abyss.  Not only that but their fears are now rapidly being realised.

I listened to a young Conservative member on the radio the other day extolling the virtues of Liz Truss and agreeing with the view that tax cuts were the way forward. Trickle down economics will make us all better off.  It seems though that no matter what government is in power, I have yet to see very much trickle down to the poorer sectors of society or for that matter, anyone.  The blame for the current economic state and the forthcoming recession it seems rests fairly on the shoulders of Vladimir Putin.  Now I have no doubt that the invasion of Ukraine has unbalanced the world economic order but let’s be honest here, social care, the NHS, housing, and the criminal justice system, to name but a few, were all failing and in crisis long before any Russian set foot in the Ukraine.

That young Conservative also spoke about liberal values, the need for government to step back and to interfere in peoples lives as little as possible. Well previous governments have certainly done that. They’ve created or at least allowed for the creation of the mess we are now in by supporting, through act or omission, unscrupulous businesses to take advantage of people through scurrilous working practices and inadequate wages whilst lining the pockets of the wealthy. Except of course government have been quick to threaten action when people attempt to stand up for their rights through strike action.  Maybe being a libertarian allows you to pick and choose which values you favour at any given time, a bit of this and a bit of that.  It’s a bit like this country’s adherence to ideals around human rights.

I wondered as I started writing this whether we were heading back to a winter of discontent.  I fear that in reality that this is not a seasonal thing, it is a constant.  Our nations have been bedevilled with inadequate government that have lacked the wherewithal to see what has been developing before their very eyes.  Either that or they were too busy feathering their own nests in the cesspit they call politics.  Either way government has failed us, and I don’t think the new incumbent, judging on her past record, is likely to do anything different. I suppose there is a light at the end of the tunnel, we have pork markets somewhere or other.  

Do You Remember the Time? At the Lynching Memorial

On September 11, 2021 I visited the Lynching Memorial, which is near the newly expanded Equal Justice Initiative Museum, From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration.

At the heart of the “National Memorial for Peace and Justice” (Lynching memorial) is a vast collection of giant, rusty metal, rectangular pillars, hanging tightly together like a neatly planned and well-looked-after orchard.

Etched in each are the names of (known) lynching victims by date.

We can see that, at times, entire families were lynched.

The pillars are hung so cleverly that one has to experience this artistic installation in person.

Nonetheless, the subject of white terrorism in the deep south is heavy,

Which is perhaps why Guests are invited to visit the nearby museum before the Memorial.

One needs time to prepare.

Naturally, sandwiched between enslavement and mass incarceration exhibits,

The museum also has an array of material on lynching.

This included a giant mural of jars surrounded by videos, infographic murals, maps and

An interactive register of every known lynching by county, date, state, and name.

I’m still stuck on the mural of snapshots of actual lynching advertisements, and

Pictures of actual news reports of victims’ final words.

These were the actual final words of folks etched forever in these hanging, rusty pillars.

Ostensibly, written by war correspondents.

Standing in awe of the museum’s wall of jars, I chatted with a tall Black man about my age.

He’d traveled here from a neighboring state with his teen son to, as he said,

“See how this stuff we go through today ain’t new.”

I recounted to him what a young man at the EJI memorial had showed me a few years ago:

A man’s name who’d been lynched early last century for selling loose cigarettes –

Just like Eric Garner!

Yet, even since then,

We’ve gotten the police murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor,

Or even Michael Brown, Walter Scott and Philando Castile.

Amadou Diallo was shot 19 times in 1999, standing on his own stoop

And while Jayland Walker got 46 bullets this year while fleeing on foot.

Tamir Rice!

Tamir Rice was a little boy.

A little boy playing in the park. But his mere presence terrified a white man.

So he called 9-1-1 and the police showed up and shot Tamir within seconds!

We can watch the tape.

All of these martyrs are included in the museum’s growing timelines (sigh).

After their own legal work in representing the wrongfully imprisoned for damn near life,

EJI began collecting jars of dirt near every known lynching, and

If invited by local officials, EJI would offer a memorial plaque and ceremony commemorating that community’s recognition of historic injustice(s).

An open field sits next to the suspended pillars, filled with a duplicate of each pillar.

These duplicates sit, having yet to be collected and properly dedicated by each county.

These communities are denied healing, and we know wounds fester.

The field of lame duplicates effectively memorializes the festering denial in our body politic.

There are far too many unrecorded victims and versions of white mob violence, and intimidation, not just barbarous torture and heinous murder.

Outside of these few sorts of memorials,

We do have to wonder how else this rich history has stayed in our collective memories.

Too many Black families were too traumatized to talk and didn’t want to pass it to their kids.

We know many fled after any minor incursion,

Just as someone had advised Emmet Till to do,

And there’s no accounting for them and the victims’ families who fled and

Even hid or discarded any news clippings they’d seen of the events.

Yet, whites must have kept record.

Did whites collect the newspaper ads or reports of a lynching they’d attended or hoped to?

They made and sold lynching postcards, curios, and other odd lynching souvenirs.

Where are the avid collectors?

Plus, apparently, terrorists don’t just kidnap and hang someone to death,

So what did they do with all the ears, noses, fingers, and genitals they cut off?

Or eyes they plucked out?

Or scalps they shaved?

Many victims pass out from the immense pain of being tortured and burned alive, but still

I doubt all those pieces and parts got thrown in the fire, because, of course,

Plenty of pictures show entire white families there to celebrate the lynching like (a) V-day.

And in many ways, it was, and

The whites looked as if they would’ve wanted to remember.

Looks can be deceiving, but the ways whites were also bullied into compliance is real.

Still, my mother swears that some white families’ heirlooms must include

Prized, preserved pieces of Nat Turner.

Ooh, wouldn’t that be a treasure that would be.

Plus, given the spate and state of anti-Black policing and violence,

Our democracy, nay, our Constitution itself, is as rusty as these pillars.

The pillars resting in the field remind us not only the work left to do, but also, it’s urgency.

How many more pillars may we still need?

How many amendments did will freedom take?

It goes to show how great thou art now!

See: Slave Ads at the EJI Museum

Criminology First Week Activity (2021)

Winning posters 2021, from L to R: Year 1, Year 2 and Year 3

Before embarking on a new academic year, it is always worth reflecting on previous years. In 2020, the first year we ran this activity, it was a response to the challenges raised by the Covid-19 pandemic and was designed to serve two different aims. The first of these, was of course, academic, we wanted students to engage with a activity designed to explore real social problems through visual criminology, inspiring the criminological imagination for the year ahead. Second, we were operating in an environment that nobody was prepared for: online classes, limited physical contact, mask wearing, hand sanitising, socially distanced. All of these made it very difficult for staff and students to meet and to build professional relationships. The team needed to find a way for people to work together safely, within the constraints of the Covid legislation of the time and begin to build meaningful relationships with each other.

The start of the 2021/2022 academic year had its own pandemic challenges with many people still shielding, others awaiting covid vaccinations and the sheer uncertainty of going out and meeting people under threat of a deadly disease. After taking on board student feedback, we decided to run a similar activity during the first week of the new term. As before, students were placed into small groups, advised to take the default approach of online meetings (unless all members were happy to meet physically), provided with a very short prompt and limited guidance as to how best to tackle the project. The prompts were as follows:

Year 1: Femicide

Year 2: Mandatory covid vaccinations

Year 3: Revoking British citizenship

Many of the students had never physically met, yet managed to come together in the midst of a pandemic, negotiate a strategy, carry out the work and produce well designed and thoughtful, criminological posters.

As can be seen from the collage below, everyone involved embraced the challenge and created some remarkable posters. Some of these have been shared previously across social media but this is the first time they have all appeared together in one place.

I am sure everyone will agree our students demonstrated knowledge, understanding, resilience and stamina. We will be running a similar activity for the first week of the academic year 2022-2022, with different prompts to provoke thought and encourage dialogue and team work. We’ll also take on board student and staff feedback from the previous two activities. Plato once wrote that ‘our need will be the real creator’, put more colloquially, necessity is the mother of all invention, and that is certainly true of our first week activity.

Who knows what exciting ideas and posters will be demonstrated this time, but one thing is for sure Criminology students have the opportunity to flex their activism, prepare to campaign for social justice, in the process becoming real #Changemakers.

The Good Doctor has me thinking…

Recently I have begun watching ABC’s The Good Doctor, which is a medical drama based in the fictional, yet prestigious, San Jose St Bonaventure Hospital and follows the professional and personal journeys of a number of characters. The show is based on a South Korean tv medical drama called Good Doctor and is produced by Daniel Dae Kim and developed by David Shore (creator of House). The main character is Dr Shaun Murphy who has Autism. He is a surgical resident in the early seasons and the show focuses on how Dr Murphy navigates his professional and personal life, as well as how the hospital and other doctors, surgeons, nurses and patients navigate Dr Murphy’s style of communication and respond to him. As a medical drama, in my humble opinion, it is highly entertaining with the usual mix of interesting medical cases and personal drama required. The characters are also relatable in a number of different areas. As a springboard for a platform to talk about equality, equity and fairness, it is accessible and thought-provoking.

A key focus of the programme is the difficulty Dr Murphy has with communication. Well, I say difficulty in communicating, but in actuality I would say he communicates differently to what is recognised as an ‘accepted’ or ‘normal’ form of communication. Dr Murphy struggles to express emotions and becomes overwhelmed when things change and are not within his controlled environment. A number of his colleagues adapt their responses and ways of interacting with him in order to support and include him, whereas others do not and argue that despite his medical brilliance, and first-rate surgical skills, he should not be treated differently to the other surgical residents, as this is deemed unfair.

Whilst watching, the claims of treating all surgical residents equally, and ensuring the hospital higher-ups are being fair; notions of John Rawls’ writing scream out at me. Students who have studied Crime and Justice should be familiar with Rawls’ veil of ignorance, liberty principles and difference principle, in particular with its reference to ‘justice’. But the difference principle weighs heavily when looking at how Dr Murphy functions within the hospital institution with its rules, procedures and power dynamics which clearly benefit and align with some people more so than others. Under the veil of ignorance, maybe an empathetic doctor or surgeon is not required, but a competent and successful one is? Maybe being empathetic is a personal circumstance rather than an objective trait? For Rawls, it is important that the opportunity to prosper is equal for all: and this might mean the way this opportunity is presented is different for different individuals. Rawls asks us to consider a parallel universe and what could be (a popular stance to take within the philosophical realm): why can’t people with autism be given the chance to save lives and perform surgeries just because they cannot communicate in a way deemed ‘the norm’ when dealing with patients.

It is possible that I am over-thinking this. And when I ask my partner about it, they raise questions about why Dr Murphy should be given different opportunities to the other residents and the harm Dr Murphy’s communication barriers could and do cause within the series. But I feel they are missing the point: it is not about different opportunities, its about different methods to ensure they all have the same opportunity to succeed as surgeons. It is not about treating everyone the same, which might on the surface appear to be fair, it is about recognising that equal treatment involves taking account for the differences. Why should Dr Murphy be measured against norms and values from an institution which is historically white, non-disabled, male, and cis-gendered? This might appear to be a lot of thought for a fictional medical drama, but to reiterate it’s an excellent programme with plenty to think about…

Bibliography:


Rawls, J. (1971) A Theory of Justice. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Ryan, A. (1993) Justice. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Food Banks: The Deserving vs Undeserving  

Image source: https://smk.org.uk/awards_nominations/movementtoendchildfoodpoverty/

A term that has been grating on me recently is ‘hard work’. I have had a recent bout of watching lots of television. From my observations it appears that more commentators within the media have grasped the idea that the continued need for Food Banks in the United Kingdom is awful. Yet commentators still continue with the same old deserving/undeserving tripe which has existed for centuries (which CRI2002 students are well-aware of). That being, that we should be concerned about food banks… ‘because now even hard-working people are using them!’, aka those within formal (preferably full-time) employment.  

What is it that is not being said by such a statement? That being unable to survive off benefits is perfectly fine for people who are unemployed as they do not deserve to eat? If that is the case perhaps a reconsideration of the life experiences of many unemployed people is needed.  

To provide some examples, a person might claim unemployment benefits because they are feeling mentally unwell or harmful to themselves but a variety of concerns have prevented them from seeking additional support and claiming sickness benefits, in this situation working hard on survival might be prioritised over formal employment. Another person might sacrifice their work life to work hard to unofficially care for relatives who have slipped through cracks and are unknown to social services, whilst not reaching out for support due to fear/a lack of trust social services – they have good reasons to be concerned. Some people might have dropped out of formal employment due to experiencing a traumatic life event(/s) which means that they now need to work hard on their own well-being. Or, shock-horror, people may be claiming unemployment benefits because they are working hard post-pandemic to find a job which pays enough for them to survive.  

Image source: https://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article/giving-up-the–deserving–and–undeserving–poor-dichotomy

Let’s not forget that many of those who access Food Banks are on sickness benefits because they cannot work due to experiencing a physical and/or mental health disability. The underserving/deserving divide appears to be further blurred these days as those who claim sickness benefits are frequently accused of being benefits cheats and therefore undeserving of benefits and Food Bank usage. Even so, the acknowledgement of disability and Food Bank usage within the media is rare.  

Is it really ok to perceive that the quality of a person’s life and deserved access to necessities should depend on their formal employment status?  

There is twisted logic in the recent conservative government discourse about hard work. There is the claim that if we all work hard we will reap the rewards, yet in the same breath ‘deserving hard workers’ are living from payslip to payslip due to the cost of living crisis, poor quality pay and employment. Hence the need to use Food Banks.  

The conservatives hard working mantra that all people can easily gain employment is certainly a prejudiced assumption. With oppressive, profit seeking, exploitative and poor quality employment there is little room allowed for humans to deal with their personal, family life pains and struggles which makes job retention very difficult. Perhaps the media commentators need a re-phrase: It is awful that any person needs to use a Food Bank!  

Stop strip searching children!

This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND

The Metropolitan Police are under constant criticism, more than any other police force, for at least as long as I have been a criminologist. Their latest scandal began with the case of Child Q, a 15 year old girl who was strip searched in school while she was menstruating after being suspected of carrying cannabis. No drugs were found and Child Q was extremely traumatised, resulting in self-harm and a suicide attempt. Tré Ventour recently wrote a blog about Child Q, race and policing in education here but following this week’s Children’s Commissioner report, there’s so much more to discuss.

The report focussed on the Metropolitan Police who strip searched 650 children in 2 years, many (23%) of whom were searched without the presence of an appropriate adult and as we criminologists would expect, the children were disproportionately Black boys. These findings were not surprising or shocking to me, and I also know that the Metropolitan Police force are not just one bad apple in this respect. The brutal search of Child Q occurred in 2020 but incidences such as these have been happening for years.

A teenage boy aged 17 was subject to an intimate search in 2019 where the police breached a number of clauses of PACE, ultimately resulting in the boy receiving an apology and £10,000 damages for the distress caused by the unlawful actions. These actions started with basic information being withheld such as the police officer failing to identify himself and informing the boy of his rights and ended with the strip search being undertaken without an appropriate adult present, in the presence of multiple officers, without authorisation from a senior officer and with no justification for the search recorded in the officer’s pocket book. Now I understand that things may be forgotten in the moment when a police officer is dealing with a suspect but the accumulation of breaches indicates a more serious problem and a disregard to the rights of suspects in general but children more specifically.

These two cases are the cases of children who were suspected of carrying cannabis, an offence likely to be dealt with via a warning or on the spot fine. Hardly the crime of the century warranting the traumatising strip searching of children. And besides, we criminologists know that the war on drugs is a failed project. Is it about time we submit and decriminalise cannabis, save police time and suspect trauma?

What happens next is a slightly different story. Strip searching in custody is different because as well as searching for contraband, it can also be justified as a protective measure where there is a risk of self-harm or suicide. Strip searching of children by the police has risen in a climate of fear surrounding deaths in custody, and it has been reported that there could be an overuse of the practice as a result of this. When I read the report, I recalled the many conversations I have had over the years with my friend Rosie Flatman who is a practitioner who specialises in working with victims of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) and other forms of abuse. Rosie has worked with many girls who have been subject to strip searches when in custody. She told me how girls would often perceive the search as punishment for being what the police believed was disruptive. That is not to say that the police were using strip searches as punishment, but that is how girls would experience it.

Girls in custody are often particularly vulnerable. Like Rosie’s clients, many are victims and have a number of compounding vulnerabilities such as mental ill health or they may be looked after children. Perhaps then, we need to look at alternatives to strip searching but also custody for children, particularly for those who have suffered trauma. Rosie, who has delivered training to various agencies, suggests only undertaking strip searches where absolutely necessary and even then, using a trauma informed approach. She argues that even the way the procedure and justification is explained can make a big difference to the amount of harm caused to vulnerable children in police custody.

Just some more meaningless populism…

Photograph by Jonathan Hordle/ITV/Rex/Shutterstock in The Guardian

As we follow the recent American-style media circus posing as the Conservative Party leadership contest set to determine the interim Prime Minister until the next General Election, we are reminded that both ‘finalists’, Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss are pretty much showing us their real faces fairly early in the show, while they pander to their own, in a frenzy to be seen as the modern-day version of Thatcher. Truss’ emulation of the ‘Iron Lady’ through evident vocal coaching to sound more ‘masculine’ and ‘assertive’ has helped her come across even more awkward and inept than before; perhaps the ‘Wooden Spoon’ may be a more appropriate title. Nevertheless, with promises to cut taxes…despite having announced 15 tax rises in just over 2 years…‘restore trust’ in politics…despite having been directly complicit in keeping the outgoing clown Prime Minister (Boris Johnson) in power for so long given his track record for lying…and continue with an illegal migration policy that will see refugees and asylum seekers deported to Rwanda, we are reminded that it is not the British public that will get a say in who will represent our country on the global stage, but a comparatively handful of Conservative Party members.

Lest we forget that the Conservative Party membership is dominated by middle-aged white men, many with nationalist and strongly-held religious views, seeking to preserve traditions that go back (sometimes) centuries. It seems inevitable then that the next leader will not be a racially minoritised candidate, despite being the elite private-school multi-millionaire type that Conservative voters have grown to love since the 2010’s, paving the way for Liz Truss to put her very important ideas surrounding growing British apples and setting up pork markets in Bejing to the forefront of the current populist political model we have unfortunately allowed to flourish in the UK. Truss may find meeting the Queen during her term as quite awkward given her openly anti-monarchist history. She also seems, despite having voted to remain in the European Union in the 2016 Referendum, to have jumped on the bigoted Brexit bandwagon that is slowly eroding the last remaining remnants of democracy in this country. We know that every crumb of functioning public sector life has been crushed over the past 12 years:

…and there are many other examples. Without getting into yet another Brexit debate, there is no doubt that the very act of voting to leave the EU in 2016, and its subsequent consequences, has had a long-lasting impact in these services, one which we cannot hope to treat for many years. Let us not be in any illusion that either of these candidates will swoop in and majestically heal the UK from the deep wounds this Party has inflicted for 12 years, nor that there will be some miraculous light at the end of the tunnel of tyranny. Perhaps this is a rather pessimistic outlook on the years leading up to the next General Election, but unless in the unlikely event the soon-to-be PM decides to call a snap election to allow the public to finally boot out the last of this government and pave the way to some change, the situation seems rather hopeless…at least for the time being.

There’s no I in teamwork but maybe there’s space for me and you?

Teamwork is often promoted as a valuable transferable skill both by universities and employers. However, for many the sheer mention of this type of group activity is enough to fill them with dread. This is a shame, and I want to use this blog to explain why.

I’m definitely not one for sports, but even I cannot avoid the discourse around women’s football and Euro 2022. Much has been written about the talents and skill of England’s Lionesses, of which I know very little. Equally there has been disquiet around the overwhelming whiteness of the team, an inequality I am very familiar with throughout my studies of crime, criminality and criminal justice. Nevertheless this blog isn’t about inclusion and exclusion, but about teamwork. Football, like many activities is not a solo enterprise but a group activity. All members need to be able to rely upon their team mates for support, encouragement and ultimately success. If a player doesn’t turn up for training, doesn’t engage in sharing space, passing the ball and so on, the team will fail in their endeavours. Essentially, the team must be on the same page and be willing to sacrifice individuality (at times) for the good of the team. But football isn’t the only activity where teamwork is crucial.

One only has to imagine the police, another overwhelmingly white institution, but with a very different mandate and different measures of success. Here a lack of support from team mates could be a matter of life and death. Even if not so severe, the inability to work closely with other officers in a team can make professional and person life extraordinarily difficult to maintain. It has repercussions for individual offices, the police force itself and indeed, society.

Whilst I’ve the made the case for teamwork, it is not clear what makes a good team, or how it could be maintained. Do all teams work? Personal experience tells me that when members have very different agendas and lose sight of the main objective, team work can be very challenging, if not impossible. There has to be a buy in from all members, not just some. There has to be space for individuals to develop themselves as well as the wider team. However, when the individual aims continue to take priority over the collective, cracks emerge. The same experiences suggest that teamwork cannot be accomplished instantly regardless of intent. Teams take a long time to build rapport, to bond, to gain trust across members and this cannot be hurried. Furthermore, this process requires continuing individual and collective reflection and development. So where can we find an example of such excellence (outside of the wonderful Criminology Team, of course)?

I recently watched the BBC 4-part documentary My Life as a Rolling Stone. Produced to mark 60 years of the band, the documentary explores the lives of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood and the late, Charlie Watts. There were lots of interesting aspects to each part, but the most striking to me was the sense of belonging. That the Rolling Stones are a cohesive team, with each member playing very different parts, but all essential to not only the success of the band, but also to the well-being of the four men. Alongside discussions around creativity, musicality and individual skills, they describe drug taking, alcohol abuse, romantic relationships, fights, falling out and making up. There were periods of silence, of discord and distrust and periods of celebration and sheer personal and collective joy. Working together they provide each other with exactly what they need to thrive individually and collectively.

These men have made more money than most of us can dream of. They have been to parts of the world and seen things that most of us will never see. All of them are heading toward 80 but keep writing and performing. More importantly for this blog, they seem to illustrate what teamwork looks like, one where communication is key, where disputes must be resolved one way or another, regardless of who was right and who was wrong and where the sheer sense of needing one another, belonging remains paramount. I could use a dictionary definition of teamwork, but it seems to me the Rolling Stones say it better than I ever could:

“You can’t always get what you want

But if you try sometime

You’ll find

You get what you need”

(Jagger and Richards, 1969).

A Punky Reggae Party

A photo booth on Oxford Street, London (summer 1977)

In June 1977, 45 years ago, I saw the Queen, albeit fleetingly, being driven past Piccadilly Circus en-route to Buckingham Palace for the culmination of the Silver Jubilee celebrations. I wasn’t there for the party. I was making my way to Camden Town and the rehearsal studios used by the Punk-inspired band Subway Sect, who my friend from school had joined as their drummer. The studio, part of a crumbling yard of railway buildings, some still bombed out from the War, would soon begin its transformation into trendy Camden Market. 

Punk shared an interesting crossover with Black music culture, in particular reggae. As teenagers, most of us growing up in the 70s were familiar with Blues and Tamala Motown, but reggae was new to me, especially the Heavy Dub style popular in the Jamaican community. The man largely responsible for my education was Don Letts, the House DJ at The Roxy in Neil St, Covent Garden. Originally a fruit and veg warehouse, between 1976 and 1978 the Club shot to fame/notoriety as the top Punk venue in London. The problem for the promoters was that in 1977 the scene was so embryonic there were as yet no home-grown punk records to play.  So, in the gaps between live bands, Don played what he wanted, namely reggae, which went down well with the mostly white crowd. To quote from his website: “he came to notoriety in the late 70s as the DJ that single handedly turned a whole generation of punks onto reggae”. In fact, the combination became so popular that Bob Marley’s Punky-Reggae Party released in 1977 as a 12 inch (Jamaica only) and as the B-side to Jamming, reached number 9 in the UK singles charts. Don’s choice of tracks from his Roxy days are captured in the critically acclaimed compilation Dread Meets The Punk Rockers Uptown (Heavenly Records).

Scroll forward a couple of years and I’m working as assistant van driver to my boss Morris, a Jamaican-born reggae fan. He was involved in the local music scene and sometimes I would help him set up a Sound System for private house parties, in and around Brixton.  We would use the work van, a sackable offence given the prestige brand name of our West End employer, but worth the risk. Think Small Axe: Lovers Rock, but with more sound gear and ganja-smoking Rastas, and you’ve got the picture.  While sometimes out of my comfort zone, it was uplifting to witness first-hand a community at one with its own identity while lobbying for change in wider society that remained indifferent at best.

It was also a time in London when the Metropolitan Police stop and search “SUS” law reigned high. I witnessed several occasions where Morris was subject to blatant racial harassment.  Once I was on a delivery to an exclusive residential part of Town. On these visits we played a game, coined by Morris, as Dropsy or Tipsy – would we be offered a Dropsy (cup of tea/coffee) or a cash tip for the delivery, typically a sofa or expensive Persian rug? The winner was the one who made the right call in advance. We parked in the street and as we got out several police officers on foot suddenly approached Morris and demanded to know what he was doing, despite the rather obvious fact he was at work. When they saw me, the situation cooled off, but the aggressive tone of the questioning was clear and present intimidation of a black man, whose only ‘offence’, while going about his legitimate business, was to be in a white, rich area. I wish I could say this was a one-off. Unfortunately, we all know that’s not the case. Another time relates to the shocking mistreatment he got crossing a picket line. The work van was kept in a British Road Services Depot at Elephant and Castle. We both turned up on the day a lightning strike had been called by the Transport and General Workers Union. I understand emotions can run high in these situations, but there was no excuse for the barrage of racial abuse he took from sections of the crowd. He brushed it off with characteristic good humour, but the episode tainted my view of trade unions ever since.

As this is a criminology blog I should probably throw in an example of real-life criminality. It happened mid-morning one Friday following a drop-off in busy Bishopsgate. Returning to the van I noticed a castor wheel on the pavement. “Looks like it’s come from one of our sofas” I remarked. It had. When we pulled back the shutter, the van was empty. Everything we’d loaded up an hour ago was gone. Sofas, walnut dressers, rugs, porcelain table lamps, all cleaned out. The castor was all that was left! Robbed in broad daylight, next to a bus stop. In panicked disbelief we asked those in the queue if they’d seen anything but we were wasting our breath. It was left to Mr Farooqui, the long-suffering Despatch floor manager, to take the heat from angry customers as he rang round to tell them the good news. Needless to say, management weren’t impressed and dished out first and final written warnings. Soon after we went our separate ways.

Meanwhile, the overlap between black and white youth culture in London was being fostered in creative ways. Rock Against Racism (RAR), founded in 1976 along with the Anti-Nazi League (ANL), a year later, were both set up to combat a surge in far-right extremism. Music, especially the cross-over between various genres including punk and reggae, was an important enabler in that it found common ground from which more overtly political discussions could take place.  I was one of the many thousands who, in April 1978, joined The Clash, Steele Pulse and others at Victoria Park, Hackney, in what was RAR’s finest hour. Also in the audience that day was Gerry Gable, the veteran anti-fascist campaigner and founder of Searchlight magazine, whose archive is hosted here at the University. I spoke to Gerry about this and he has very fond memories of the day and his role in helping it come about through his associations with both RAR and the ANL.

So, in the year of the Platinum Jubilee, has popular music culture continued as a positive force for race integration since the punky-reggae days of 77?  It’s probably a PhD project or two (dozen), but Bob Marley sums it up for me nicely:

What did you say?
Rejected by society
Treated with impunity
Protected by my dignity
I search for reality

If by the search for reality we mean certainty, then how certain are we things have changed for the better? My experience is that, on average, they have, and that music has played its precious role in bring people closer together. The key here is “on average”. If by reality we mean a search for legitimacy, there is evidence to the contrary. Differences of course remain, and there is no room for complacency. The one pledge we must agree on though is to never stop searching – for melody, for rhythm, for harmony.

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